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Skill set: How to be a Construction Project Manager

What does it take to become a CPM?

Who knew? According to an article in US News & World Report’s “careers” section, Construction Manager (a.k.a CM, construction project manager or CPM, just for confusion’s sake) ranks #1 on the Best Construction Jobs list. “Working as a construction manager affords the chance to learn a construction project from soup to nuts – from the planning stage with architects and engineers, to the budgeting stage with cost estimators, to the production stage with laborers,” the article states. And, it continues, the field is expanding, with solid employment growth across the US.

Construction management sounds like a great career! How do I get started?

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there is no one way to enter the field (unlike your dentist who, presumably, has successfully completed a bachelor’s degree, followed by dental school and then some), and there are no pre-defined project manager education requirements. That said, for aspiring CMs, education is a key component of hireability, and most will have a bachelor’s degree in a construction-related field. Many good schools offer a full degree program in construction management.

In the US, construction management can be studied at the associate, bachelor’s and master’s degree levels. Because building technology, materials and construction project management software are developing so rapidly, project managers need to juggle a constantly evolving set of skills. In addition, many people believe that the ability to build and restore “green” is more relevant than ever before, whatever a project’s size and scope may be. The international green building certification system called LEED—Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design—is another crucial facet of modern construction project management training.

Construction project management courses are available in classrooms, through online e-learning, and in targeted seminars. The Construction Management Association of America (CMAA) oversees construction manager certification and also has a “construction manager in training” track. 

The know-how required in construction project management is remarkably diversified, and the backgrounds of top-level construction project managers tend to reflect this. Here at Stonemark, our senior project managers hold a variety of degrees in engineering and management, business admin and construction project management, as well as a very long list of construction and administration-related certifications. Professionally speaking, one thing they do have in common is years and years of project management experience: well over a century between them.

Which leads us to the other absolute necessity if CM is going to be your career: experience. How to get project management experience will depend on your situation. Are you a student? Most study programs will provide students with avenues for apprenticeships in construction project management. If you’re already working in the field, your apprenticeship began when you hammered in your first nail.

Many older construction managers cut their teeth on site, found they had an aptitude for management and essentially kept on learning by doing. Nowadays, though, an aspiring construction manager’s profile will generally include both aspects of education, which continues throughout the course of the career, and experience, which will grow broader and deeper with each new project.

It’s interesting to note that while women comprise only about 3% of construction workers in the field—a percentage that has been stable for years—project management is one of the construction sectors that is seeing the most growth, as more women are studying and apprenticing in CPM than ever before. In 2016, according to the BLS, 7.4% of construction managers were women.

The bottom line

Any career in construction management requires study, aptitude and experience. But to be truly successful, CMs should also have a natural ability to communicate, solve puzzles and find creative solutions. They’re sticklers, obsessive about details, and they know how to delegate. They’re reliable and principled. The CMAA has established  standards that include 1) Obligations to the public, 2) Obligations to the Client, 3) Obligations to the Profession and 4) Obligations to the Environment. 

Finally, CMs know how to be the calm in the storm. How do they handle the stress? Everybody’s got a different technique. Bart Mendel, the president of Stonemark, meditates. See his story here.

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