Imagine the countless and varied parts, processes and people that need to come together to build a condo, convention center, factory, road, bridge or any other large structure. Who orchestrates this production? Communicates information to everyone involved? Handles problems that come up? In short, who makes sure that, no matter what, the work moves forward? That’s the construction project manager.
“There's a solution to everything,” said David Westmoreland, an instructor in the Certificate in Construction Management and a project manager and estimator for Regency NW Construction. “As a construction project manager, you’ve just got to find it.”
WHAT CONSTRUCTION PROJECT MANAGERS DO
Common Job Titles
Construction Manager, General Contractor, Project Manager, Construction Supervisor, Project Engineer, Construction Superintendent, Field Engineer
U.S. (2020-30): 11%
Washington state (2018-28): 11%
Median Annual salary
U.S. (2020): $97,180
Washington state (2020): $102,980
Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*NET
As a construction project manager, a typical day might find you preparing cost estimates and work schedules, reporting progress to the client, and meeting with architects and engineers to check and revise blueprints. The next day, you might be conferring with electricians and carpenters, checking on safety procedures and getting permits. And then there are the inevitable snags you’ll need to handle — work delays, inclement weather and emergencies. It’s no wonder people in this role frequently work long days and are often on call after hours.
With such a varied to do list, you need a broad understanding of the entire construction process for this role. You also need problem solving skills and people skills. “You are a hub that receives and distributes information,” said Westmoreland. “You're in meetings once a week, and the architect, the owner, the engineers and anybody else who's involved goes to these meetings — and they want firsthand information.” If disputes come up, for example among subcontractors and the owner, you’re the one who helps resolve them. “You own that as the hub for processing information,” noted Westmoreland.
Dealing with a variety of challenges, however, is part of the job’s appeal. “I like that it's constantly a changing environment, with new technologies, whether it be in the field or in the office,” said Sara Angus, a former instructor in the Certificate in Construction Management and a project manager for Lease Crutcher Lewis. “I feel fortunate to work through the entire life of the project,” Angus continued, “from the architect’s napkin drawings to the fully designed project to breaking ground and turning over the building to the owner.”
BOOM IN JOB GROWTH, ESPECIALLY IN WASHINGTON
Construction is an up-and-down industry. Currently it’s up. And locally, it’s way up — as one glance at the cranes and rising steel frames that fill the Seattle skyline will tell you. “In Seattle, the outlook is really good,” said Angus. “For the next couple of years, things are going to be booming.”
Demand is high across the nation and in Washington state. Jobs for construction managers are projected to increase by 11% in the next decade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
BECOMING A CONSTRUCTION PROJECT MANAGER
You need both education and experience to build a career as a construction project manager. Some people come to the profession right out of college with a bachelor’s degree in construction science, construction management, architecture, engineering or a related subject. Others come from working in a different role in the construction industry — for example, as a craftsperson or office administrator. Whichever route you take, formal training in construction project management, such as a certificate or master’s program, is often necessary. “To avoid stagnating in your career, be open to getting the education that you need,” Angus suggested.
After getting an education in construction project management, you’ll need training in the field under the guidance of an experienced project manager. You’ll likely start out as a project engineer or field engineer, processing paperwork, taking photographs and getting other real-world experience at a construction site. “You're going to be in the trenches for a while doing the grunt work,” Westmoreland explained. “And that’s a good thing, because if you’re given a job to do that you’ve never done before, and if it’s too much, you’re going to fail. You’ve got to understand the foundation.”
It might take a person several years to gain the knowledge, skills and experience needed to handle the complexities and responsibilities of managing the entire project as the construction project manager. One student, Chythra Puttaraju, landed a position as a project engineer after graduating from the Certificate in Construction Management.
ADVANCING YOUR EDUCATION IN CONSTRUCTION MANAGEMENT
If you’re looking to start or further your career in construction management, UW Professional & Continuing Education can help.