What Does a Principal Architect Do?
A principal architect leads the conceptual and strategic direction of architectural projects, overseeing design integrity from inception through completion. This role involves high-level decision-making, collaboration with clients to understand their vision and requirements, and ensuring that projects adhere to all relevant codes and regulations. The principal architect also plays a crucial role in coordinating with engineers, designers, and contractors, guiding the project’s aesthetic and functional aspects to meet the client’s objectives and budget.
Beyond project management, this individual contributes to the broader strategic goals of their firm, including business development, operational efficiency, and innovation in design practices. With a deep understanding of both the art and science of architecture, the principal architect influences the development of sustainable, functional, and visually appealing structures. Their leadership ensures that projects achieve design excellence and reflect the firm’s commitment to quality and innovation.
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National Average Salary
Principal architect salaries vary by experience, industry, organization size, and geography. To explore salary ranges by local market, please visit our sister site zengig.com.
The average U.S. salary for a Principal Architect is:
Principal Architect Job Descriptions
The first step when hiring a great principal architect is a well-crafted job description. Below are real-world examples to help give you the best chance of success on your recruiting journey.
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
- 4+ years working as a principal architect
- Strong interpersonal skills
- Engineering or architectural degree
In this leadership role, you act as a figurehead for commercial clients in all senses: collaborate in project ideation, project review, align and define strategic pursuits based, mentoring, and client attraction and retention, as well as playing a role in defining and communicating the brand. Join an established and industry leader in architecture and design.
Ideal candidate attributes
- Leader in commercial architecture projects
- Business Development – track record of winning projects
- Highly organized, detail-driven, and conscientious
- Leadership quality and capability
- A proactive and positive attitude
- An outgoing personality with a team-focused approach
- Bachelor’s degree or higher in Architecture from an accredited school
- 10-15+ years of architecture experience, with recent commercial architecture experience
- Architectural Registration
- LEED accreditation and/or WELL accreditation are strongly preferred
- Experience working with firms for thoughtful design solutions to complex, larger-scale client requirements.
- Track record of winning work through in-depth knowledge of commercial building trends in the area
- Genuine business development acumen
- Knowledge of political, social, and economic factors affecting commercial building in the local market
- An established network of influences/industry professionals who rely on you as much as you rely on them for ideas and information
- Strong ability to think strategically
- Leadership, collaboration, and team-building skills
- Compelling personal presence with strong oral, written, and graphic communications skills
The primary responsibility of the Principal is for strategic vision, leadership, and inspiration for both the staff and for clients to ensure the annual plan is implemented. This individual will increase the awareness of firm’s architectural and engineering practice while contributing to the reputation of the firm
- A Principal shall have a minimum of 10 years’ experience functioning as a lead on a variety of project scales and complexities.
- Have a proven track record of winning project pursuits and maintaining strong client relationships with a diverse portfolio of project types.
- Must have excellent communication skills, both written and verbal, along with leadership and mentoring skills.
- The ability to collaborate and integrate with existing team.
- To achieve success, the Principal will work directly with the business development group to develop relationships with target clients and pursue new relationships that fit within the strategic goals.
- Develop strategic sales goals and the plans to achieve those goals to meet the overall company goals for growth.
- Represent the company with direct client interaction and industry events.
- The pursuit of new work will be in a collaborative manner with in-house subject matter experts, technical leaders and national experts as required.
- This individual will oversee and direct the activities of personnel within the office including implementing annual plans, marketing strategies, public relations, financial planning and management, and other related matters.
- This position will be responsible for adherence to corporate policies, project contract financial fee and budget information in conjunction with Marketing and Project Management and establishment and/or maintenance of processes and procedures.
The Principal Architect has a high level of authority for the decision-making, staffing, and budget for their functional area of responsibility, subject to approval regarding the most significant business and policy issues by the Senior Management.
The candidate is considered an architectural expert and a current leader in their industry. The incumbent has decision-making authority over their functional area. Works within clearly defined policies, principles, and specific objectives in consultation with departmental management. Provides policy and procedural recommendations with final approval from the Senior Management. They have an advanced understanding of architecture to manage designs and guide team members.
- Oversees the research, development, and design of architecture projects.
- Provides resource balancing for project needs and optimizing time amongst team members.
- Prepares section budget requests and reviews project documents such as specifications, technical reports, design drawings and calculations, and 3D models.
- Recommends acceptance/concurrence of consultant/contractor findings.
- Approves general personnel duties involving subordinate employees, including interviewing, recommending hiring, conducting job performance evaluations of work unit supervisors, and documenting and pursuing disciplinary action.
- Supervises and schedules training of employees to increase their level of technical expertise.
- Manages all phases of in-house architecture work, including setting work priorities and assigning and scheduling section personnel, including architects and field staff.
- Provides in-house estimates for work effort and fees on consultant/contractor design projects.
- Reviews proposals and scopes of work submitted by consultants, and contractors, monitors work and recommends consultant payments to project leadership.
Education and Experience
- Bachelor of Architecture degree.
- Masters preferred.
- Must have a minimum of seventeen (17) years of related experience
- Must have a minimum of ten (10) years in a management or supervisory role and/or project manager role in a large, multi-faceted organization.
