Design manager (construction): job description

Design managers oversee the design aspects of a construction project on behalf of the construction company building it.

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Over time, design managers typically specialise in a type of building.

What does a design manager do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

A design manager is essentially a type of project manager working for a construction company (the main contractor) due to build a project, rather than for the initial design consultants or architects. Design managers are sometimes known as design coordinators or design and build managers.

Design managers coordinate all design matters relating to a project, helping to ensure that the multi-disciplinary teams building the project work together smoothly and that everything is delivered on time and within budget. A design manager typically starts work on a project before construction actually begins and continues until construction is complete.

Depending on the stage of the project, a design manager’s duties would typically include:

  • having input into the tendering process (when the main contractor is bidding to win the project in the first place)
  • selecting, or having input into the selection of, specialist subcontractors or other organisations that will help complete the project work
  • advising on the selection of materials used and other aspects of procurement
  • managing processes relating to the project's design to ensure that everything is delivered to schedule and budget, working very closely with estimators, quantity surveyors , site managers and other key members of the project team
  • reviewing and advising on designs, ensuring they meet regulatory and legislative requirements and the client’s brief
  • conducting financial, technical and operational risk assessments and advising on risks, opportunities and potential hazards
  • keeping up to date with relevant regulations, codes and legislation
  • chairing design meetings, writing reports and giving presentations.

Design managers generally split their time between their office and construction sites; their working hours may vary according to whether they are office- or site-based.

Over time, design managers typically specialise in a type of building, development or sector.

Typical employers of design managers

Most design managers are employed by construction contractors and house builders. However, it is also possible for experienced design managers to work as freelancers, working on projects for a day rate.

Student internships/placements and graduate-level jobs are found on graduate jobs boards including TARGETjobs, directly on employers’ websites, through careers services and via the channels offered by relevant professional bodies such as the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) or the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA).

Qualifications and training required

There are a few apprenticeships available for school leavers, but most design management entry-level vacancies require a degree in a related subject, such as architecture, construction management, construction project management, design management or architectural technology.

Design management professionals can gain professional qualifications with relevant professional bodies: for example, they could gain chartership with the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) or acquire project management qualifications through the Association for Project Management (APM). These can be valuable for career progression, but are not often a specified requirement for senior design roles.

Key skills for design managers

  • Technical skills and the ability to use design and project management software
  • Problem solving skills and creative thinking
  • Attention to detail
  • Organisation and time management
  • Commercial awareness
  • Communication skills
  • Teamworking, relationship-building and influencing skills
  • Client management skills
  • Leadership skills and decisiveness.

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