What's the Difference Between Construction Management vs. Civil Engineering?

Updated June 24, 2022

Construction management and civil engineering are two fields that can offer an abundance of job opportunities and high-paying salaries. However, when deciding which career to pursue, it can be important to understand the different position responsibilities and the experience, knowledge and skills necessary for each career. In this article, we discuss what construction management and civil engineering are, and list the major differences between the careers.

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What is construction management?

Construction management is a service conducted by professional laborers who use their skills and knowledge to assist in all responsibilities of construction and building projects. During their working day, a laborer in construction management might balance and maintain the project's budget, communicate with project clients and give them updates and collaborate with other construction individuals, such as architects and civil engineers. Construction managers work hands-on with materials using certain skills and techniques to ensure that a construction site is productive and efficient.

Read more: Learn About Being a Construction Manager

What is civil engineering?

Civil engineering is the practice of designing and building structures that help create a safe environment for civilizations. Using structures such as bridges, shelters, dams and more civil engineers work to ensure a society's development and survival. Civil engineers may work with other construction professionals, such as architects and construction managers, to help build infrastructures and offer suggestions or changes to make sure the structures are safe and long lasting.

Read more: Learn About Being a Civil Engineer

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Construction management vs. civil engineering

Here is a list of major differences between construction management and civil engineering professions:


According to Indeed's salary statistics, there is not a major difference between the salaries of a construction manager and a civil engineer. In the United States, a construction manager's average salary is $80,139 per year, while a civil engineer's average salary is $87,277 per year. However, depending on area and expertise, the salary of both careers could pay a lot more after a few years of field experience.


For undergraduate and graduate educations, both areas of study offer similar courses that students can take to learn certain skills and knowledge necessary for each position, but each degree still offers different specialties or skill sets.

For example, if a student were to pursue a degree in construction management, their course of study will often focus primarily on construction science and the skills and techniques required to work on construction sites. If a student pursued a degree in civil engineering, their study would often concentrate on engineering systems, math and statistics to help them perform their engineering duties.


It's possible that for some construction manager positions, construction sites might allow job experience to replace undergraduate education. This means that if a construction laborer had enough experience working on construction sites and understood the daily routines, safety policies and budgetary requirements, they could earn a promotion without having the proper undergraduate degree.

However, it can still be beneficial to obtain, at the very least, an Associate Degree in Construction Management to demonstrate your passion for the job and learn helpful skills for the role.

Civil engineer positions almost always require an undergraduate degree to pursue entry-level jobs. They can also pursue higher education, such as master's degrees or even doctorates, which not only improve their civil engineering skills and knowledge, but can also help them obtain higher-level positions in the civil engineering field. Most master's programs offer courses that allow civil engineers to continue working full-time jobs while they pursue their degrees.


Having the ability to work as a civil engineer requires earning a license as a professional engineer (PE). Professional engineers can approve projects, sign off on important design plans and oversee the work of other engineers in their field. It's also possible that civil engineers can earn certifications in other specialties, including geotechnical engineering, water resources engineer and building security and sustainability. To obtain a professional engineer license, most civil engineers have to:

  • Earn a four-year degree from an accredited engineering program

  • Pass the fundamentals of engineering (FE) exam

  • Gain relevant work experience in the engineering field

  • Pass the professional engineer exam.

Construction managers who apply for certified professional constructor (CPC) or associate constructor (AC) certifications are often required to complete a self-study course on construction legal matters, safety policies and management. After completing the course, they can pass a certification exam and earn their desired designation.

However, not all states require construction managers to hold certain licenses or professional certifications. If you're not sure whether your state requires a certification for construction managers, consider contacting your state licensing board for more information.

Related: What Are Certifications? Definitions, Benefits, Types of Certifications and Examples

Job responsibilities

The job responsibilities for both civil engineers and construction managers can vary in several ways. Here are two lists to help describe their different primary duties:

Civil engineers:

Civil engineers' job responsibilities include:

  • Analyzing test results on construction materials like wood, concrete and brick

  • Conducting cost estimations for building materials, construction equipment and labor

  • Overseeing the repair, creation and maintenance of public and private structures and buildings

  • Submitting permit applications to state and federal agencies

  • Using survey reports, maps and other helpful research to design infrastructures

Construction managers:

Construction managers' job responsibilities include:

  • Ensuring construction sites follow safety protocols

  • Reviewing work and updating clients on progress

  • Overseeing construction project and laborers

  • Reviewing and maintaining costs to ensure construction project stays within estimated budget

  • Keeping track of construction inventory, equipment and materials

Career paths

The career paths for construction managers and civil engineers can also widely vary in job positions and roles. Construction managers will most often work in jobs overseeing construction sites and assisting laborers in structure and building completion. Construction managers can work in various positions and hold different titles over the course of their career, including construction project manager and construction engineer manager.

Civil engineers, because of their academic and work experience, often hold different jobs and positions compared to construction managers. These jobs can include city managers, structural engineers, city planners and more. Using their expert engineering knowledge and earning higher education degrees, civil engineers also have the opportunity to work in specialized engineering fields such as environmental engineering, transportation engineering or material engineering.

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