Business of Architecture

Archinect’s Guide to Job Titles: Project Manager | Features


As we continue our investigation of the most foundational job titles in the architecture industry, we now move to the Project Manager (PM), a title often closely associated with the Project Architect (PA), which we covered in a previous article. Because a Project Architect and a Project Manager can sometimes be the same person or share many of the same responsibilities it can be tricky to differentiate between the two. In team structures where the PM functions in a separate role, duties can include internal and external team management; financial and budgetary management; scheduling; staffing; and overall communication between the parties involved in a project. 

This is our seventh installment of Archinect’s Guide to Job Titles. We’ll look at the Project Manager and explore the nature and essence of operating in this role. We will also investigate what one might expect from an individual pursuing this career path in architecture.

The role of the Project Manager

According to the Architectural Handbook of Professional Practice, a ‘Project Manager’ is a    “term frequently used interchangeably with ‘Project Architect’ to identify the individual designated to manage the firm’s services related to a given project. Normally these services include administrative responsibilities as well as technical responsibilities.” As we covered in the Project Architect piece, it’s important to acknowledge the tendency for some firms to combine the PA and PM roles, having one individual fulfill the duties of both designations. Since we are exploring the individual role of the PM in this article, we will assume an organizational structure that employs separate professionals to each of these roles. In this context, a PM would typically oversee a project team or multiple teams who would execute the production and technical work of the project. 

The Project Manager can be a licensed professional and would oversee the operations of a given project where a Project Architect might report to them regarding the progress of the design and technical development of the project. In this structure, the Project Architect might have their own “sub-teams” with each overseen by a Job Captain and made up of intermediate and junior designers or project staff. So, if we picture it, you might have a Project Manager, who engages with two or three Project Architects (for the sake of argument) with each reporting about their respective project teams. Each of those Project Architects might have two or even three Job Captains that they work with to help manage a specific project and who help guide intermediate and junior staff through the project timeline.

The Project Manager can be a licensed professional and would oversee the operations of a given project where a Project Architect might report to them regarding the progress of the design and technical development of the project

The Project Manager would engage with the clients of these projects, manage things like budget, staffing for the project teams, scheduling meetings and presentations, dealing with the contract, and managing risk in a number of ways. This is only an anecdotal example of how a Project Manager could function in a larger office setting. The variations that firms employ are wide and nuanced.

Qualifications and responsibilities

The responsibilities of the Project Manager can be different depending on the firm, but across the board, one can count on the Project Manager to function in a project management role. That can take on many forms, but the overarching function is the same, the fluid and successful execution of a project for all parties. For a role with such high responsibility, experience is crucial and there are some inherent qualifications one must hold to be able to execute the responsibility adequately. Some of the common qualifications sought in a Project Manager include:

  • Being a registered architect (sometimes)

  • Understanding of contracts and the financial nature of architectural work

  • Understand the documentation and production of instruments of service

  • Construction administration experience

  • Coordination skills: consultants, schedule, construction administration, etc.

  • QA/QC

  • Leadership and mentorship of staff and internal project team

“A Project Manager’s primary responsibility focuses on elements involved with the client & project team relationships, such as contractual obligations, expectations, quality of service, and most importantly, clear communication with all parties.” said Jovan Gayton, a Project Manager at AC Martin. When asked what his primary day-to-day duties were as a PM, Gayton said, “My project goals are to under-promise and over-deliver; to deliver projects under-budget, ahead of schedule with limited exposure; to serve and communicate with all project teammates. Therefore, my primary day-to-day responsibilities are to:  provide and document clear project communication, attend and participate in project meetings, transfer risk, avoid risk, maintain quality control and assurance, and serve ALL project teammates.”

…Project Managers should have a love of people and value good and clear communication.

Gayton says Project Managers should have a love of people and value good and clear communication. For those pursuing this role, it is a characteristic of putting others first, and of managing many different personalities that seems to be one of the foundational qualities of success.

What are firms looking for?

So what are firms looking for in a Project Manager? In Los Angeles-based Walker Workshop’s search for a Project Manager, the firm states:

This position requires notable past success in creating high-quality architecture through all phases of design. Candidates should be strong team leaders with exceptional project management and communication skills. We are a Revit based office. Knowledge of Los Angeles codes and ordinances is a plus.

Candidates should have 6-plus years of post-academic professional office experience; varied experience with the production and coordination of permit and construction documents; and previous experience managing team members, coordinating with consultants, and interactions with clients among many other things.

In New York-based Studio Link-Arc’s search for a Project Manager, the firm seeks a candidate with eight to ten years of experience “leading architecture offices.” Moreover, the firm says that an ideal candidate will be able to manage the production of Design Development drawing sets and lead a team with minimal supervision. Familiarity with building systems and the ability to coordinate with consultants from multiple disciplines is a plus as well.

Brooklyn-based firm Crème is looking for a Project Manager to join their hospitality practice. In its job description, the firm writes:

You will lead a project from start to finish through Design Conceptualization & Development, Space Planning and Programming, Specifying FF&E, Purchasing, Construction Documentation, and Construction Administration. You will be responsible for initiating and responding to client, vendor, and contractor and subcontractor communication. Experience in hospitality design required.

The common qualifications sought by firms can include having adequate experience guiding a team through all phases of design and a facility with the overall coordination of consultants, clients, and internal architectural teams. This experience would likely come from time working in an architectural office as an architect or designer and at some point transitioning into a management role.

What about pay?

According to Archinect’s Salary Poll, with a response pool of 1,166 respondents across the country, the average salary for a Project Manager, covering all levels of experience, in the United States sits at $75,127 annually. In Los Angeles, professionals holding 11 to 15 years of experience hold an $87,568 per year average. Move that to professionals with 6 to 7 years of experience, and the average comes in at about $67,950 annually, according to the Archinect’s Salary Poll Data. The average overall pay for Project Managers in New York City is approximately $80,188. Ultimately, compensation will be commensurate on experience, ability, region, size of the firm, and the current job market.

The overseer

Ultimately, the Project Manager acts as the overseer of a project’s health and progress. They coordinate all of the parties involved, a feat requiring tremendous patience and empathy. Additionally, the Project Manager must not only interact with their internal team members within their office, but also with numerous external consultant firms, different disciplines, and most importantly, the client and their teams. So those with ambitions to pursue a role in project management, learning the ropes is the first step, and observing the managers around you, soon, the ins and outs of architectural practice will become more clear, but that magic ingredient is time.

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