How to become a commercial manager in 8 steps (plus duties)
Updated 1 August 2023
Commercial managers play a key role in large construction projects, managing the costs and overall budget, sourcing services and negotiating with suppliers to secure the best costs. Commercial managers also work in other industries to oversee project budgets, monitor project delivery plans and ensure quality controls are met. This challenging role requires a broad range of skills and experiences but suits potential managers in a variety of industries. In this article, we explain what a commercial manager is and how to become a commercial manager in eight steps, with a focus on the construction industry.
What is a commercial manager?
In the construction industry, commercial managers oversee multiple aspects of large projects, from budgeting and risk assessment to operational management and material procurement. More general duties associated with this role include team management and setting targets. They use many skills, including critical thinking, planning and organisation, communication, leadership, attention to detail and contingency planning. Commercial managers often work in pressurised environments, and their work greatly impacts the success of a large project. These roles suit people who enjoy intellectual challenges, practical problems, high-pressure environments and complex projects. Their typical daily tasks include:
managing budgets and the financial aspects of commercial projects
seeking out new business opportunities
creating bids and responding to tenders for new business
negotiating contract terms and progressing contractual arrangements to sign-off
managing, developing, enforcing and enhancing company policies, standards and procedures
ensuring that work occurs according to all regulatory requirements, such as health and safety guidelines
working with a range of stakeholders to ensure projects progress on time, within budget and meet quality standards
producing reports and analyses for senior stakeholders
How to become a commercial manager
There are various routes to consider if you want to learn how to become a commercial manager. These usually depend on your qualifications and experience, particularly if you want to work in the construction industry. Here are some common routes and tips to consider as you progress down this career path:
1. Obtain relevant qualifications
Most commercial managers working in construction have an undergraduate degree in quantity surveying or a similar subject such as building studies, building technology, building engineering and construction engineering management. Some have higher degrees or postgraduate qualifications. Other broader areas that are relevant to becoming a commercial manager include management studies, administration and accounting. Most commercial managers also have a range of professional and specialist qualifications in areas such as health and safety, business accounting and diversity and inclusion.
To become a commercial manager with a focus on construction, it helps to obtain some work experience on a construction site or a similar construction environment in addition to your academic qualifications. This gives you a clear insight into the construction industry and whether or not a commercial manager role might suit your skills and interests in this context.
2. Develop the necessary skills to be a commercial manager
Commercial managers possess a range of skills and attributes that you might aim to develop throughout your education and work experience. These include the following:
strong management and leadership skills
advanced communication skills, with the ability to communicate effectively to a variety of stakeholders across different mediums
excellent interpersonal skills
strong attention to detail and analytical skills
in-depth knowledge of purchasing and selling processes, including procurement and contracting
3. Apply directly for a role
Once you've achieved the relevant qualifications, you may progress towards a commercial manager position by enrolling on a graduate traineeship programme. You usually begin these programmes as a junior project manager, working for a senior project manager. If you already possess the necessary skills, qualifications and experience, try to find commercial manager roles advertised across a wide range of industries. These roles may involve working directly for an organisation, with specialist consultancies that provide project and management services or on freelance projects.
4. Apply for training within your existing role
Another route to becoming a commercial manager is to progress from your current role if you work as a project assistant, coordinator or junior manager in construction. Alternatively, you might currently work in a relevant role in a business, contracting or procurement team. Many of the skills you develop within a junior role give you a foundation to develop towards a more senior commercial management position as part of a structured career path. For your employer, this also offers the benefit of succession planning, talent retention and a reduction in recruitment costs.
5. Consider the apprenticeship path
Apprenticeships are a popular route to employment in the construction industry, as working in this field typically demands hands-on experience and insight. You might want to take a projected management apprenticeship at the degree level or higher, which takes around four years to complete. These programmes require you to have at least four or five GCSEs at grades A*-C/9-4, in addition to relevant A-levels or equivalent qualifications. These GCSEs typically include maths and English. Anyone over the age of 16 may apply for an apprenticeship.
As an apprentice, you work for an employer for at least 30 hours a week. Your apprenticeship blends on-the-job work with day release for academic studies at college or with a training provider. You also receive an apprenticeship wage. The government sets the minimum apprenticeship wage each year, but many employers pay more. You may find apprenticeships directly through employers, on jobs boards or via the national apprenticeship website. You might also approach your existing employer to sponsor you through an apprenticeship. Employers receive funding and support via an apprenticeship provider to offer these opportunities.
6. Submit your CV
When you see a commercial manager job that may be a good fit for you, the next step is to create and submit your CV and cover letter. When creating these documents, consider the following tips:
Use keywords from the job advertisement and person specification and include them in your CV, especially in the professional summary, to tailor your application and pass automated CV checks.
Include details of all your relevant qualifications and skills, matching these to the requirements of the role so that they're relevant.
Use your cover letter to explain what interests you about working as a commercial manager, why you think you might be a good fit for the role and give further details of any particularly relevant experience or personal attributes.
For a role in the construction industry, flag relevant work experience within a construction environment, as this is usually a prerequisite for working in the industry, to show that you understand how construction businesses operate.
7. Prepare for your interview
The employer may invite you to a telephone interview, a video interview or a face-to-face interview. Read the instructions for the interview carefully, especially if it's online. If you have a telephone or video interview, it's still a good idea to present yourself professionally. It helps to prepare as much as possible beforehand and to remind yourself of the information you provided in your CV and cover letter so that you might expand on it.
The employer may also ask you to complete aptitude tests in areas such as verbal reasoning and numeracy. You ideally receive full details about how the tests work before you sit them, but if you have any queries, look for the recruiter's contact details and send a polite message for clarification.
Related: 16 types of interviews
8. Consider your long-term goals
Commercial managers often develop their experience and take on larger projects over time. You may choose to specialise in a certain area of commercial management, such as contracting or regulatory compliance. You might want to work on construction projects overseas or within a certain field of construction, such as green energy or sustainable architecture. You might also want to train others to develop future talent for similar roles. Because this job exists in multiple varied industries, it helps to know what your long-term goals are so that you target vacancies that apply to you.
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