- An equivalent combination of education and experience may be considered.
- Registered Architect (RA) required.
- Significant experience in tackling large-scale architectural issues for major construction projects or projects with highly complex systems is preferred.
- Substantial experience leading and managing designers, contractors, subcontractors, and/or vendors.
- Proven ability to collaborate with a broad range of stakeholders and drive project/program outcomes.
- Strong knowledge of the applicable industry codes and standards.
- Excellent communication and interpersonal skills.
- Demonstrated ability to build relationships and work collaboratively with stakeholders at all internal levels within the organization.
- Demonstrated ability to work in a high-profile, high-pressure environment effectively.
- Must have focus and ability to deliver on results, organizational effectiveness, and continuous improvement.
- Must be a proven leader as a change agent and creative/innovative thinker with the ability to align business goals with solutions to drive process improvements.
- Must possess excellent team building, listening, problem-solving, and prioritization skills.
- Alternate Delivery experience preferred.
- Proficiency in current design software and Microsoft Office are required.
- An attitude and commitment to actively participating in our employee culture is a must.
- Able to multi-task and be flexible/adapt to rapidly changing project requirements/timelines.
- Ability to work independently with minimal oversight.
Candidate Certifications to Look For
- Project Management Professional (PMP). This certification is awarded to candidates with successful project management skills. They 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 candidates working on green construction projects. This tests their knowledge of the LEED rating system and their proficiency in sustainable design, construction, and operations quality.
How to Hire a Principal Architect
There are a number of important initial considerations when hiring a principal architect:
- Recruiting: Do you have the knowledge, tools, and resources to attract and screen candidates?
- Complexity: Do you need a senior professional, or will mid or junior-level skills and experience suffice?
- Duration: Are you hiring for a project or an ongoing need?
- Urgency: How soon does the opening need to be filled? What happens while it remains open?
- Headcount: Do you have the budget and approval for an internal employee, or should you consider alternate options?
Answering these questions will help determine the best course of action for your current hiring need. Fortunately, great options exist for every scenario. These are our recommendations:
1. Use a professional recruiting firm with relevant experience
When working with 4 Corner Resources, the heavy lifting is done for you. We source, screen, recruit and deliver only the most qualified candidate(s). This is the best route to take when:
- You need to fill the position quickly
- The position requires a highly specialized skillset or background
- You are hiring an employee as a direct placement but aren’t able to recruit effectively or efficiently with your internal staff.
2. Advertise directly on a job board
Your best option may be to advertise your opening on a proven job board. There are many widely used job sites out there that draw visits from qualified candidates. If you have someone internally who can dedicate the time and energy to sort through applications and screen individuals effectively, this can be a great choice.
We recommend using a job board when:
- Your internal recruiting team has the knowledge and experience to assess candidate qualifications
- You are hiring a direct employee and have time to manage the entire recruiting effort
- You have a process for receiving, screening, and tracking all resumes and applications
- You are prepared to respond to all applicants
We recommend CareerBuilder when hiring a principal architect:
CareerBuilder has been a trusted source for hiring since 1995. Reach 80+ million unique, diverse U.S. job seekers annually by posting your jobs through their talent acquisition channels. Through CareerBuilder, you can engage candidates and drive them into your sourcing pipeline. We recommend using CareerBuilder for hiring when you have the internal resources and processes to review, screen, and reply to all applicants.
3. Leverage your professional network
Gather a list of trusted industry peers who can maintain discretion while referring qualified candidates. We recommend this option when:
- You have a strong and loyal professional network
- You are not under a tight time constraint
- You do not need to maintain strict confidentiality
If you aren’t sure which path is best, schedule a discovery call today with our seasoned recruiting professionals. The 4 Corner team is on standby to help you find the best option for your unique hiring need.
Sample Interview Questions
- Please describe a project you led that you are particularly proud of?
- How do you balance innovative design with practicality and budget constraints in your projects?
- How do you stay ahead of the latest architectural trends, technologies, and materials?
- Can you give an example of how you have incorporated sustainable design principles into your projects?
- How do you handle disagreements with clients regarding design concepts or project direction?
- Describe a challenging project you worked on. What made it challenging, and how did you overcome those challenges?
- How do you ensure your projects comply with local regulations and building codes?
- How do you manage and coordinate between different stakeholders, such as contractors, engineers, and clients, during a project?
- Can you discuss a time when you had to make a significant design change mid-project? How did you manage it, and what was the result?
- How do you mentor or guide junior architects and designers in your team?
- Describe your design philosophy. How does it influence your work?
- How do you assess the feasibility of a new project?
- Can you talk about a time when you had to incorporate feedback that significantly altered your original design? How did you handle it?
- How do you approach risk management in architectural projects?
- In what ways do you think architecture can contribute to community well-being and social values?
- How do you prioritize tasks and projects when you have tight deadlines?
- How have you contributed to the business development aspect of your previous or current firm?
- Can you provide an example of how you’ve used technology or software to improve project outcomes?
- How do you handle client expectations when they seem unrealistic, given their budget or timeline?
- How do you measure the success of your projects beyond client satisfaction?