What Does A Civil Engineer Do? 15 Functions And Activities

The civil engineers plan, design and supervise the construction of facilities essential to modern life. Within its scope can be mentioned: space satellites and launch facilities, offshore platforms, bridges, buildings, tunnels, highways, transit systems, dams, airports, ports, water supply systems and wastewater treatment plants.

The word engineer comes from the Latin word ingenium, which means skillful, ingenious, generator of ideas related to the design and construction of smart devices. Originally the term was used only to refer to those whose inventions were used to cause damage in military campaigns.

what does a civil engineer do

Civil engineering refers to the branch of engineering that deals with the creation of infrastructures for society: the adjective civil implies a link with the citizen and with civilization.

There are a number of distinctive traits that add excitement to the practice of civil engineering: Civil engineering projects tend to be large, visible, and unique.

A civil engineer is responsible for planning and designing a project, building it to the required scale, and ensuring its maintenance. It requires not only a high level of engineering knowledge, but also administrative and supervisory skills.

Civil engineers also help preserve the environment by helping clean up existing pollution and planning ways to reduce future air, land, and water pollution.

You may also be interested in what a mechanical engineer does or what an industrial engineer does .

What activities and functions does a Civil engineer do?

1.  Assess the construction location

As part of the feasibility studies, it is important for the civil engineer to conduct a preliminary investigation of the site to obtain an overview and judge whether the proposed location is suitable for construction.

Once the location is defined, more extensive studies are needed to investigate ground conditions and external forces.

2.  Conduct soil studies

All structures have to finally transfer the weight acting on them to the ground. Soil properties change from place to place.

Even in the same place the soil may not be uniform at different depths and in different seasons.

Therefore, a civil engineer has to investigate the properties of the soil and decide what is the safe load that can be spread on it.

3.  Determine the conditions of topography and leveling

The study of topography and leveling allows the engineer to determine the relative positions of points on the surface of the earth.

The data obtained in these studies are used for the design of the structures and the selection of the most suitable construction methods.

4.  Obtain the necessary permissions for the execution of the project

Taking construction ordinances and regulations into consideration, the civil engineer prepares detailed reports that allow him to obtain execution approvals from local authorities.

5.  Perform structural calculations

Once the construction plans are defined in accordance with the owner’s requirements, the role of civil engineer is that of structural designer or structural consultant.

To do this, it requires the consideration of all types of loads that can affect the structure, that is: dead or construction-specific loads, live or probable loads, seismic loads, among others.

These calculations are carried out in order to determine which are the materials and construction elements that best guarantee the safety and sustainability of the project.

6.  Estimate construction costs

The civil engineer acts as an appraiser who evaluates the materials required for construction versus those available in the market, identifies the best alternatives and proceeds to estimate the total costs of materials.

At this stage it is important to consider possible increases in the marketing prices of the selected elements.

7.  Control project execution

During the construction of a project, the civil engineer often takes on the role of the resident construction engineer.

The success of the project depends on the correct implementation of all the previous phases. Do activities like:

  • Guarantee that the construction complies with what is established in the plans.
  • Carry out resistance tests of the materials to be used, such as: bricks, cement-concrete mixtures, steel bars, among others.
  • Ensure the storage and correct use of construction materials.
  • Ensure efficient and safe performance of the workforce.
  • Control and minimize waste.
  • Optimize the use of time, using techniques such as: system approach, critical path method, Gantt charts, among others.

8.  Maintain / Repair the infrastructure

After the successful completion of construction work, all infrastructure requires maintenance services and occasional repairs due to the effect of the passage of time and wear caused by the conditions of use.

For example: expiration of plumbing and wiring, deterioration of paint and building materials.

The civil engineer has to make sure that the repairs are carried out at the right time without generating much risk for the occupants of the work or the surrounding buildings.

This function plays a crucial role in saving materials, structural elements and in the safety of human lives. 

9.  Minimize the impact on the environment

It is basically true that civil engineering activities have a strong impact on the environment and this is one of the reasons why environmental pollution has occurred in many places.

Controlling and reducing waste management, creating buildings that are friendly to the environment, using construction materials and technologies that do not harm the ecosystem , are part of the functions of the 21st century civil engineer.   

10. Inform managers, consultants and owners of the progress of the work.

11. Supervise construction.

12. Prepare the guidelines that must be provided to the contractor personnel and coordinate their activities.

13. Provide advice and guide personnel in construction.

14. Ensure compliance with safety regulations.

15. Select suppliers of services and materials.

16. Choose the type of construction technology that will be used in the project.

The success of the civil engineer depends on the efficiency with which he performs his functions, since he must be able to attend and coordinate a large number of complex activities during the different stages related to construction projects.


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  2. Hansen, K. and Zenobia, K. (2011). Civil Engineer’s Handbook of Professional Practice . Hoboken, John Wiley & Sons.
  3. Horikawa, K. and Guo, Q. (2009). Civil Engineering – Volume I. Oxford, EOLSS Publishers.
  4. Kulkarni, L. et al (2006). Basic Civil Engineering . Pune, Technical Publications.
  5. Prakash M. and Mogaveer, G. (2011). Elements of Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics . New Delhi, PHI Learning Private Limited.
  6. Wood, D. (2012). Civil Engineering: A Very Short Introd Oxford, Oxford University Press.

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