Principal ArchitectJob Description, Salary, Career Path, and Trends

Principal architects serve as the leading architectural voice at their firms, guiding design projects for buildings and structures. They discuss requirements with clients, negotiate contracts, create building plans, incorporate building systems, collaborate with construction engineers, and report to clients. Principal architects also oversee and often mentor other members of their firm, and develop and manage relationships with clients. The role is a crucial one and holds great responsibility.

Sample job description

During a construction project, there are many different roles performed by many different professionals. Despite their differences in roles, each colleague has the same end goal in mind:  completing a successful construction project. We are looking for a principal architect with excellent communication skills who will be able to coordinate details with those whom they report to, as well as those they manage. You will oversee construction design and details as the project begins and progresses. We are looking for someone who is able to be aware of time and deadlines and who can keep others on track with those deadlines. You will be asked to develop budgets for those you manage and create policies to ensure builds are according to appropriate specifications, so attention to detail is necessary. We are looking for someone with a bachelor’s degree and at least five years of managerial experience.  

Typical duties and responsibilities

  • Design and execute the strategic vision and plan for a firm’s direction and work output
  • Develop and maintain client relationships
  • Negotiate contracts
  • Help establish, coordinate, and implement a firm’s objectives and goals
  • Oversee and manage design and production work
  • Collaborate with team members
  • Oversee and mentor junior architects and construction engineers

Education and experience

This position requires a bachelor’s degree in architecture or a related field. Employers often prefer that candidates have a master’s degree, and five to 10 years of experience as an architect. Before practicing architecture in a jurisdiction, applicants must meet the requirements for licensure established by that jurisdiction.

Required skills and qualifications

  • Experience with project management
  • Ability to define agency goals, and develop and lead teams to meet them
  • Knowledge of AutoCAD and all related drafting software
  • Excellent written and verbal communications skills
  • Strong collaborative and problem-solving skills

Preferred qualifications

  • 4+ years working as a principal architect
  • Strong interpersonal skills
  • Engineering or architectural degree

Average salary and compensation

The average salary for a principal architect is $140,000 in the United States. Position salary will vary based on experience, education, company size, industry, and market.

LocationSalary LowSalary High
Phoenix, Arizona$139,250$188,350
Los Angeles, California$157,100$212,500
Denver, Colorado$130,900$177,100
Washington, DC$159,450$215,750
Miami, Florida$130,300$176,300
Orlando, Florida$120,200$162,600
Tampa, Florida$121,400$164,200
Atlanta, Georgia$127,350$172,250
Chicago, Illinois$146,350$198,050
Boston, Massachusetts$158,250$214,150
Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota$126,150$170,650
New York City, New York$166,600$225,400
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania$135,650$183,550
Dallas, Texas$132,100$178,700
Houston, Texas$130,900$177,100
Seattle, Washington$152,300$206,100
National Average$119,000$161,000

Typical work environment

Most principal architects spend time both inside and outdoors. They will be in their office working on plans, meeting with clients, and budgeting, as well as on construction sites to oversee the progress of their projects. While on-site, principal architects will need to be able to follow appropriate safety protocols for construction sites, including wearing hard hats and protective gear.  

Typical hours

The typical work hours for a principal architect are from 9 AM to 5 PM, Monday through Friday, generally in an office setting.  

Available certifications

Companies look at certifications as a way to ensure their future employees are well qualified as principal architects. Here are a few options: 

  • Project Management Professional (PMP). This certification is awarded to those with successful project management skills. You are required to have two or more years of experience before applying, and the certification can be renewed every three years. This exam covers six topics regarding project management: Initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, closing, professional, and social responsibility while completing those projects. 
  • LEED AP Building Design + Construction (LEED). This certification is for those working on green construction projects. This tests your knowledge of the LEED rating system and your proficiency in sustainable design, construction, and operations quality.

Career path

Becoming a principal architect typically requires a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in architecture or a related field, with a master’s degree and five to 10 years experience preferred. Before practicing architecture in a jurisdiction, applicants must meet the requirements for licensure established by that jurisdiction. To become a principal architect, a job candidate needs to demonstrate ability as an architect, but also the talent and drive to guide a firm’s vision and nurture its members to achieve that vision. 

US, Bureau of Labor Statistics’ job outlook

SOC Code: 17-1011

2020 Employment126,700
Projected Employment in 2030130,700
Projected 2020-2030 Percentage Shift 3% increase
Projected 2020-2030 Numeric Shift3,900 increase

As in many careers, those at or nearing senior levels in this field can be expected to wear leadership hats — including overseeing junior team members and playing the role of client liaison as needed — in addition to completing their own work. Principal architects, while still architects, are often expected to take on management duties as well. 

Sample interview questions

  • Why did you want to become an architect?  
  • Tell me about a time that someone you managed was not doing their job correctly. What did you do?
  • Where do you see your career heading in the next five years?
  • What do you do when you are falling behind when trying to meet a deadline? 
  • What do you like about management within architecture projects?
  • What do you not like about management within architecture projects?
  • Who is an architect you admire? Why?  
  • Can you describe how you delegate tasks in your team? 
  • How do you balance aesthetics and function in a project?  
  • Tell me about a time where your actions didn’t line up with your core values.
  • What is your ideal workspace environment?
  • What programs do you like to use when designing your projects? 
  • Tell me about your favorite project you have ever been a part of. What part did you play? 
  • Tell me about a time you made a mistake. How did you handle it? 
  • What expectations do you have for yourself as an architect?
  • Describe a time you received criticism from your supervisor. How did you respond to it? 
  • What trends do you think are important in architecture and design?

Principal Architect Jobs in Ashburn

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