The role of a project manager in construction

A construction project manager

How is the role of a project manager in construction like being the captain of a ship? 

Imagine for a moment you’re at the helm of a trading vessel tasked with delivering precious cargo to a faraway port. Your job is to steer your ship towards a successful outcome, bringing together diverse teams, navigating challenges along the way and leading your crew with practical sailing knowledge, great communication and strong coordination skills. 

Similarly, a construction project manager must guide and collaborate with contractors, architects, engineers and tradespeople to complete a building project on time and on budget, just as a ship’s captain steers officers and crew to reach their destination safely. 

It requires a diverse range of hard and soft skills, practical expertise, time management, problem-solving and knowledge of the construction industry to make sure each project runs smoothly from start to finish.

And it can be a rewarding career where every day on the job presents different challenges to overcome, from planning timelines to maximising available resources, leading by example to resolving conflicts and making judgements on the fly to deal with the unforeseen.

Like the sound of that? Let’s explore what project managers in construction do in more detail.

What is a construction project manager?

Today’s construction and civil engineering projects are often complex in scope and scale. It’s the construction manager’s job to oversee and coordinate everything as seamlessly as possible. 

This is a career that will certainly keep you on your toes. But it’s not all hi-viz vests and hard hats—as a construction project manager, you’ll probably spend much of your time in the office.

You’ll be expected to manage everything from planning to budgeting and allocating resources to coordinating teams of tradespeople and subcontractors, negotiating with local councils and regulators, and updating architects, engineers, and owners on project progress.  

Ultimately, your job is to keep up project momentum, minimise delays and make sure costs don’t blow out. And, to do it well, you’ll need a broad mix of hard and soft skills.

What’s the difference between a project manager and a construction project manager? 

At their core, both project managers and construction project managers aim to steer their projects to success. But the industries they work in shape how they go about their day-to-day work.  

Generalist project managers can apply their project management leadership and people skills to guide teams in any industry towards project success with as few hiccups as possible. They can work in the private or public sector in every field, including IT, finance, healthcare and hospitality.

A project manager in construction requires all these skills and more because you’ll only manage building projects. To thrive in the role, you also need to be well-versed in construction methods, building codes and safety regulations. 

10 roles and responsibilities of a project manager in construction

As the bridge between stakeholders and the workforce, you need to be across everything to do with the project. Here’s a typical day in the life of a Construction Project Manager:

1. Successful project planning takes time

Before the teams arrive onsite, you’ve already been planning, estimating budgets and preparing schedules. You carefully assess options and potential issues before settling on an action plan, creating a roadmap for your team to follow.

2. Budgeting and allocating resources

It’s your responsibility to closely monitor project resources for each build stage while keeping costs in check. You’ll also assign daily tasks and decide who needs what and when to do their job well.

3. Scheduling

As the structure takes shape, you’ll closely monitor progress, adjust schedules and redeploy resources to tackle hiccups before they become problems.   

4. Quality control, compliance and contract management

You’ll carefully review every contract and ensure work meets quality standards, building codes and regulations.

5. OH&S

Safety is always a top priority on construction sites. You’ll do regular inspections and enforce proper procedures to keep your workplace safe for everyone.

6. Relationship management

From clients and architects to contractors and authorities, you connect the dots and clarify expectations, making sure everyone is satisfied with the project’s progress.

7. Conflict resolution

Part of your job will involve mediating disputes between contractors, workers and other project stakeholders, so you’ll need good negotiation skills to listen to and resolve grievances.

8. Leadership

Keeping everything and everyone on track involves much more than project management know-how. A construction project manager must also be a capable leader comfortable managing a diverse workforce, assigning tasks, resolving conflicts and creating a positive work culture. 

9. Risk management

Construction projects are inherently risky. You’ll need to identify potential risks, develop contingency plans and implement mitigation tactics to keep projects on track. You’ll also feel comfortable working with a certain amount of chaos and brainstorming ways to deal with unforeseen roadblocks.

10. Supply chain management

You’ll oversee the entire supply chain, sourcing all materials and equipment and making sure they’re onsite at the right time.

