Owner’s Representative vs. Construction Manager

Doug Vincent
Doug Vincent
August 4, 2022

During Mastt’s first funding round, we often had prospective investors scratching their heads saying “Hold on, what? So builders are not your clients?”

We would always follow up with the same answer, that our customers are the capital works owners and their representatives (e.g. Head of Capital Works, Client Side Project Managers), not the builders. We’d then have to outline what an Owner is as they continued scratching their heads. I’d say…

Think about….

A university capital works manager responsible for $100m in projects per year.

A director of government capital works managing billion-dollar base redevelopments.

A high school business manager, refurbishing campuses with dozens of new construction projects.

An project management office with professionals in the middle of work conversations
Owner's Representative role requires strategic thinking to ensure that business values of the owner are achieved

Same Project - through a different lens

Project Managers (PMs) all have the responsibility to deliver a project within an established time and budget. So, what is the difference between getting work done on site as a construction project manager versus getting work done in the office as an owner's representative, or owner's advocate?

Managing a capital works project or program is more than getting the job done. It’s also about making sure they get done right. It requires making hundreds of informed decisions about construction delivery methods, contractors, project budgets, and phasing schedules.  

We’ve heard quite a few misconceptions of these two roles from our non-construction colleagues, due to both roles being labelled ‘Project Managers’. These two roles frequently co-exist within the same capital project, so understanding each of their domains can help your team save costs and time, ensure smooth handovers of tasks and avoid any gaps in communication.

Owner’s Representative Vs Construction Project Manager

Owner’s Representative, or Client Side Project Managers, serve a broader role, by understanding the entire project planning and execution process. They act as the binding agent between Construction PMs (CPM) and the Owner. They help successfully manage each renovation project or new building construction.

Here are some examples of the boundaries between their jobs.

Differing roles in the same project

A Construction PM is hired to oversee the construction phase on the actual job site. Their number one goal is to physically build the building, from the first turn of soil through to handing over the keys.  

Meanwhile, the presence of the Owner's Representative extends throughout the entire project from planning and design to construction and closeout. With capital works projects, the owner needs much more than a physical building. The Owner's Representative or Client Side PM works closely with the asset owners to make sure they understand their needs. They work to ensure the owner’s best interests are protected throughout the entire process, delivering the required scope or capability that the end asset will deliver.

Owner's Representative mediate and negotiate between all consultants involved in a building project when issues arise. For example, imagine an issue arises with the building's design. The designer may spend a lot of time and creative thinking to complete a major design work, whereas the contractor’s PM says the design is not do-able due to inconsistent scales or unbuildable elements. The Owner's Representative is not directly responsible for either role yet understands the standard methods of each. They provide impartial, unbiased oversight to resolve the conflict in a way that minimises costs and delay, enabling the entire construction process to move on.

Schedule and budget management

Similarly, the Construction PM stays in a more micro level of cost and time management of various trades and material suppliers. The frequency of their reports comes down to a daily basis and typically involves materials, machinery and personnel supervision.  

Take a look at a Construction PM’s job description on seek.com.au  

  • Oversee and direct project site surveying, pegging, layout, fencing, road works and trenching activities
  • Ensure mechanical sub-contractors meet the contractual obligations of performance as per the scope of work and timeline
  • Develop activity plan with appropriate sequencing to ensure the surveying, civil and construction aspects of the project are built and commissioned within the specified timeframe.
  • Review work progress on a daily basis and public progress reports
  • Planning, monitoring and controlling material, manpower and machinery required for the project
  • Responsible for monitoring and overseeing project budgets and ensuring the project costs remain within the budget
  • Daily reporting of work progress
  • Ensure safety standards of the site are adhered to by the civil works subcontractors when work is underway and regulations relating to health, safety and the environment (HSE) are adhered to

The Owner's Rep, on the other hand, is involved in all phases of the process and schedule. They don’t just want the building built on time, they also want to see the project coordinated with others in the portfolio, construction to start on time, furniture installed, and the tenants moved in according to the overall project schedule.

An Owner's Rep can push all involved parties as needed to ensure the overall project schedule is maintained and met throughout all phases.  

When it comes to finances, an Owner's Rep regularly reviews and approves project invoices, design and builder contracts. These details must be compiled into comprehensive reports and submitted to keep the owner in the loop and to ensure consistent and accurate tracking of all project costs throughout all phases.

The daily to-do list of an Assistant Project Manager (Owner side) would look like this. Do you notice any differences in the timeframe and scope of their jobs, the stakeholders they deal with and the kind of expertise they are expected to have?

  • Managing teams of staff, contractors and consultants to achieve project and individual objectives.
  • Establishing and overseeing the effective operation of sites, including arranging and coordinating site inspections and meetings.
  • Identifying and raising quality non-conformance and defects notices.
  • Managing and coordinating all planning and scheduling activities in compliance with construction programs.
  • Proactively engage stakeholders to ensure the client’s expectations are met, whilst maintaining good relationships.
  • Attending to design queries and distribution of design documentation during all phases of projects.
  • Management and coordination of the project handover phase.
  • Identifying and assessing risks to the company or its clients at different project phases.
  • Contracts administration.
  • Preparing meeting minutes, progress claim assessment reports and regular project reports.

Level of authority

What it all comes down to is the type of services provided.  

A Construction PM oversees construction activities, including personnel management at the construction site and their associated contracts. They will ensure that materials are delivered on time, tools are available, and resources are properly allocated.

An Owner's Representative acts as a trusted extension of the owner throughout all project phases and milestones, as well as supervising the Construction PM.  

If the owner has more than one project, then chances are Owner's Representative role is extended to the level of capital program or portfolio management. This higher-level role requires more strategic thinking to ensure that business values of the owner are achieved.

Construction projects have grown and become increasingly complex over the years and Owner's Representatives have to prove that they fully support the Owner's interests and goals through all phases of the projects. A combination of industry skills and accountability from the Owner's Representative will save the owner a lot of time, hassle and money. The more transparent their works are, the more trust they build with owners and the more chance that owners will continue to hire them for their future projects.

Given the much greater scope of work that an Owner's Representative has to oversee, the owner’s space within the construction industry remains underdeveloped from a technology perspective. Almost all Owner's Representatives rely on spreadsheets. That means an owner typically waits for a few months (or more) for an outdated report that can be irrelevant by the time they receive it.  

A project management app screen with graphs and pictures
Real-time reporting in Mastt

This may no longer be the problem if Owner's Representatives adopt innovative technology in the market that enables real-time project visibility and automation of otherwise time-consuming administration tasks. Software solutions like Mastt provide improved management through accurate timely reporting, quick and informed decision making and increased transparency of project costs, risks and schedule. The system is cloud based with audit trails which makes auditing a much easier job for the owners. Owners and PMs users of Mastt have saved hours of preparing report, now as they can see crystal clear within Mastt who in the team does what and when.

Looking to switch from your current project management system to Mastt, contact our team today to book a FREE demo.

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