Transitioning from head contractor to client side: is the grass greener on the other side?

Transitioning from head contractor to client side: is the grass greener on the other side?
January 6, 2020 Todd Richardson

So, you’ve been sitting builder side for a while now and you’re looking for a change of scenery? Perhaps you’re chasing a 9-5 role that provides more work-life balance and stability? Or you’ve spent a heap of time liaising with client side project managers on your projects, you’ve seen how they work, and you’re interested in testing the waters for yourself?

But you’re unsure about what a day in the life of a client side project manager entails.

You’ve heard the grass is greener, and you’re eager to understand if it actually is.

I’ve been recruiting client side project managers in Queensland for many years now. And at the same time, I’ve worked closely with colleagues who recruit in the head contractor space. It’s given me an understanding of both sides of the spectrum, and the pros and cons of both.

And, I can tell you, there are lots of pros to the transition.

But the grass won’t be greener for everyone.

Understanding the key motivators of your job hunt and what the role involves is crucial to making the move successfully.


Let’s start with what a client side project manager does –

As a client side project manager, you’re acting for the client – as opposed to working head contractor side providing hands-on delivery.

This means you’ll make decisions on behalf of the client, liaise with them when necessary and always act in their best interest.

On top of that, you will manage the delivery team, set clear project goals and objectives, prepare project schedules, project implementation, control project delivery and project close and handover.

What I always tell my candidates when they’re considering the transition from head contractor to client side is – before you commit to the move be aware of a few things:


Your pay will likely be higher working for a head contractor

It’s the single biggest pain point of the transition.

You won’t be eating out of a wheelie bin, but your opportunities for pay will be less on this side of the fence.

If you make a move earlier in your career, it won’t impact you so much. But if you’re further progressed and chasing the dollar – it’s something to consider.

Understand what the motivators are in your job search and whether those benefits outweigh a potential pay cut.


The focus of your role will change

Your primary focus will shift from being hands-on, making sure you deliver the project to time and budget, to looking at the bigger picture and understanding why and how your client wants to achieve project completion.

On top of that, you’ll no longer be the one responsible for coming up with solutions to a problem or variation on site. Instead, you’ll be managing the head contractor to find those solutions.

You become a chess player, not the chess piece.

Sounds like a lot of balls in the air, right?

It is, but you often operate as part of a bigger team, so you take on less responsibility for every ball.


Client side work involves A LOT of stakeholder engagement

The primary duties of a client side project manager are to coordinate, communicate, and understand why and how their client wants the project completed.

This involves a lot of stakeholder engagement.

Which means confidence and excellent communication are critical drivers of a successful client side project manager.

If you’re an introvert or lack strong communication skills, you may struggle in this environment.


There are cultural differences

You’re moving from booted to suited.

And most of my candidates go through a transition period when they first move over from head contractors into client side. You’re entering a very corporate world working client side.

You’re not in a rough and tumble environment anymore, and as such your interactions need to adjust.

Most of my candidates take this cultural shift in their stride, but others struggle.


You could find yourself working on any project at any time

Working client side will see you take the lead on any project at any time.

You could be dealing with a high-value build or several smaller projects or even seconded into your client’s site. I actually think the level of variation is one of the allurements of working client side.

Every day is a little bit different.

But, I have worked with candidates who don’t enjoy it.


So, is the grass greener?

In summary, the grass isn’t greener, it’s just different grass.

It really boils down to the individual and what they want to achieve out of the move.

If you’re objective is to have a 9-5 role and more work-life balance, more stability in your work environment, and an opportunity to step up the chain and grab responsibility of what’s happening on-site earlier – this could be an excellent move for you!

Understand the motivators of your job search and what you want to achieve out of your next role.

For more advice from our team, or to chat to us about how we can help you to secure your next opportunity, please don’t hesitate to get in contact with us through our Contact Us page or by emailing

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