How Do I Become a Construction Manager?

Annual construction spending was over $1.2 trillion in November 2018, according to Census Bureau data. Whether that money was well-invested or not will depend, in part, on the quality of each individual building project’s construction manager.

Construction managers oversee building projects from start to finish, utilizing specialized project management techniques to strategically control a project’s time, cost, and quality. Coordinating between a building project’s three key stakeholders—architect, owner, and general contractor—a construction manager needs both keen business management skills and a solid understanding of the nuances of construction. The success of the project often rests in their hands.

Lower tax rates and a trending emphasis on sustainable green-building projects are increasing the need for talented and well-educated construction managers. Population and business growth, combined with a need to rejuvenate national infrastructure, are contributing to the rise in demand as well.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, construction management is expected to add 44,800 jobs between 2016 and 2026—an 18 percent rate of growth which is significantly faster than the national average. Even now, construction managers enjoy a high earnings potential: the average construction manager makes over $90,000 per year, with several construction managers holding no more than a bachelor’s degree.

But just as the rules and standards of construction are changing, so is the career path for aspiring construction managers. A bachelor’s degree isn’t necessarily enough in a world of increasingly advanced degrees and certifications. Continuing education, too, is critical to stay current with environmental and regulatory trends.

Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming a Construction Manager

Step One: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree (Four Years)

After graduating from high school, aspiring construction managers need to earn a bachelor’s degree. While some construction managers choose to pursue undergraduate degrees in architecture or engineering, majoring in construction management is the most linear path—one that keeps a wide array of future opportunities open. Admissions standards for such programs often include a competitive GPA (3.0 or greater), letters of recommendation, SAT or ACT scores, and a personal statement.

Indiana State University’s bachelor’s of science (BS) in construction management is offered either through online learning or at their Terre Haute campus. Students learn leadership and management skills, in addition to courses covering the impact of construction on the environment and society. The program explores a wide range of nuanced subjects, including building design and planning, environmental control systems, project management, theories of forces in building structures, and the principles of quality concrete.

The university also provides an internship program to give students real-world experience, and it even hosts a construction honors society, Sigma Lambda Chi. ISU’s construction management program is accredited by the American Council for Construction Education (ACCE).

Everglades University offers a bachelor’s of science in construction management that may be taken either online or at its campus in Boca Raton, Florida. In addition to business management skills, students take courses in subjects such as construction contracts, building construction drawing, codes and standards, construction ethics, construction safety, construction estimating, and construction law. Aiming to provide a ‘green’ focus to their degree, Everglades University also offers a course in LEED Certification and green sustainability (see more on that in step six below).

Step Two: Pursue Preliminary Certification (Optional, Timeline Varies)

Certification is not necessary to practice as a construction manager, but it does act as a mark of distinction, validating one’s education and dedication within the field. The continuing education and networking opportunities that go along with the professional societies who sponsor the credentialing processes can also boost one’s career, especially in the early stages.

The American Institute of Constructors (AIC) offers certification as an associate constructor (AC), and is designed for recent college graduates. Those who hold a bachelor’s degree in construction management are eligible to take a 300-question, eight-hour exam that covers: communication; engineering; management; materials, methods, and project visualization; bidding and estimating; budgeting, costs, and cost control; planning, scheduling, and schedule control; construction safety; construction geomatics; and project administration.

Once the credential is earned, an AC must participate in a continuing professional development program, which keeps credential-holders up to date on evolving industry trends. To keep one’s AC credential in good standing, an AC must pay a yearly continuing professional development fee, which is waived for AIC members. Associate constructors can maintain their credential for a maximum of ten years, after which they must attempt CPC certification (see step six below).

The Construction Management Association of America (CMAA) offers a similar certification as a construction manager in training (CMIT), which is designed to help aspiring construction managers kick-start their career. Applicants must have completed or be close to completing a bachelor’s degree in engineering, architecture, or construction management.

Drawing on the CMAA’s Capstone Course: An Introduction to Construction Management, applicants take a 200-question, six-hour test, on which they need to score 80 percent or better. Once they’ve earned the CMIT designation, they are given access to the Certified Construction Manager mentor directory, which helps a CMIT build their network with leading industry professionals. The CMIT designation is valid for seven years after it’s issued.

Step Three: Gain Early Work Experience (Optional, Timeline Varies)

Once you have earned your bachelor’s degree and a preliminary certification, it’s time to get a hands-on education by gaining early work experience. While most jobs want construction managers to have previous leadership experience for management positions, it’s possible to get a job on a construction site as an intern or management assistant.

On-the-job experience in any capacity is an education in and of itself, and, as a bonus, it’ll be looked upon favorably when applying for MBA programs or future employment opportunities.

Step Four: Earn an MBA in Construction Management (One to Two Years)

An MBA in construction management can give an aspiring construction manager the tools, network, and experience necessary to move into leadership positions on construction sites. Combining the rigorous business management skills of an MBA with the subject matter expertise of a construction management education, these programs can move a graduate’s resume to the top of the stack.

