This sounds as if there should be a fairly simple answer to the question; but there isn’t! The reason for that is because there are various people to whom the job title is as described.
The first of these is the person appointed by the Client to over-see the construction project on their behalf. The second one is someone appointed by the Main Contractor to oversee the project and this person may be site-based or an occasional visitor. The third to carry the title will be site-based but should more correctly be labelled the “Site Manager”.
Starting with the first one, the Clients’ Project Manager: – They have to get the whole client-side team together; Architects, Consultants and QS’s. Then they have to handle all the discussions with their company’s department’s parties who will be affected by the construction project, if any. Then they have to get any necessary Permission and put out enquiry forms for Tenders before selecting the main contractor. Once work starts on site they have to oversee it from the Client’s point of view; work to standards, to budget and to programme? Once the construction project is over these people may also have to deal with a couple more related projects; Change Management and IT. Strangely companies often appoint people to these jobs who have absolutely no knowledge or experience of construction! We have to molly-coddle them!
Once work does start on site the “main man” is the Main Contractor’s Project Manager. His first task, but one often overlooked, is to get all the parties involved in the project, (client-side, themselves and sub-contractors), all feeling that they are working together as a Team! Before that he has overseen enquiries being sent out to possible sub-contractors and finally appointing the ones whose price, experience and reputation make them the choice for the project in hand. Then he has to make sure that a good, comprehensive Build Programme is put together.
Whether site-based or a site visitor he has to oversee absolutely everything that is going on! Is paperwork being processed and filed away appropriately? Is the Site Manager up to the job and are the subbies? Is work up to standard? Are HS&E standards being complied with? Is morale on site good? Work progressing as per the Programme? If there are questions about any of these matters he then has to deal with them. That can be done in one of these two ways; a gentle hint or an-out-and-out bo**ocking – even determining contracts or firing people!
That just leaves us with the guy entitled “Project Manager” who should more correctly be called “Site Manager”. He will be responsible for handling all the paperwork and passing the information out to those who need to know. He’ll also pass RFI’s out to the architects or engineers whenever additional information is required by the skilled tradesmen. Beyond that his day should be spent out and about on the site checking on the progress of works and standards of workmanship. He should strike up amiable relationships with “the lads” who will then inform him of any possible hold-ups or problems long before he’d find out otherwise. Once back in the Site Office he can up-date progress on the Build Programme so everyone knows where the project has got to.
The final twist to this job description of a Project Manager’s duties in construction is that there is sometimes a job over-lap. The main contractor’s Project Manager might actually be there to fulfil the duties as described above, and also those of the “Site Manager”. This often does happen but has adverse side-effects. Very frequently the bloke appointed isn’t actually up to the role he has to play, so what happens then? The project starts falling behind Programme and doom and gloom are threatened! The main contractor then needs to take on a freelance project turnaround specialist or will probably be looking at going bust!