The construction industry appeals to those who aren’t interested in a typical desk job. You get to spend a lot of time outside, the pay is good at management level, and the end result is a magnificent structure to be proud of.
But where do you begin? And is this really the right career for you? Construction managers need certain skills, the right temperament, and a few intangible qualities that not many people have.
If you're looking at careers in construction and wonder what a typical construction management career path looks like, look no further. This guide will break down everything you need to know about how to get started.
Overview: What does a construction manager do?
Construction managers are responsible for all aspects of a construction project, from the planning to the coordination to the budget. They must ensure that a construction project is successfully executed from start to finish.
They typically have a main office they work out of, but they spend a lot of their time at the construction site to monitor activities and make decisions.
Common construction management duties include submitting bids, construction document management, communicating with clients and the firm's owner, managing the workforce, filing a construction daily report, and more.
The median construction manager salary was $95,260 in 2019, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — although this profession has a massive range between top and bottom salaries due to the varying sizes of different construction projects.
What are the skills required to become a construction manager?
A job in construction management requires a range of skills beyond what you would need for a typical management position. Here are some of the key skills for this profession:
Leadership: Construction managers must be effective leaders. They must be able to delegate responsibilities, motivate workers to succeed, and hold them accountable for results. They should also be knowledgeable of the industry and be able to spot trends. They should lead by example and exercise good judgment, prioritizing worker safety over meeting deadlines.
Risk management: A construction project comes with risks that threaten to throw the project off schedule or blow up the budget. A construction manager should be able to spot risks — such as a possible obstacle to achieving a milestone or an expansion in the scope of work — and make plans to mitigate them.
Communication: Construction managers must communicate roles and responsibilities clearly to the workforce. This skill is helpful in any industry, but it is particularly important in construction because of the high stakes of miscommunication — such as misdelivered materials delaying the project or a safety mishap because a worker was sent to the wrong area.
Learning and adapting: The best construction managers are able to absorb knowledge like a sponge and adapt to trends. The industry changes quickly and each construction project differs from the next, so a construction manager must have the ability to constantly learn both from on-the-job experience and from online or classroom education when possible.
Experimenting: Construction tech is rapidly advancing, from prefabrication to drones to the latest construction management software, and construction managers who are willing to experiment with new technology will find new ways to increase their company's bottom line and win more bids.
How to become a construction manager
How do you become a construction manager? It’s a highly sought-after position thanks to its pay and the growth of the industry, so you’re not alone in wanting to find out more. Take these steps to begin your career.
Step 1: Earn a bachelor’s degree
You can work your way up without a degree, but most established construction companies want a manager with a bachelor's degree in construction management from a four-year university.
Even if you do land a CM job without one, you’ll likely need a degree in the future if you want to graduate to a larger firm with bigger projects.
Over the course of earning the degree, you'll learn about materials, managing a workforce, developing a building project, maintaining building codes, and other intricacies that come with construction management.
According to Niche.com, the three best schools with a construction management degree are Virginia Tech University, Brigham Young University, and the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities.
Step 2: Get an entry-level construction job
While you're earning your degree, get an entry-level job in construction. Take any no-experience-required job that will allow you to attain construction experience, such as flooring, masonry, roofing, painting, or carpentry positions.
A bachelor's degree is good, but a degree combined with on-the-job experience will go further. It shows firms you know what goes on at a construction site, and you have the experience to manage a group of workers.
Step 3: Work as an assistant CM
Apprenticeship is the best experience you can get in the construction industry, so seek a job as an assistant for a construction manager. After a few years, you'll have the experience that most construction firms would kill for.
This is a step you can't skip — construction firms won't pluck you straight out of college and into a construction manager position. They need to know you can handle complex risk management and other aspects of this demanding position.
Put in the work for a few years and absorb the knowledge that comes from working under an experienced construction manager.
Step 4: Get certified
Becoming a certified construction manager isn’t required, but it looks great on your resume.
Multiple certifications exist, including some in certain specialties depending on what kind of construction you want to pursue, but one good catch-all certification is the Construction Management Association of America's Certified Construction Manager program.
CCMs assure your potential employer you have the skills a well-rounded and experienced construction manager should have.
Step 5: Earn a master's degree
A master's degree isn't required to become a construction manager, but if you want to go from mid-level projects to the big time, a master's degree will help you beat out stiff competition for these highly paid positions.
With a master's degree, you'll have advanced knowledge of the latest construction management techniques and have learned about the business side of the industry.
Step 6: Consider a niche
You don't have to be a general construction manager — you can choose from many niches in the construction industry depending on your interests. You could become a civil engineer, senior claims analyst, designer, building inspector, or contract manager — or get involved in another construction-related career.
Choose the career field you're most passionate about, and resist the urge to make decisions solely based on salary.
Before diving into construction management, think it over
Construction project management is a rewarding career, but it requires persistence and dedication in order to rise to the top. Before diving headlong into this career path and taking out a big student loan for a degree, think it through.
Take a short-term construction job to see how you like the work. Talk to a few people you know in the industry. Ask a construction manager at a local company what it’s like and if they’d recommend it.
Being sure you’re making the right choice will give you the confidence to take the bold action needed to advance in this career field.