In any construction project, several people are involved in carrying out the plans and overseeing the entire project. These include the owners of the property, the architect in charge of designs, the engineers who ensure its stability, and the various tradespeople and workers who perform everyday construction duties.
However, two people stand out as the projectâ€™s most prominent overseers: the general contractor and the construction manager. Both figures have similar roles in managing the construction siteâ€™s day-to-day activities. They also have similar goals, aiming to complete the construction while remaining on time and within budget.
With their similar responsibilities, most people conflate the two roles, as they can be difficult to distinguish. However, when beginning a construction project, itâ€™s important to set a clear hierarchy and clearly define each function to ensure smooth communication throughout the entire project. This begins with clearly distinguishing between the general contractor and the construction manager.
What is a General Contractor?
A general contractor (GC) is a professional that takes care of the overall management of a construction project. From scheduling to all the day-to-day activities, the general contractor is responsible for overseeing the entire construction project from groundbreaking up until its completion.
Once the owners have finalized the designs for their new construction project, they hire the general contractor to oversee its construction. Depending on the scale of the project, the general contractor can either be an individual who subcontracts the work to its pool of carpenters, skilled laborers and others or a construction company with its own set of employees.
What is a Construction Manager?
A construction manager (CM) is an individual or group of people who typically oversees every aspect of the construction project, from its conceptualization to completion. Their role may appear similar to that of a general contractor, and in some cases, the construction manager can also take on the general contractorâ€™s role.
Generally, the construction managerâ€™s role doesnâ€™t involve participating in the actual construction of the building project. Instead, their main responsibility ensuring the project is completed within the set budget and timeline while complying with quality standards. Thus, they work closely with architects, engineers, contractors and other stakeholders to ensure that the project meets the clientâ€™s requirements and specifications.
Aside from being project managers, they can also play other roles, such as accountant, estimator or other professional with responsibilities before, during and after project construction.
Construction Manager vs. General Contractor: Key Differences
The scope of responsibilities for both the general contractor and the construction manager is broad, and there can be considerable overlap between the two. However, their specific responsibilities can vary depending on the project and the owner.
Nevertheless, the scope of their responsibilities can be found in the table below:
Table 1. The different responsibilities of a construction manager vs. the general contractor.
|General Contractor||Construction Manager|
At the start of a construction project, the general contractor submits a bid for its total cost. The entire bid placed is typically enough to cover every aspect of the project, from the cost of materials to labor to equipment, including the contractorâ€™s entire fee, which is usually a fixed amount.
While on-site, the contractor is responsible for hiring and managing subcontractors to handle the work and abide by the original contract by following the bid price. Their overall profit will then be determined by how the project proceeds. If the project is within or below the set budget, its profit increases.
Meanwhile, if it exceeds the budget, the extra costs incurred will come out of their fees, lowering the contractorâ€™s profit margin. Thus, it is in their best interest for the project to proceed as efficiently as possible to secure a better profit.
On the other hand, a construction manager works on a fixed fee, usually a set percentage of the projectâ€™s total cost. This fee replaces the lump sum a general contractor typically charges to cover their overhead and profit. This arrangement is mutually beneficial for both the construction manager and the client, as it guarantees the amount a construction manager is paid while eliminating any incentive for cutting corners.
Through this working arrangement, a construction manager will always perform their functions at the ownerâ€™s behest as an extension of its staff. Itâ€™s also in the construction managerâ€™s best interest to ensure the project is completed as efficiently as possible while adhering to strict quality standards.
Top Considerations When Choosing Professionals For Your Project
Itâ€™s important to consider several factors when choosing between a general contractor and a construction manager for your project. One of these factors, perhaps the most important one, is safety.
Safety as a Consideration
The construction industry remains one of the most dangerous industries in the United States. Despite accounting for only 6% of the countryâ€™s workforce, of workplace fatalities in the U.S. belong to the construction industry. With construction workers being to be injured at the construction site, safety is a top priority to eliminate any risk of injury or fatality.
When choosing between a general contractor and a construction manager, it is vital to consider their history with regard to safety at the construction site. They must have a proven track record of prioritizing safety by implementing and enforcing safety measures that place worker safety above all else.
In that regard, general contractors may hold a significant advantage over construction managers as they generally have more experience in risk management and implementing safety protocols as overseers of all aspects of construction.
Additionally, the lump sum payment made to the general contractor typically covers all the insurance costs of their employees and subcontractors, eliminating any liability you may have in case of unfortunate incidents. A construction typically joins a construction project as a consultant, which means they may not have their own high-risk insurance coverage.
The decision to hire a general contractor vs. a construction manager will depend on several factors, including the projectâ€™s size, complexity and specific needs. Consider the following when choosing who to work with:
- Project Scope: Depending on the scale and complexity of the project, hiring both a construction manager and a general contractor may be necessary to oversee different aspects of the project. Typically, the construction manager handles the project management side of the operation while the general contractor takes care of the actual construction work.
- Timeline: Often, the involvement of a construction manager means a project requires a longer timeline. Their skill sets are necessary in that regard to ensure the work remains efficient and is completed in a timely manner. Meanwhile, a general contractor is more well-suited when deadlines are tight since they can work quickly and efficiently.
- Budget: In most cases, a general contractorâ€™s fees, paid in lump sum payments, may be more cost-effective than that of a construction manager, whose fees are based on a fixed percentage of the total project cost. However, their skills are also invaluable in ensuring that a projectâ€™s budget is utilized effectively by reducing delays and cost overruns.
- Experience and Qualifications: Whether youâ€™re choosing a general contractor or a construction manager for your project, evaluating their expertise and considering their experience and qualifications in handling similar projects is still necessary. Look for licenses and certifications relevant to your project to ensure they are well-equipped to address your specific requirements.
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