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General Contractor vs Construction manager Which Should You Choose?

Many people wonder what the difference is between a general contractor and a construction manager. Are they the same terms used interchangeably? What specific roles do they have that suit their jobs? If different, which professional should I hire for my project?

Making a career out of becoming a general contractor or construction manager seems appealing to people with creative minds. The nature of these jobs requires excellent technical and analytical skills. This is why contractors often use construction management software to manage their work on projects and gain oversight over their labor force. 

According to the US Bureau of Labour Statistics, both positions will see an annual growth rate of 10 percent until 2028. 

To better understand the difference and clarify any confusion, we have broken down the roles of the general contractors and construction managers in this post. 

Difference between a General Contractor and Construction Manager

When seen from a broader perspective, both general contractors and construction managers have a pivotal role in managing new construction projects. However, both roles differ regarding the organizational structure, how they are selected for a project, and their relationship with the owner.

Construction Managers:

The role of a construction manager comes into play even before commencing the work on a particular construction project. The construction managers are usually responsible for setting a budget window for construction projects involving the public, residential or commercial structures. They are hired by property owners during the pre-construction phase. The selection of a construction manager for a particular project generally does not involve any bidding. 

Moreover, the way construction managers are paid for their services also differs from that of a general contractor. Construction managers are paid according to a flat hourly rate or offered a percentage of the project’s total cost. This means that there is no competition for profit at the end of the project. A construction manager can be just one individual or a team of professionals managing a particular project. In a team setup, the construction management team may include: 

  • Estimators to provide an estimation for the budget of the project.
  • Accountants who keep records of all the finances involving the construction material.
  • Other professionals whose services come into play during various stages in the completion of a construction project.

Construction managers may work from a dedicated worksite or office. Still, the nature of their jobs also requires a considerable amount of time spent on the field supervising during various stages of the project. The education level of the construction managers is typically a bachelor’s degree in construction science or construction management. But, the experience in this job that comes with working on-site counts towards them getting selected for a project. 

The job description of a construction manager generally includes:

  1. Decentralizing construction management by hiring related professionals under them who are experts in managing specific project stages.
  2. Providing an estimate of the budget needed for the completion of a project to the property owners and prescribing efficient measures for construction to complete a project. 
  3. Guiding their workforce in the event of a hindrance or an obstacle during any phase of the construction project.

General Contractors:

In contrast to construction managers, general contractors are considered independent business entities. They often have their team of experts who help them complete the various stages of their awarded project. The team includes laborers, plumbers, carpenters, and other professionals related to the construction industry. 

The mechanism through which a general contractor gets a project is via business contacts or bidding on a commercial or residential project. The general contractors participating in a bid are presented with all the necessary documents related to the project by the property owners. Bidding ensures that the project is awarded to the most qualified general contractor in a specific budget range.

The job of the general contractors is generally profit-driven, which means that the general contractors try to complete a particular project under the specified budget. Depending on the project, they may also work as building designers as well. When the project is completed under the specified budget, the general contractor gets to keep the remaining amount as profit. 

However, as the general contractors are not involved in estimating the budget for a specific project, there is always a possibility of cost overruns. In contrast to construction managers, the general contractors often maintain an especially cordial relationship with the people who award them a construction project. This means that there is a certain level of loyalty involved in their job to help them secure more projects in the future.

General contractors usually have a team of subcontractors that have worked together in past projects and therefore are more familiar with working together. For this reason, the team under a general contractor is well-coordinated and better integrated during the construction process.

The job responsibilities of a general contractor include:

  1. Examining the nature of the project to estimate a presentable bid to the property owners.
  2. Continuous communication with the project architect throughout the project’s construction process to ensure that client’s demands are met accordingly.
  3. Designing work strategies and managing the labor workforce to complete the project under the given deadline while keeping the costs under the specified budget.

Also, general contractors often specialize in a particular type of construction. For instance, one general contractor may specialize in framing and masonry, while another in foundations and other construction sectors. Some general contractors choose to only work in residential sectors, while others prefer to work in the commercial only. They may further be specialized to work in more specific sectors such as logistics and energy. 

Which Professional Should I Hire for my Project?

Construction managers often work closely with the property owners during the construction of their projects. This means that the property owners can better supervise the process according to their demands. However, general contractors have the advantage of being more work-oriented and will generally help you complete your projects under a given time and project cost. This helps keep the project within the estimated cost and in accordance with your budget range. To choose one or the other, you’d have to compare the two to determine which arrangement yields the lowest cost for you.