What qualifications do I need for construction project management? 

Just like any project manager, project managers in construction need a mix of qualifications and practical experience to thrive in the role.

Tertiary education

According to Seek, employers prefer candidates with formal training in project management. If you already have a bachelors degree, you can complete an accredited industry qualification like RMIT Online’s Graduate Diploma in Project Management to boost your employability. 

Some practical construction industry experience

Hands-on experience really helps when entering this field. Employers prefer candidates who already know their way around a building site and the challenges they present. Think about doing work experience to get first-hand knowledge of construction methods, industry regulations and best practices.  

Licensing and certification are also important

Requirements vary by state but at a minimum, you’ll need a White Card to work on construction sites. This safety training teaches you to identify and mitigate hazards in construction—an essential skill in this dangerous work environment.

What soft skills do I need to be an effective construction project manager? 

Soft skills are just as valuable as technical expertise for construction project managers. Here are the skills you should cultivate to succeed:  

People skills. You’ll deal with people every day and lead from the front, so being confident, assertive, empathetic and patient with others is vital for delegating effectively, motivating workers and resolving issues as they arise.   

Communication skills. Because your job entails working with a broad range of stakeholders—from clients and contractors to engineers and tradespeople, strong communication, listening, and interpersonal skills can help you navigate these relationships and get your objectives across clearly.   

Negotiation skills. Successfully managing construction contracts and collaborating with others demands advanced negotiation strategies. Remaining calm and adaptable when settling disputes will see you go far.

Organisational skills. Everything is on a deadline in construction, so being able to plan and organise tasks, prioritise efficiently, optimise team productivity and proactively address delays will help you avoid going over budget.

Calm under pressure. Even the most well-planned construction projects have the potential to go awry. When tensions run high, it’s essential to remain calm and flexible, so you can adapt quickly to solve issues and get the project back on track.

A typical construction project manager salary in Australia

The construction industry is one of the country’s biggest employers of project managers. Despite recent issues, the industry is gaining momentum again, and employment has steadily increased over the past few years.

A 2022 KPMG report on the state of the Australian project management sector reports 41 per cent of project managers are employed in construction, up from 38 per cent in 2021. According to Job Outlook, construction manager jobs are predicted to grow by 10.2 per cent until 2026. 

According to Seek, the typical construction project manager salary is $135,000 per year, but your average salary can go as high as $250,000 per year to manage high-end luxury apartment construction projects.

Where could your career lead you? 

Your construction project management role can lead to a raft of opportunities to specialise in an area that interests you.

Construction economist

If you enjoy working with numbers, you could detour into this a construction economist role, balancing project budgets and analysing their financial health.

Contract manager 

Care to dive into the nitty-gritty of contracts? A contract manager position might be calling your name. Similarly, a quantity surveyor role would allow you to calculate what materials and labour each project requires.  

Design manager

Have a knack for design? A design manager role could fulfil your creative side. Or, if sustainability interests you, environmental management could see you planning projects to reduce their impact on the earth.

Your construction project management experience could also open up career opportunities in:

  • site management
  • construction programming
  • estimating
  • facility management, or  
  • property development 

And if the entrepreneurial spirit runs deep in your veins, you could even strike out as a self-employed project manager and build your own team of construction professionals for hire. 

Ready to take on the challenge?

The role of a project manager in construction means bringing together different skills in a unique way. It combines practical knowledge of the building process, strong leadership and strategic thinking to successfully guide construction projects from start to finish.   

If the challenge of directing complex projects on time and on budget and seeing your plans come to life brick by brick and beam by beam is something you’re passionate about, then a construction project manager might just be your perfect job description.

And with demand growing for skilled project managers in construction, there has never been a better time to get a foothold in the industry.

RMIT Online’s Graduate Diploma in Project Management gives you the deep insights and practical knowledge you need to kickstart your new career. You can choose your own learning pathway to discover the most effective way to manage construction projects, boost team performance and drive success.

Take the next leap in your career. Learn more about studying for a Graduate Diploma in Project Management with RMIT Online now, or chat to one of our Student Enrolment Advisors today on 1300 701 171.