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Construction Manager vs. Project Manager in Plain English

Differences in scope and responsibility on construction projects

Construction Manager is the same or different than a Project Manager

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between a construction manager, a project manager and a construction project manager? You’re not alone. In fact, looking the terms up online can lead to even more head-scratching, because there’s no real consensus about which term to use when.

Let’s start with the easiest of the three: project manager. This term is not limited to construction. The job covers similar bases whether in construction, engineering, IT, retail, manufacturing, or other fields. A project manager oversees planning, coordination, financials and management of a project. Often, the project in question will be outside the scope of or in addition to an organization’s normal activities—building a new park, creating new documentation software, adding a new wing to the hospital, and so on.

A construction project manager does exactly that: manage a construction project by overseeing planning, financials, coordination, etc. According to the Construction Management Association of America (CMAA), most responsibilities of a construction project manager fall under the seven categories of 1) project management planning, 2) cost management, 3) time management, 4) quality management, 5) contract administration, 6) safety management, and 7) construction management professional practices, such as defining scope. 

Often, the terms construction manager and construction project manager are interchangeable. Depending on where you live, they could refer to exactly the same thing, covering the range of construction project management duties as touched on above.

But not always. In some instances, the project manager oversees and coordinates the whole shebang, while construction managers only oversee and coordinate the actual building process and not the preliminary, planning processes per se. And indeed this is the job of construction managers who work as general contractors: construction manager as builder. The CM as builder has specific responsibilities such as hiring tradespeople and construction crews, and essentially covers the same ground and has the same contractual responsibilities as a general contractor.

The construction manager as agent is a project manager who represents the owner and makes sure the entire construction project progresses as smoothly as possible. Sometimes construction project management is called program management to emphasize that the construction manager oversees the entire programincluding preconstruction: all of the planning phases, construction document management, construction risk management, construction safety management, and the list goes on and on and on “from inception to completion.”

Bart Mendel, the founder and president of Stonemark, says that the company receives calls all the time from people whose projects are ready to be built and he has to tell them that they’re already at least a year late in retaining a CM. The next question invariably is: how many mistakes have you made to date? Stonemark is a construction management agency. Which is the same thing as construction project management. Which is the same thing as program management. Clear yet? It’s like pumas, cougars and mountain lions: in this case, they’re all the same beast.

In addition to the list of requisite technical competencies, the construction management team manages all of the other teams involved in a design and construction project, and those teams are comprised not of concrete, pipes, windows, wires, drawings, computers and construction management software, but of human beings. Managing people and situations, finding common ground and creative solutions, and facilitating collaboration and communication is where your construction manager (or whatever term you choose) will truly hit his or her stride and add tremendous value to your project.

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