Sometimes the terms general contractor and construction manager are used interchangeably. If you don’t work directly within the construction industry it can be difficult to make sense of who does what. Let’s jump into these two roles and see where the differences arise.

General Contractor

When we step back and take a look at the organizational structures, it becomes apparent that a general contractor is typically a business entity. It usually has its own complement of employees. Often they have foreman or superintendents who primarily work at the job site and tend to have their own general laborers, carpenters and other skilled tradesman.

General contractors also usually have a group of subcontractors they have worked with on other projects. This serves as an advantage when comparing them to construction managers for two primary reasons. First, everyone is already familiar with working together so expectations and general operating procedures are largely established. Secondly, there is a certain level of loyalty, cooperation and camaraderie already established among the parties. General contractors also often specialize in certain types of construction.

Construction Manager

In comparison, a construction manager is typically either an individual or a group of people. The key difference is that the people on staff don’t include those who perform the actual building. Conversely, they are estimators, project managers, accountants or other professionals with responsibilities that could come into use before, during or after a project.

Construction managers perform their functions at the behest of the owner and for a set percentage of the total project cost. The manager assists during pre-construction and then oversees the construction, usually by hiring subcontractors, or on larger projects, one or more general contractors. Construction managers tend to work exclusively for owners with whom they’ve developed a mutually beneficial relationship.

As can be seen, general contractors and construction managers differ in their organizational structures, their business relationships with owners, and their entry points to a project. Now you know a little more about the construction industry!