A Day in the Life of a Construction Manager

Here's what it takes to do the job in this fast-growing field

Construction management business owners
••• Erik Isakson // Getty Images

On any given day, a construction manager may spend time negotiating a contract, hiring a subcontractor, inspecting a plumbing installation problem, or all of the above. The one certain fact is that the day will start at dawn.

Jobs in construction management are beginning to attract people from many fields with similar skill sets, including engineering, field work, and project management. There's reason for the attraction. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, construction management positions are expected to increase 16 percent between 2012 and 2022. And it's a good-paying job: the lowest-paid construction managers make close to $50,000, while the top 10 percent make $144,500 or more.

Breaking Down the Tasks

Job descriptions can only go so far in portraying the day-to-day, so it's worth taking a deeper dive into what it means to be a construction manager.

There is no typical day for a construction manager. One day, you could be meeting with stakeholders. The next you could be at the job site investigating the source of a project delay. With that in mind, most project managers are expected to spend their days on any and all of the following:

  • Planning, organizing, scheduling, directing, controlling, and finishing the construction firm’s projects
  • Hiring and managing subcontractors and staff
  • Preparing and submitting budgets
  • Maximizing available resources, whether material or human
  • Working with architects and engineers to optimize the final product
  • Negotiating contracts and representing the firm at meetings
  • Keeping construction workers safe
  • Ensuring compliance with local and federal construction laws

A Job for Early Birds

Most work on the typical construction schedule, which means that a nine-to-five schedule isn't in the cards. Most construction managers are up and out on the job by dawn. Their days are split between meetings, planning, working with documents, and maintaining a presence on the job site. Construction managers must have the analytic ability to keep their projects running smoothly as well as the ability to inspire workers.

For example, Tony Principi told Bloomberg Business that he regularly visits his business’s construction sites because, he said, "I believe that a management presence amidst the actual construction activities shows a level of interest and investment that can be inspiring to both the labor force and junior managers.…It keeps me in touch with the pace of work and affords me some working-level perspective."

Common Traits

The best construction managers have a number of common traits that keep them engaged with their work and passionate about their projects. In a study performed through the University of Uyo in Nigeria, construction managers were found to have better job performance if they had the following traits in addition to leadership ability:

  • Communication skills: This is ranked as most important for project managers, even above hard skills, because poor communicators were unable to define objectives clearly to their subordinates.
  • Accessibility: Construction managers must always be on call in case of emergency, and willing to adapt to unforeseen circumstances, like bad weather.
  • Depth of knowledge: Construction managers must earn their subordinate’s respect. Understanding the details, like why certain materials are used in lieu of others, adds to construction managers’ reputation among the staff, and their morale.
  • Competence: While ranked only the fourth most important trait, ability to do one’s job is still exceedingly important.

Many traits that apply to the broader project management field also apply to construction management, including pragmatism, empathy, and authority.

While every day is different in construction management, most hours in any given week are spent making projects tick.