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A construction site, with helmets hanging on hooks inside.

What’s it really like to be a construction manager?

No two days are the same and projects can present all sorts of challenges, but nothing is more rewarding than seeing the completion of a project. There are certainly ups and downs as a construction manager, but the job is always interesting, according to James Doyle, Director of Melbourne-based construction management company Plan Group.

Construction managers oversee and lead a range of building projects from beginning to end.

Construction management has experienced strong growth over the past decade and the Australian Jobs Outlook predicts it will continue to grow moderately over the next few years. It is also a well-paid job, with median salaries 30% above the average wage in Australia.

So what exactly does a career in construction management involve and what does it take to succeed? James gives us an inside look.

There’s no ‘typical day’ for a construction manager

‘A day might involve a visit to site, or several sites, review of program progress, reviewing financials and contract administration, meetings with clients and design teams and liaising with sub-contractors,’ James says.

‘Construction managers also estimate projects, which involves reviewing designs, communicating with sub-contractors on costs, scoping and measuring what’s required to complete the project, quantifying costs, creation of project programs and building methodologies.’

James says there are also a range of roles at different levels undertaken by construction managers. Typically, entry roles include contract administrator, project coordinator, site engineer and junior estimator. With a few years of experience you might move into roles such as a project engineer, project manager or estimator.

Senior roles include project director, construction manager or commercial manager – or taking the leap and starting your own business, which James and his fellow directors Tony Davidson and Daniel Korber did five years ago, with success.

Running your own business still sees you managing projects end-to-end, as well as the extra responsibility that running a business brings.

'A day might involve a visit to site, or several sites, review of program progress, reviewing financials and contract administration, meetings with clients and design teams and liaising with sub-contractors.'

James Doyle,
Director, Plan Group

What are the best parts and challenges?

James says by far the best part of the role is seeing the actual finished product.

He says he also enjoys working with appreciative clients and design teams.

But there are inevitably challenges when there are so many elements of a project to coordinate, which any building project involves.

‘There are always time pressures, budgets to manage and we often have to deal with unexpected changes in scope,’ James says.

Market conditions are also a challenge, when the market is going well it’s difficult to procure, while a quiet market makes it difficult to secure work.’

What skills do you need to succeed as a construction manager?

Construction managers need a diverse range of skills, and most importantly a good combination of ‘hard and soft’ skills. ‘While knowing how to read architectural plans, creating a sound project plan and keeping track of finances across projects is important, a good communicator, client service focus and someone with excellent time management skills will generally do very well as a construction manager,’ James says.

‘On any given day, a construction manager will need to deal with multiple levels of people, from sub-contractors, trades people and labourers on site, to a blue-chip CEO. Strategic and lateral thinking, management of people and negotiation skills are also very important in construction management.’

What do you look for in a potential job candidate?

James says university level qualifications are always well regarded, such as a Bachelor of Construction Management, but some people who work in the industry, in a trade for example, can undertake TAFE study to move into the construction management field. Well-regarded candidates include those with relevant experience, a good work ethic, good communication skills, a pro-active attitude and the ability to anticipate challenges before they happen. ‘We also look for someone who manages the job, and doesn’t let the job manage them,’ he says.


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