It's a hectic job with a host of responsibilities.
Project managers don’t design anything and rarely touch a hammer or piece of construction equipment, yet they are essential to getting the job done. And it’s a great time to be one, since these workers are in high demand.
Ask a construction project manager what he or she does, and aside from "everything," the answer will probably include tasks such as establishing a project schedule, preparing the budget, hiring subcontractors, negotiating contracts, attending design meetings with the architect and obtaining permits.
But the job also involves a daily grind to keep the project moving forward on schedule and on budget. That grind entails troubleshooting pretty much every problem that crops up. Expect to be attached to your smartphone and field a barrage of phone calls and emails. (Some PMs say they check their email even while in the loo).
Most project managers start their day at 6 a.m. if not earlier, with email, text and phone checks with superintendents and foremen to address any issues that happened overnight or are expected to crop up that day. Where these conversations happen depends on the size of the job and how many jobs the project manager is handling. Jamie Dorland, project manager at McCarthy Building Companies, is working on the expansion of Mercy Hospital Northwest Campus in Rogers, Arkansas, and goes directly to the site in the morning, operating out of the project trailer.
Brian Demore, senior project manager at subcontractor Gaston Electrical in Norwood, Massachusetts, starts his day in Gaston's office, where he checks on the conditions at the dozen projects he is overseeing. He devotes certain days of the week to visiting projects in person.
Since Dorland is on site, he joins in the morning safety meeting. Then the rest of the day is spent:
- Participating in meetings
- Responding to emails
- Answering questions from and coordinating with the staff, the owner, the architect and subcontractors
- Reviewing and updating job cost figures
- Revising the schedule if necessary.
"It's a 24-hour job. The phone is always on. You're always on call."
McCarthy is self-performing the concrete work at Mercy Hospital, so Dorland also dedicates some of his day to material purchases, equipment rentals and labor productivity for that portion of the project.
After the day starts on an Englewood Construction project, Chuck Taylor, director of operations for the Chicago-area company, said his team of project managers spends most of their time touching base with the project superintendents, clarifying the scope of work of contractors and generally managing the project's progress. Here, Taylor said, project managers get some help from a digital system that allows superintendents to share jobsite photos.
Demore of Gaston Electrical does a does a quick financial review of each project every day, checks the status of deliveries, does a manpower review, compares a three-week look-ahead with project metrics to make sure they align, shops around for the best price on materials and prepares any change orders. He said he also reaches out daily to the general contractors on Gaston's projects.
"It's a 24-hour job," Demore said. "The phone is always on. You're always on call."
Dorland at McCarthy said lunchtime allows a little time for socialization but is often spent catching up on emails or getting ahead of the curve on some task or issue. While there's no set quitting time, he said the day typically wraps up around 6 p.m. when all the project's priority tasks are complete.
"Without question, the best and most rewarding part of my day, besides going home to my wife and kids, is spent engaging and working directly with my team of partners and co-owners, resolving obstacles and pushing the project forward together to exceed our client’s expectations," Dorland said. "I am excited to come to work every day and represent McCarthy the best way I can."
Kim Slowey is a writer who has been active in the construction industry for 25 years and is licensed as a certified general contractor in Florida. She received her BA in Mass Communications/Journalism from the University of South Florida and has experience in both commercial and residential construction.