Construction is very mission-based. Every day workers show up and work toward a clear, delineated goal, reaching many minor goals along the way.
As obvious as they may seem, those goals didn’t just appear out of nowhere. A team of construction managers established the schedule and milestones, and works tirelessly to keep the project on track, as they are responsible for ensuring a successful construction project.
The construction management team includes superintendents, site foremen, and project managers. Though the roles are all related, and all have a significant impact on our built world, the structure of each day and the responsibilities that come with it will be quite different depending on which path you choose.
Project management is a great step into construction management that uses problem solving and communication skills on a daily basis to achieve all the milestones on a construction project
The following is a description of a typical day in the life of a project manager and the construction project manager role to get you started.
What is it like to be a construction project manager?
In many circles the idea still lingers that working in the construction industry means working with your hands, being subjected to the elements, and getting dirty – and that’s true for many of the roles involved in building.
But it takes plenty of other people and different skill sets to do the job. As Sandra Benson, Worldwide Head of Engineering at Amazon Web Services, wisely said in a recent webinar called Foundations for Progress: The future of Women in Construction, “So many women think they’re going to be on top of a roof hammering – and there’s nothing wrong with that and there are people who do that, but there are so many other jobs out there.”
Construction project management can look very different depending on the employer and the project type, but generally speaking, the role involves planning and facilitating building projects, first by planning how the work will be done, then by communicating, reviewing, and revising that plan.
Project managers deal with a lot of stress caused by the constant time crunch and navigating the divergent needs of all the stakeholders and team members on a project, but seeing a project come together is a big reward.
Understanding the role
As part of the construction management team, a construction project manager’s job doesn’t often involve swinging a hammer, but that doesn’t mean the PM is ignorant of how the work is done. On a recent episode of the Construction Management Podcast, host Damien Edwards identified understanding how the trades work and how it takes them to complete a task as the number one thing he wished he knew more about when he started.
Good communication with the general contractor, subcontractors, and owner is critical to success as a project manager, and understanding the project schedule facilitates those conversations. A good dose of both humility and diplomacy is also key in dealing with interpersonal conflicts and changes to the plan. That’s why it’s important for construction project managers to adopt a people-first approach when dealing with team members on a project. Read our top 5 components of effective leadership in construction project management.
“It’s important to manage expectations up front,” says Shane Hedmond, construction project manager and editor-in-chief of ConstructionJunkie.com . “Let them know, this isn’t going to be perfect, things will go wrong, but we just have to come up with a new plan and make sure everyone is aware of the new plan.” The key is that people feel they’re being taken seriously and not feeling left out of the loop while on the construction site. For tips for improving communication as a Project Manager, check out this blog.
What does a PM’s schedule look like?
On a typical day, a project manager will begin by looking over all the items that demand attention: reviewing budgets, double-checking adherence to regulations, and tracking supply arrival timelines.
Taking care of the nitty gritty first thing in the morning leaves the rest of the day for communications with contractors and owners, advising of any schedule revisions or feedback on the work.
Hedmond says he knows plenty of project managers that have a strict daily routine, dictating what time they check emails, conduct site walks, and schedule meetings, but he’s not one of them. “I’m not a routine person,” Hedmond says.
Instead, he keeps a running list of things that need to be addressed, and he spends his days working through it, “usually adding more than I check off.” That said, some of his time is necessarily laid out in advance. “I have weekly meetings for my jobs,” he says, and on those days he’s definitely on site for a set time.
When the day’s immediate concerns are handled, the project manager will turn to updating all the processes involved in a project, including the budget and the schedule, and assessing next steps.
How much of the day is spent on the jobsite?
Project managers get the benefit of oscillating between the jobsite and the office – an aspect of the job that holds appeal for people who crave variety.
How much time the PM spends at the office versus the jobsite depends on a variety of factors, Hedmond says, including the distance between the office and the jobsite, how detailed the project is, the PM’s prior work experience, and how comfortable the PM is with the crews working on any given day.
When it comes to length of workdays, Hedmond says it’s usually a pretty stable schedule where he arrives at work around 7am and leaves by 5pm, with a few exceptions, like when an inspector that wants to come in late or early, or if he needs to attend a city zoning meeting, which usually happen in the evening.
A day in the life
For a project manager, each day is different. Many PMs establish routines to help tackle the varied tasks throughout the day, but the dynamic schedule and fast pace are often some of the most attractive aspects for prospective managers. Common threads for project managers are the living, breathing “to-do list” that drives each day, and solid communication skills to inform all stakeholders of where the project stands.