Civil Engineer and Structural Engineer Differences

The difference between a civil engineer and a structural engineer

Is being a civil engineer the same as being a structural engineer? This article aims to provide you with insight on what exactly each of these disciplines does as well as the key differences and similarities between each role.

These two disciplines, civil engineering and structural engineering, both lie in the category of ‘engineering’. This category as a whole works with evaluation, design, construction and preservation. Historically, structural engineering has been classed as a specialisation of civil engineering. However, through the years enough differences have been accounted for to classify structural engineering as its own discipline.

The most important differences between these two similar professions can be difficult to identify to the layperson. First we must understand the concept behind each of these types of engineering.

What is civil engineering?

Civil engineering is a type of engineering that is involved with everything you see that’s been built around us. This discipline describes construction, management and maintenance of infrastructure and constructions that support modern day living.

Typical examples of this engineering branch include building, bridges, roads, railways and tunnels as a starting point. Following this, more infrastructures can be built such as airports, harbours, dams, mines, sewage and water systems and flood mitigation works. Civil engineers are basically involved in all infrastructures we take for granted but couldn’t live without.

The foundation of civil engineering is built on mechanics, physics and essentially mathematics. However there is always an element of problem solving and creative thinking as well. In this discipline is it most important that a civil engineering team is built up of the right set of experts.

But what exactly does a civil engineer do?

This professional, usually with a team of similar professionals, uses design to connect the world we live in. By providing essential building, transport networks and other crucial infrastructure, they make our lives easier.

Types of civil engineers

Due to the vast scale of projects that a civil engineer could work on, this discipline has been divided into several sub-categories. Because of this, there are various types of civil engineers, including: construction, transportation, geotechnical, water resourcing, environmental and structural engineers. Here we will briefly explain what each of these engineers does.

Construction engineering has the primary role of overseeing an entire construction’s build. This means the professionals are involved in not only the planning and execution of that site, but also the transportation of necessary materials and equipment.

Transportation engineering is one of the most crucial disciplines in civil engineering. Within this sector, experts are involved in designing, constructing and maintaining public transport. This includes roads, railways harbours and airports worldwide! A transportation engineer’s main focus is to keep traffic moving and minimise accident risks.

Geotechnical engineering describes a discipline which involves top level rock and soil analysts. Their role is to ensure the foundations of a project, that being the ground the construction will physically stand on, is safe and understood.

Water resources engineering is the practice of improving quantity and quality of water in a designated area. This professional will design and construct infrastructure such as dams and canals that make collection and distribution of water easier.

Environmental engineering concentrates on populated areas such as cities to keep pollution to a minimum. These experts conduct analysis on environmental issues in an attempt to solve issues such as pollution.

Structural engineering is a discipline which is involved in the design and construction of large structures such as bridges and buildings. These professionals are responsible for ensuring these types of structures are not only well designed aesthetically but also safe and durable for public use.

Structural engineering is a type of civil engineering

As highlighted above, the discipline of structural engineer can be described as a sub-category of civil engineering. This means that in essence all structural engineers are also civil engineers but not all civil engineers are structural engineers.

A structural engineer focuses on the design and safety of large constructions as well as the forces applied to them and how this affects the ground. A civil engineer on the other hand could be involved in a range of tasks and projects such as transportational or environmental.

The qualifications for both of these types of engineering is also different. Both roles would require a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, but then a structural engineer would go on to specialise in this master’s degree.

What is a structural engineer?

A structural engineer is a professional that is highly skilled in the creation of structural stability and strength. These professionals lend a hand in creating aesthetically pleasing structures as well as record-breaking and useful constructions. They do this as part of a wider team including builders, architects and sometimes engineers in other disciplines.

However, their main focus is to ensure a building works well ‘in practice’. This responsibility depends large on what the structure is being used for. E.g. the vibration of a dance floor when people are jumping up and down.

This role is made up of 3 key skills: design, safety and problem solving. The design aspect ensures each structure is strong to withstand the necessary loads. The safety aspect is essential to make sure each building is completely safe for public use. The problem solving aspect is important for when things do go as planned… It is important this professional can use mathematical based skills to solve problems.

The key differences between civil engineering and structural engineering.

After exploring both of these engineering disciplines it is easier to highlight the key similarities and differences.


  • Both belong to the field of engineering
  • Both perform specific and designated construction duties


  • Structural engineering is more involved in the modern aspect of engineering such as construction and materials used, comparatively to civil engineering which would be more involved in traditional aspects.
  • Civil engineering is involved in a broader range of engineering aspects which make up the bigger picture, structural engineering, while important, is just one of these.

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