Coordinating one aspect of a construction is a difficult task. But coordinating the entire process, from initial planning and foundation work, through the final coat of paint in the last room, takes someone with the managerial skills of Lee Iacocca, the force of will of General Patton, and the patience of Job. Being a construction manager demands organization, attention to detail, an ability to see the “big picture,” and an understanding of all facets of the construction process, usually acquired through experience. A construction manager is the intermediary between his clients and his workers, between the architect and his subcontractors, and between the project and any regulatory personnel.
“It’s exciting” and “It’s hard” were the two comments that cropped up most often in our surveys. The wide range of responsibilities that the construction manager faces means that he should have a wide variety of skills and knowledge, including plumbing, basic electrician training, standard construction techniques, blueprint reading, budgeting, and purchasing. The most underrated skill a construction manager needs is the ability to convince and persuade. He may have to convince a client that a last minute change suggested by the architect will mean innumerable delays or cost increases, or convince an unmotivated subcontractor to complete his job as required by a previous agreement. “You can always do your job better if you can make other people do their jobs better,” said one manager. The ability to motivate and exact good work has to be tempered with understanding the limits of your workers, and knowing when a change in plans already underway is worth fighting and when it is not.
It helps if a construction manager has experience in obtaining permits and certifications for work; “expediters” who promise to obtain permits faster can charge up to $25,000 for their services, so construction managers familiar with the process who can trek through local bureaucracies can save their clients a considerable amount of money. “Take the time to learn your local building codes,” mentioned one construction manager: “Do it at the beginning so that you don’t get surprised in the middle of the job.”
Aside from the high level of stress the day-to-day occupation fosters, the sense of satisfaction among people in the industry is high. Many point to the intimate relationships between builder and buyer, between architect and construction crew, and between construction workers and their contractors as positive experiences. People in this profession work hard, but they are rewarded for the large burdens they assume.
“Practical study,” said many of our respondents about requirements in the field. For the most part, construction managers enter the career as construction workers after high school (either as a plumber’s assistant, carpenter, concrete, or steel structure worker), and decide later on to manage construction sites. A number follow their dreams through apprenticeship programs, two-year junior college programs, or classes at accredited universities in mathematics, building codes, and blueprint reading. All point to on-the-job experience as the best instructor, recommending that anyone interested in this field should get as broad an experience as possible in the construction industry before going back for further education. Roughly 80 percent of all construction inspectors (another avenue of work for construction managers) worked for the government at the Federal and State levels, often for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Construction managers who leave the field revert to areas of expertise, specializing in plumbing or foundation work, or return to educational programs to become electricians or, occasionally, architects. Most people come to be construction managers later in life as a result of working in related sub-professions, so the departure rate due to reasons other than retirement or bankruptcy is under 15 percent.