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Construction Manager vs Project Manager: What’s the Difference?


Last Updated Dec 6, 2023

Construction manager and project manager review drawings on a commercial jobsite

From budgeting, to payroll, to actual responsibilities, the Project Manager (PM) and Construction Manager (CM) are not to be confused with each other. They may seem interchangeable, but there are some key differences between the two. The answer to the riddle lies in the titles themselves: The Project Manager, as the title suggests, has responsibilities that are all-encompassing. This person has eyes on the whole of the project, of which the construction itself is just one component or phase.

Learn more: Everything you need to know about construction management

Table of contents

Project Managers oversee all project activities

The PM’s job is to see that the project comes in on time and on budget. Every aspect of the construction cycle falls under the purview of the Project Manager.

While the project manager doesn’t actually get “hands-on” any of the duties of the various project players he oversees, he knows enough to be able to dive in and perform the tasks at hand, if need be. His role is to know enough about everyone’s tasks, technically and otherwise, to be able to expertly integrate of all the project’s moving parts. From the initial exploratory meetings, through the design, construction, punch list, and final closeout of the project, the project manager oversees the project landscape, onsite and off.

PM as Owner's Rep

Perhaps most importantly, the PM advocates for, and makes regular reports to, the project owner. As long as the project is active and ongoing, the Project Manager (PM) is typically the single point of contact between the owner and the project. When the owner wants a coherent and informed summary report on the status of the project, the Project Manager delivers it.

The owner is thus at the apex of the PM’s own reporting structure. Besides keeping the owner completely informed as to the state of the project, the PM is also the liaison who keeps the  designers, engineers, and contractors in touch with each other, and collectively attendant to the owner’s needs and wants.

The PM represents the owner’s interests foremost, and sees to it those interests and needs are being met by the project teams and vendors. It could be said that the PM is the owner’s proxy; the owner’s official voice and representative through all phases of the project.

In fact, the Project Manager often hires both the Construction Manager and the GC (when these two roles are separate), and also manage these positions. The PM is thus the bridge between the owner and the project, as well as the on-the-ground manager of key construction personnel.

The PM role requires that someone have a foot in both worlds -- the administrative and the technical. The PM has the organizational and reporting skills to keep all the project elements in sync and the owner informed. The PM also has the construction knowledge to advise and make decisions that impact the project’s schedule.

Planning, supervising, consulting, and when necessary, fixing -- the PM is everywhere, and has an eye on, and sometimes even a hand in, all aspects of the project stream. Importantly, when the PM visits the site to check the project’s progress, it is as if the Owner himself is coming to the lot.

CMs Direct Construction Activities

The Construction Manager (CM) is primarily responsible for overseeing the actual construction of the project.The management of the subcontractors and the onsite supervision of the actual construction work fall squarely in the Construction Manager’s scope.

Often, the contract structure will also make the Construction Manager contractually liable for the work the subcontractors do. While the construction of the building itself would seem to occupy the natural center of the project, the construction is actually just one of many linear phases of a construction project. Take one step up in elevation and all of these phases are overseen by, and are ultimately the responsibility of, the Project Manager. The subordinate construction phase is the responsibility of the CM.

It can be helpful to think of the Project Manager as having expert responsibility over the project’s business and resource management, and to think of the Construction Manager as having expert responsibility over the hands-on trades, including plumbing, electrical, carpentry -- all that goes into building.

Hiring for something as complex as a construction project is already daunting. If you confuse the roles of these two very important managers -- Project and Construction -- you risk throwing a job substantially off course. Be sure you’re aware of how all of the titles and roles in a construction project interact, overlap, and complement each other; particularly those that sound suspiciously interchangeable.


Project Execution

Written by

Hildy Medina

Hildy Medina is the Editor-in-Chief of Jobsite. In her former life, Hildy was a journalist writing for various publications, including Forbes, The San Diego-Union Tribune, and The Santa Barbara News-Press.

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