Construction Management vs. Project Management: What’s the Difference?

By: Dan Taylor on November 14, 2019

Construction manager, project manager, what’s the difference?

As it turns out, quite a bit, and understanding those differences is crucial to any construction firm hoping to make it to the next level.

Small firms tend to have one person who serves as both the project and construction manager. That could be holding the firm back, as those are very different roles that require unique talents. Construction managers and project managers have their own tasks, their own responsibilities, and their own project management or construction management software.

Here are a few key differences between a construction manager and project manager and why this matters to your firm.

Project management is broader

The main difference between project managers and construction managers is the scope. Project managers typically are higher up the food chain in an organization and have broader responsibilities.

For example, a construction manager may only oversee the construction of the building itself, whereas a project manager will run all aspects of the project, from selecting the site to land procurement to, well, hiring the construction manager.

A project manager’s job is to give the construction manager and everyone else on the project the tools and support they need to get the work done.

Common project manager activities include:

  • Site analysis

  • Land procurement

  • Marketing and public relations

  • Budget management

  • Timeline and deadline management

  • Staffing (including the construction manager)

Gartner outlines the following key responsibilities of project managers (full report available to Gartner clients):


Key takeaway for your business:

If you don’t have someone handling project management activities, you risk making critical mistakes in the initial phases—such as land procurement—that could lead to delays in your project and lost bids down the road.

Construction managers are more involved in the details

Project managers typically don’t deal with construction workers, equipment, and materials, except to sign off on them. It’s the construction manager’s job to determine what their needs are in those areas, develop a proposal, and submit it to the project manager for approval.

The project manager will weigh the costs against the budget and may ask the construction manager for justification of the expenses, but ultimately they rely on the construction manager to figure those things out.

Common construction manager activities include:

  • Managing subcontractors

  • Managing workers

  • Supervising day-to-day construction operations

  • Ensuring compliance with building codes and regulations

  • Ordering materials

  • Maintaining equipment

  • Planning work schedules

  • Preparing estimates

Construction management overview (Source)


Key takeaway for your business:

If you just have a project manager who isn’t doing a lot of the typical construction management work, you may have a chaotic workforce without proper work schedules, or you may run afoul of building codes and regulations.

Project management involves more direct contact with the client

Because the project manager oversees a large portion of the operation, they will have more direct contact with the client, who will want to know how construction is going as well as other things, such as land procurement and site analysis.

The project manager also has a greater understanding of the client’s needs because they have been there since the beginning of the project and have already worked closely with the client in a variety of areas.

Construction managers will certainly have plenty of communication with the client, but project managers have more responsibility.

Key takeaway for your business:

Construction managers are often more focused on getting the building done than keeping the client happy, so if you don’t have a project manager, you risk an out-of-the-loop client who is dissatisfied even if the project ends up going smoothly.

Project managers and construction managers are often the same person

Not every construction firm is a behemoth with thousands of employees. Sometimes, a firm is just a handful of people—or even just a couple. In that case, one person handles the responsibilities of both the project manager and construction manager.

This can be challenging, and when the firm grows, it may need to split these two functions up in order to avoid overwhelming the individual and risking problems as details are missed with bigger construction projects.

Key takeaway for your business:

You need to take a step back and determine if 1) you have enough budget to hire two people to fill these roles and, 2) if the person currently filling both roles is handling it well or is starting to make mistakes. If you feel like you are dropping the ball on some of the fundamental activities listed above, that could be a sign that you need two people in these two positions.

What are the differences between PM and construction PM software?

Because project management and construction management are two very different roles, that means the software that serves them are very different as well. PM software and construction PM software have vastly different features in many cases, although there is overlap.

Download this PDF to learn about the differences between PM and construction PM software.