What is the difference between an Owner’s Representative and a Project Manager?

In a recent LinkedIn discussion group amongst professional Owner’s Reps, a question was raised on whether we are referred to as Owner’s Reps, Project Managers or both.  So many passionate points of views, interpretations and disagreements on such vague titles from card-carrying “Owner’s Reps”.  So what is the difference? Well, it depends who you ask, who you represent and how the client and project team perceives your role.

I use the term interchangeably in my sales pitches, discussions, contracts and articles. The Owner’s Rep/Project Manager is typically a 3rd party (individual or company) that is hired by the Owner or Tenant to represent them during site selection, design and construction phases as well as relocation.

When the Tenant (as opposed to Owner) hires the OR/PM, the role is often referred to as a Tenant Rep Project Manager who perform similar oversight tasks on behalf of the tenant during a landlord fit-out.  This should not be confused with crucial Tenant Rep Brokers (but often is) who advocate and exclusively represent tenants in lease transactions.

The Owner’s Rep ensure the owner’s or tenant’s best interests are at the heart of every decision made. Owners/Tenants with limited knowledge of design, construction, phasing and relocation hire an Owner’s Rep to represent their interests and be the liaison between the broker, design team, landlords, contractors, and client vendors back to the owner.

Owner Rep’s are usually charged to monitor (not manage): (1) the design development process to ensure project scope is achieved; (2) the overall project budget (including FFE and other non design/construction related costs); (3) the bidding process; (4) assist with jurisdictional reviews and project related mitigation issues; (5) construction related activities, including pay applications; (6) project close-out and occupancy; (7) move management and relocation.  These are the main functions that I typically perform as an Owner’s Rep. There are certainly others; and depending on the size, complexity and experience of the owner, the role may vary.

A Project Manager title can also be used to describe not only an Owner’s Rep but also a General Contractor’s Construction Project Manager who is employed by the GC to direct the trades and oversee the project from the contractor’s perspective. Yes, a seperate Project Manager may also be part of the General Contractor’s team too.

Some view the project manager as directing the project through the design phase working along with the architect and engineer, while the owners representative works as a liaison between the project manager and contractors.

For complex projects with procured services and different Project Managers for different phases, the Owner’s Representative is a Project Manager that aligns the team of Project Managers with the owner’s interests in the project.  This has the effect of neutralizing conflicts of interest within the project team.

I consider myself to be a project manager that manages the entire project depending on what phase I am brought into the project. I am contracted by the Owner or Tenant to represent them and manage/coordinate all aspects of the project.  I set requirements for time and money and coordinate all of them by being active at their individual management level to assist them in resolving problems. At times I have found that having control of the “purse” strings is very motivating in getting a message across.

No matter what you call the position, if you are contracted directly to the Owner (or Tenant) you are the Owner’s Representative, but you are managing the project.

So to answer the question, Owner’s Rep and Project Manager can and is used interchangeably.

4 Comments on What is the difference between an Owner’s Representative and a Project Manager?

  1. 1. the overall project budget
    2. the bidding process
    3. project close-out
    I agree with these three points. The techniques and ideas mentioned here are strongly recommended for aspiring Sustainability of a project.

  2. What do owner’s reps typically charge, and how do you know you are getting a fair deal when hiring one?

    • Richard M. Neuman // January 27, 2016 at 1:14 pm // Reply


      I’ve come across three methods of fee structures which vary across firms and regions.

      1. The average consultant’s hourly rate might be $95 to $275 per hour
      2. Average cost per square foot could be as low as $1.50 psf to as high as $3.75 psf or greater. This would be dictated by the local market/region.
      3. Fixed monthly retainer based on anticipated time spent per phase and staff allocation. If the scope changes, the monthly fee might be adjusted to reflect that.

      The fee structure can fluctuate based on size and scope of the project. For hourly and psf rates, you’ll often see the larger the project, the lower the hourly or psf base rate – but greater number of hours spent.

      I hope this helps.


  3. Mihail Prilepcanski, CFM // November 5, 2012 at 6:00 am // Reply

    Well, there are two different ‘fruits’ compared here. Project manager is a functional role (both CEO or front-line supervisor could be assigned, subject to the type and the extent of the project), while Owner’s Rep is someone with a granted authority to act on behalf of the stakeholder, i.e. someone else. Owner’s Rep could also oversee a factory and its (duration-infinite) production processes and outcome, or a facility through its life-span, as well as the (duration-defined) projects with particular scope and objectives, so won’t necessarily always be managing projects.

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