With competition and the need for innovation consistently increasing in construction, transportation, energy, architecture and related areas, project controllers are in demand more than ever. If you’re interested in a strategic leadership role that allows you to wear many hats, you can choose among a number of possible career paths to get into project controls. From there, you may even find a future in senior management.
What Does A Project Controller Do?
The field of project controls offers a variety of opportunities, but you’ll need some experience to begin moving up. The question is, what’s the best way to gain that experience? First, it’s important to understand the role of a project controller to determine if it will be a good fit for you.
Most project controls pros will tell you that “field experience” is vital to getting started. It’s common for project controllers to start their careers in the field, as a quantity surveyor, a foreman or a trades person. Having experience on the ground in a construction environment provides essential education and skills on how projects are executed. Field experience leads to gaining hands-on education in which you learn:
- Overall project workflow
- The relationships between all activities, trades, equipment and phases of projects
- The roles of all the project members
After gaining needed field experience and education, a project controller might take on a variety of responsibilities, including:
- Overall project oversight.
- Creating and monitoring budgets.
- Providing input into design, engineering and project implementation.
- Managing people, including resolving personality conflicts and personnel issues.
- Periodic reviews and audits to monitor and report progress.
- Closing out projects, including final reviews and reports.
Project controllers must be experts in so-called “soft skills,” including working with a variety of people in many types of roles, building relationships, negotiating and thinking across disciplines to ensure the overall success of a multi-faceted project.
Picking A Career Path
If you want to pursue a role as a project controller, you can choose from several possible career paths. Build Your Future, an initiative of the National Center for Construction Education and Research, outlines several options you can pursue after developing an awareness of the project controls field in either middle school, high school or technical school.
In one path, a student might begin with an industry apprenticeship and move on to the following roles:
- Craft professional.
- Crew leader/foreman.
- Project controller.
- Senior management or CEO.
Another possible path could begin with community or technical college, leading to an industry apprenticeship or university degree. From there, a budding project controls professional would have a number of options for continuing up the ladder, starting either as a crew leader/foreman or assistant project manager.
Finally, a student might start with a university degree then move into roles as an assistant project manager and project manager, then into a senior management or CEO role.
Roles And Levels Of Expertise
The Guild of Project Controls, a worldwide community of professionals that supports standards for the field, provides information on three major areas of knowledge that project controls professionals need. They include:
- Planning and scheduling.
- Cost management.
- Forensic analysis.
Within each category, a professional can attain several levels of expertise, from Foundation Level to Proficient Level, Advanced Level, Expert Level and Fellow Level. Several possible career paths emerge as a result of the various combinations of levels of expertise and categories of knowledge.
Moving Into Senior Management
For professionals who aspire to roles in senior management, a career in project controls serves as one possible path. Engineers and field construction personnel also may move into senior management, sometimes by way of project controls. Those who choose the field construction path may begin as an assistant construction superintendent or as an assistant project controller.
Because an assistant project controller role typically requires skills that come from an academic program, it’s unusual for someone with only a technical or high school background to move directly into the role. But some professionals do move into the job after acquiring experience in the field as a project superintendent or foreman.
Choose Your Path, And Get Started
If you’re adept at thinking strategically, working collaboratively with others and taking ownership of your projects, you may be well-suited for a future career in project controls. By choosing one of a variety of possible career paths, you can work toward moving into a project controller role and beyond. Look forward to experiencing the satisfaction of finished projects that come in under budget and over expectations.