No Dull Days for Construction Managers

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"One day you witness the satisfaction of overseeing the completion of a major project -- knowing that you supply power, heat and clean water to the community or to a business is very rewarding," says Bill Krech, a construction manager (CM) for Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota-based Total Construction.

But then there are days that don't go quite as planned.

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"The downside of the job is when your project falls apart for various reasons, and your customer becomes very upset with how you spent their money," he says. "Or there's times when you are near completion of the project and you have to back off, because the owner has no more money to pay."

Such is the life of a construction manager, a job Krech says never gets dull and is rarely the same two days in a row. One day he won't have enough drivers to haul material to a site, or he might have to deal with a workplace injury. Other days he's in the office planning one project or off site bidding on another. And in addition to managing and overseeing the day-to-day operations of his own workers, Krech has to make sure his company is working in unison with others at the same site.

"A lot of times we'll be at a site and so will four or five other outfits," says Krech. "We all have to work together in order to stay on time, within budget and as scheduled."

Danelle Prezioso, deputy executive director of the Construction Management Association of America, knows how valuable a good CM is to a project's successful completion.

"The professional construction manager strives to give owners more effective control of complex construction, delivering high-quality finished projects on time and within budget," says Prezioso. "The CM is your advocate, combining detailed technical knowledge with a commitment to meeting your needs."

Prezioso says a CM is typically responsible for these duties:

  • Release and use of funds throughout the project.
  • Project scheduling.
  • Control of the scope of work.
  • Optimum use of other firms' talents and resources.
  • Avoiding delays, changes, disputes and cost overruns.
  • Optimum flexibility in contracting and procurement.
  • Assuring the project is built to specifications.

"Construction management is a discipline and management system specifically created to promote the successful execution of capital projects for owners," says Prezioso. "These projects can be highly complex. Few owners maintain the staff resources necessary to pay close, continuing attention to every detail -- yet these details can make or break a project."

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Krech, who has a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Minnesota, says CMs can start out making anywhere from $30,000 to $40,000 per year but adds that salaries "can get into six figures for someone who has education, experience and proven success as a manager."

Another key to success in construction management is communication skills. With so many different people responsible for so many different facets of a job, clear communication with staff, clients and others is crucial, says Paul Oberhaus, vice president of CPMI, a Bloomington, Minnesota-based construction management firm.

"Construction managers must be able to interact with many different personality types and be able to communicate effectively to motivate individuals to perform," says Oberhaus.

A typical day for a CM at his firm, Oberhaus says, involves directing the site's daily operations, dealing with project developers on issues that develop, planning for the next day, week and future, and solving problems and logistical issues, all while documenting every step.

"The only other tip I can offer is to do the job as honest and fairly as possible," says Oberhaus. "Mistreatment of [workers and subcontractors] travels through the industry like the fires in southern California."

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