Project Engineer vs. Project Manager

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Hands pointing out project designs on graph paper

Dams, bridges, hospitals, power plants, high-speed rail, ports, and airports—all are infrastructure projects that require teams of dedicated professionals working together to achieve a common goal. Those types of engineering projects may not be the next Seven Wonders of the World, but they are still highly complex. They require leaders with a diverse range of skills to expertly manage multiple tasks and an army of workers. Frequently there is confusion about the leadership role, with many not understanding the different responsibilities of a project engineer vs. a project manager. Each role has unique functions that contribute to the overall success of a project, whether a megaproject or a smaller project.

Who Are Project Managers?

Project managers lead the project team and focus on the big picture of the project. Their responsibility is to guide the project through several key stages, as outlined in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide) from the Project Management Institute:

  1. Planning
  2. Executing
  3. Monitoring
  4. Closing

Project managers are focused on the big picture of the project, leaving the day-to-day operations to their lieutenants, project engineers. They primarily perform their jobs off-site, in an office, rather than at the jobsite, which is where project engineers can be found.

The duties of project managers include assembling the team for a project, from the foreperson to the construction crew. While project managers make hiring decisions, most of the project team will not report to them: the project engineers are responsible for the management of the team. Other responsibilities include drafting contracts, securing the right permits, budgeting, allocating resources, and maintaining the construction schedule.

Project managers are needed in nearly every industry; for example, leading software development projects in the information technology (IT) industry. No matter the trade, project managers ensure that the expected outcomes of a project are met.

Who Are Project Engineers?

Project engineers are responsible for anticipating and securing any resources that the project may require—project managers then see to it that the resources are allocated properly. They create and plan the schedules and keep the project manager informed about any potential obstacles that could prevent a schedule from remaining on track. Project engineers may be allowed to hire people, most of whom will report directly to them. With the majority of the work performed by construction project engineers occurring in the field, it may be necessary for them to provide technical expertise to front-line workers in construction operations, for example, what to do in the event of equipment failure.

Project engineers leverage the principles of engineering management: a form of management that “brings together the technological problem-solving savvy of engineering and the organizational, administrative, and planning abilities of management,” according to

Project engineers work closely with project managers, keeping them current on the progress of the project. There is no need for the project manager to make frequent visits to the jobsite because the project engineer keeps everything under control, ensuring that the technical specifications of the project are adhered to and the project is on budget.

What Does It Take to Be a Project Manager or Project Engineer?

A project manager and project engineer use many of the same skills in their daily work:

  • They must communicate effectively with their staffs and manage their work schedules.
  • They must use the project management process to plan and execute the project.
  • They must provide the necessary leadership to keep the project moving forward.

A project manager cannot be successful without the technical expertise and insight of the project engineer, while the project engineer cannot be successful without the business guidance of the project manager. By working together effectively, both project leaders can ensure that the project is viable, is safe, and satisfies the business objectives.

Stepping into either role typically requires a bachelor’s degree along with a few years of experience. However, professionals with an advanced degree, such as a Master of Science in Civil Engineering (MSCE) from New Jersey Institute of Technology, can be better prepared to take on leadership positions in large engineering and construction firms.

Master’s coursework explores key areas of responsibility for project managers and project engineers, such as cost estimating, contractor management, and financial planning. An MSCE may also provide project engineers with the qualifications necessary to take on the oversight role of a project manager. The program provides students the opportunity to practice the critical skills needed to be a successful leader of an entire construction project. As the construction industry continues to grow, MSCE graduates have many opportunities to take advantage of the exciting roles of being a project manager or project engineer.

Learn More:

Find out how to expand your engineering expertise while developing the leadership and project management skills important to advancing your career with the New Jersey Institute of Technology’s online Master of Science in Civil Engineering program.


Recommended Reading:

What Is Construction Management?

Engineering the Sochi Winter Olympics

What Is Structural Design?


Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Project Managers Stay in Charge and Out Front”, “Engineering Management”

eSUB, “Project Engineer vs Project Manager”

Harvard Business Review, “The Four Phases of Project Management”

New Jersey Institute of Technology

Project Management Institute, “What Is Project Management?”

Statista, “U.S. Construction Industry – Statistics & Facts”