A construction superintendent oversees every aspect of a building project, starting with basic proposals and worker agreements and ending with final inspections and, in many cases, reports to owners or investors. Most superintendents have experience as construction workers and from time to time they may actually help with physical building projects. The bulk of their job is in organizing and managing, however, which makes training in business administration and leadership quite valuable.
Basic Job Description
Superintendents in many ways function as bosses for building sites. It is their responsibility to make sure that projects are completed on schedule, within budget, and in a way that is safe and follows local building codes and laws. There is a lot of paperwork, particularly when it comes to things like building permits and licensing materials, but the job also requires significant personal interactions. Most superintendents are in charge of both making teams and resolving conflicts large and small.
Relationship to Project Managers
The superintendent’s job is done from the building site, which means that he or she is physically present for all parts of the construction process and is on hand to answer questions the moment they arise. In most cases this person works from a temporary office, often in a portable trailer or, for smaller projects, a company car.
Presence at the site is one of the biggest differences between construction superintendents and project managers. In other respects these two professionals have similar responsibilities, particularly when it comes to managing things like scheduling and budget concerns, and in nearly all cases the two work together, one on the ground and one in a larger corporate office, in order to see a project through to completion. The easiest distinction is probably where angle is concerned. Project managers focus on the ramifications of whatever is happening at the site, including making initial bids and selecting the project in the first place. Then, the superintendent makes sure that things are going smoothly, and manages day-to-day execution.
Selecting the Team
Hiring subcontractors and laborers is one of the first things a construction superintendent will do once he or she has been assigned to a project. This often starts with advertising the job in construction circles, and usually also includes interviewing candidates and reading through bid proposals. Once the superintendent has selected a team, he or she is in charge of assigning members tasks, briefing them on the work to be done, and giving them a schedule or roster of duties.
Importance of Scheduling and Timing
Nearly all construction projects are designed to be completed within a certain time frame, and the superintendent is typically the person responsible for breaking the project down into more manageable “chunks” and organizing the workforce so that things will get done on schedule. Sometimes this is as simple as instructing a house building team to start with the framing, install the cabinets, then work on the drywall; the larger the project, though, the more complicated scheduling becomes. When things fall behind, whether due to unexpected weather delays, problems with workers, or supply shortages, the superintendent is usually the one who must make adjustments so that things will stay on track.
Keeping building projects within budget is another challenge for superintendents. Sourcing supplies is one of the biggest parts of this, but managing labor costs also factors in. The superintendent has to figure out how many people to hire so that he or she has enough workers when there is a lot going on but isn’t paying for labor that isn’t needed during lulls. This part of the job often requires a lot of pre-planning and intense calculation. Going over budget is sometimes inevitable, but it can make a superintendent look bad, which in turn can negatively impact how often he or she is given more work in the future.
Depending on the nature and scope of the project, working hours may be somewhat irregular. In most cases, the superintendent must be largely available throughout the duration of a given project, which often means that he or she will have to work long hours, in most cases including weekends. There tend to be periods of high intensity matched with times where things are more relaxed. The person in this position must usually be flexible, particularly during very busy periods.
Superintendents are almost always accountable to someone higher up, but who this is varies greatly depending on the project. A simple house remodel is usually headed by an executive in a private construction company, for instance, but a contract to construct a government office or build a major industrial park may necessitate answering to a series of higher authorities. Any time these people have questions or concerns, they address them to the superintendent. The job does not usually end when the building project is finished, either, as various briefings and reports are usually required before things can be wrapped up.
In most cases, a written report showing receipts and providing a brief analysis of how the project was executed is sufficient, but more can be required. Some superintendents make presentations at board meetings and give oral reports to building company executives. A person with this sort of expertise may also be called to consult on future projects, often providing analysis about what is or is not feasible within certain time or budgetary parameters.
Getting the Job
Most construction superintendents are hired internally, which means that they already work for a construction company or consulting group and are simply assigned — often at the advice of the project manager — to oversee a specific site. Many of these people start out as subcontractors or lower-level site managers, then slowly build the expertise to be promoted to more responsibility.
It is also possible to work as a sort of freelancer, lending services to construction companies as needed on a project-by-project basis. This often requires a lot of marketing and self-promotion, and can be somewhat undependable since work is never guaranteed. The arrangement does provide a lot of flexibility, though, and those who are really skilled often find that they are able to cultivate enough of a clientele that they almost always have work when they want it.
Training and Other Special Considerations
Experience is usually more important than formal education when it comes to landing a job as a superintendent. The best candidates have often spent years if not decades on and around construction sites, and understand the inner workings of the relationship between builders and developers. Just the same, a university education is often advantageous, particularly in a field like business administration or accounting. While rarely required, these sorts of degrees can demonstrate deep knowledge that can come in handy for setting budgets and writing reports, and can overcome a lack of experience in certain cases.
It is sometimes also possible to get specific construction manager or superintendent training through a trade school or institute devoted to the building profession. These sorts of classes can usually be taken either on their own or as part of a larger certification program, and are a good way to brush up on needed skills in a more formal academic setting. Most classes combine book learning with hands-on experience.
Depending on location, superintendents may also have to be licensed or registered with a local building authority. In most places this is a relatively simple formality that requires little more than proof of identity and legal working status along with the payment of a small fee, though the process can be more complicated. It is important to keep in mind, too, that a license does not usually guarantee work even if it is required in order to be hired.