Admissions requirements vary from school to school, but often include a competitive GPA (3.0 or greater), a personal statement, and letters of recommendation. GMAT/GRE scores or work experience may be required at some schools, but often with the former being waived in lieu of the latter, and vice versa.

Norwich University offers an MBA with a construction management focus from a program that’s highly ranked by US News & World Report. Multiple start dates offer flexible scheduling for mid-career professionals, and GMAT and GRE scores are not required as part of the admissions process.

The program highlights the need for energy-efficient buildings, while core concepts cover areas such as project finance, strategic resource management, project scheduling, and effective communication. Students may complete their MBA at Norwich in as few as 18 months, and the 36-credit MBA program is accredited by the Association of Collegiate Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP).

The MBA in construction project management at Lamar University is ranked in the top ten MBA programs in Texas. In addition to the typical suite of core MBA courses, students study topics such as construction planning and scheduling, legal practices in construction, construction safety management, construction cost estimating, and the sustainable built environment. Fully accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), the 36-credit program may be completed entirely online in 16 months or more.

In addition to their undergraduate degree, Everglades University offers an MBA with a concentration in construction management. Built on the belief that tomorrow’s management methods may differ drastically from those of today, the program focuses on general principles and decision-making skills that can adapt to continued learning and industry advancements.

In addition to core MBA classes in business management, students explore topics such as strategic management of construction organizations, advanced construction estimating, and legal aspects in construction. The 36-credit program may be completed online or at the school’s campus in Boca Raton, Florida in one year or more.

Step Five: Gain Advanced Work Experience (4+ Years)

Once you have earned your MBA, it’s time to leverage your skills and network to gain advanced work experience in construction management. One leadership position often leads to another, and a chain of such management experiences not only can sharpen your skills and prepare you for advanced certification, but it may drive you to specialize in a particular area such as green building, neighborhood development, or operations and maintenance—a career-defining step.

Step Six: Achieve Advanced Certification (Optional, Timeline Varies)

Further certification isn’t a requirement for construction managers, but it can solidify one’s place as an established, equipped, and engaged professional. Adding an advanced credential also can lead to greater hiring opportunities, higher earnings potential, and more chance to network with other professionals in the field. These advanced certifications stack, too, meaning that pursuing one doesn’t preclude the pursuit of another, and holding a combination of credentials may further bolster a construction manager’s opportunities.

The AIC offers an advanced credential as a certified professional constructor (CPC), and it’s designed for experienced and established professionals. Applicants need to provide four years of qualifying work experience since earning their associate constructor (AC) credential, two years of which must have been in managing construction work.

To earn this certification, applicants need to take a 175-question, four-hour exam that covers: project scope development; employment practices; working relationships; construction start-up and support; construction resource management; construction cost control; project closeout; construction risk management; and ethics. Once the credential has been earned, it will need to be maintained by completing 32 hours of continuing professional development in each two-year recertification period.

The CMAA issues a credential for certified construction managers (CCM) who want to increase their marketability and validate their expertise. Internationally recognized as a gold standard credential in construction management, the CCM designation was one of the first such programs to earn accreditation by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).

Applicants must have 48 non-overlapping months of responsible-in-charge (RIC) experience, meaning time where the applicant was directly in charge of construction management services and responsible for protecting the interests of the project and the owner.

Once deemed eligible, applicants take a 200-question, five-hour test that assesses general knowledge of design and construction and requires a passing score of 67 percent. The exam covers: project management, cost management, time management, contract administration, quality management, professional practice, and safety and risk management.

In addition to a plethora of study tools, the CMAA sells a practice exam that gives prospective applicants an idea of the topics one may encounter on the real exam. Once certification has been earned, CCMs must recertify every three years by accumulating 25 continuing education points through various professional development activities.

A third credential construction managers may pursue is offered by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), the most widely used green building rating system in the world. LEED provides a framework for healthy, efficient, cost-saving, sustainable buildings.

To earn the basic LEED credential, applicants must score 85 percent or better on a 100-question, two-hour test the measures general knowledge of green building practices. Established construction managers with green building experience may choose to pursue a specialized LEED credential in one of five areas: interior design and construction; neighborhood development; homes; operations and maintenance; or building design and construction. The specialized credential exam is also a two-hour, 100-question test, and it may either be taken along with the basic LEED exam or separately. LEED green associates must complete 15 hours of continuing education every two years in order to maintain their certification.

Helpful Resources for Construction Managers

Best practices, building standards, and environmental trends can change the field of construction management in both nuanced and massive ways. Continuing education, professional networking, and scholarly work are the tools a construction manager uses to stay on top of the game. If you’re interested in taking a peek at what successful construction managers are discussing and building, check out some of the links below.

Matt Zbrog
Matt Zbrog

Matt Zbrog is a writer and researcher from Southern California. Since 2018, he’s written extensively about how new and aspiring business school students can best plan their education and careers. In the Two Views series, he conducts detailed interviews with recent business school alumni, with a particular focus on the choice between in-person, online, and hybrid learning models. His Femme-BA series highlights business schools that not only excel academically but also take unique and robust steps to support a diverse and inclusive learning environment for women.

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