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General Contractors vs. Construction Managers: The Key Differences

General Contractors vs. Construction Managers: The Key Differences

A construction project doesn’t simply conclude overnight. In fact, it represents the culmination of collaborative effort and hard work from an entire team of professionals. This construction crew comprises a diverse group of skilled individuals, ranging from contractors and tradespeople who ensure the project’s stability to architects, designers, and engineers who lead the design and execution of the endeavor. 

Nonetheless, the primary responsibilities predominantly fall upon two entities: the general contractor and the construction manager. Both roles are tasked with supervising the day-to-day operations, working towards a common objective – completing the project within the designated timeline and ensuring financial efficiency along the way. 

Given their overlapping responsibilities, many individuals tend to confuse the two roles since they can appear challenging to differentiate. Nonetheless, when commencing a construction project, it is vital to establish a distinct hierarchy and precisely define each function to facilitate seamless communication throughout the entire undertaking. This process commences with a clear distinction between the general contractor and the construction manager. 

What is a General Contractor? 

A general contractor (GC) is a skilled professional entrusted with the comprehensive management of a construction project. This role entails handling various responsibilities, ranging from scheduling to overseeing day-to-day activities, ensuring that the entire construction process is efficiently managed, starting from the groundbreaking phase and extending to its successful completion. 

Once the owners have finalized the designs for their new construction venture, they enlist the services of a general contractor to supervise the entire construction process. Depending on the project’s size and complexity, the general contractor may either operate as an individual who subcontracts the work to a pool of skilled laborers and carpenters, or as a construction company with its own dedicated team of employees. 

What is a Construction Manager? 

A construction manager (CM) is an individual or a group of people who oversee every aspect of a construction project, from its initial planning to its final completion. Their role shares similarities with that of a general contractor, and in certain situations, the construction manager may even assume the responsibilities of a general contractor. 

Typically, construction managers do not physically participate in the building process itself. Instead, their primary focus is on ensuring the project is completed within the designated budget and timeline while adhering to high-quality standards. They collaborate closely with architects, engineers, contractors, and other stakeholders to ensure the project aligns with the client’s requirements and specifications. 

Besides their role as project managers, construction managers can also fulfill other responsibilities, such as acting as accountants, estimators, or other professionals involved in various stages of the project, both before, during, and after construction. 

Key Responsibilities of a Construction Manager & a General Contractor 

The general contractor and the construction manager share a wide range of responsibilities, often leading to significant overlap between their roles. Nevertheless, their specific duties may differ based on the project requirements and the owner’s preferences. 

Nevertheless, the scope of their responsibilities can be found below: 

General Contractor  

– Enlisting and integrating subcontractors for the project 

– Devising and overseeing the construction timeline 

– Efficiently managing all construction operations on-site 

– Carefully strategizing for project development and execution 

– Supervising work quality and adherence to specifications 

– Procuring necessary materials and equipment 

– Handling licensing and equipment rentals 

– Establishing effective communication channels within the job site 

– Meeting all legal and regulatory obligations 

– Ensuring continuous availability of funds throughout the project 

– Providing regular progress reports on project advancement. 

Construction Manager 

– Provide leadership during the initial planning stages. 

– Collaborate with all stakeholders, including architects, engineers, and clients, to develop a detailed description of jobs and materials needed for project completion. 

– Supervise all the logistical requirements of the entire job site. 

– Delegate tasks to all team members. 

– Conduct regular reviews of all aspects of construction, including timings, labor, risks, and project plans to ensure work stays on track. 

– Maintain regular communication with clients, third parties, and other project managers. 

– Set targets, objectives, and responsibilities for all supervised staff. 

– Set up budgets. 

– Perform regular audits to ensure all staff members comply with health and safety guidelines. 

– Ensure all aspects of the project comply with agreed specifications. 

Payment Scheme 

At the commencement of a construction project, the general contractor submits a comprehensive bid encompassing all aspects of the endeavor, including materials, labor, equipment, and their fee, which is typically a fixed amount. 

Once on-site, the contractor is responsible for engaging and overseeing subcontractors, ensuring they adhere to the original contract and the bid price. Their overall profit depends on the project’s progress: if it stays within or under the budget, their profit increases. 

However, exceeding the budget results in the extra costs being deducted from their fees, reducing their profit margin. Consequently, the contractor is highly motivated to manage the project efficiently to secure a better profit. 

On the other hand, a construction manager works on a fixed fee, usually a predetermined percentage of the project’s total cost. This fee replaces the lump sum typically charged by general contractors, covering their overhead and profit. This arrangement benefits both the construction manager and the client, as it ensures a set payment for the manager and eliminates any incentive for compromising on quality. 

In this working arrangement, the construction manager operates as an extension of the owner’s staff, carrying out their duties at the owner’s direction. It is also in the construction manager’s best interest to ensure the project’s efficient completion while upholding strict quality standards. 

Top Considerations When Choosing Professionals for Your Project 

When deciding between a general contractor and a construction manager for your project, it becomes crucial to take multiple factors into account. Among these factors, safety stands out as possibly the most significant one. 

Safety as a Consideration 

The construction industry remains an extremely perilous sector in the United States. Despite comprising only 6% of the country’s workforce, it accounts for a staggering 20% of all workplace fatalities. Construction workers face a risk of injury at the construction site that is more than twice the national average, making safety an utmost priority in order to prevent accidents and fatalities. 

When deciding between a general contractor and a construction manager, it becomes crucial to assess their safety track record at construction sites. A proven history of prioritizing safety through the effective implementation and enforcement of safety measures is paramount. This ensures that worker safety is given the highest importance. 

In this aspect, general contractors often hold an advantage over construction managers. Their expertise in risk management and implementation of safety protocols, as overseers of all construction aspects, provides them with greater experience in maintaining safety standards. 

Furthermore, the lump sum payment made to a general contractor usually covers all insurance costs for their employees and subcontractors, thus relieving you of any liability in case of unfortunate incidents. On the other hand, a construction manager typically enters a project as a consultant, which may mean they lack their own comprehensive high-risk insurance coverage. 

Other Considerations 

When deciding between hiring a general contractor and a construction manager, various factors come into play. These factors encompass the size, complexity, and specific requirements of the project. Take the following aspects into account while making your choice: 

Project Scope: The necessity of hiring a construction manager and a general contractor depends on the project’s scale and complexity. In many cases, a construction manager is responsible for overseeing the project management aspects, while a general contractor is tasked with handling the physical construction work. 

Timeline: Frequently, when a construction manager is involved, projects tend to have extended timelines. Their expertise is indispensable in maintaining efficiency and ensuring timely completion of the work. On the other hand, when faced with tight deadlines, a general contractor is better suited, as they possess the ability to work swiftly and proficiently. 

Budget: Typically, opting for a general contractor with fees paid in lump sum payments can prove more cost-effective than hiring a construction manager who charges a fixed percentage based on the total project cost. Nevertheless, the construction manager’s expertise becomes indispensable in maximizing the project budget by minimizing delays and avoiding excessive expenses. 

Experience and Qualifications: When deciding between a general contractor or a construction manager for your project, it remains essential to assess their expertise, experience, and qualifications in managing similar projects. Take into account relevant licenses and certifications that align with your project’s needs, as this will ensure they possess the necessary skills and capabilities to meet your specific requirements. 

Optimize Your Project with a Reliable Construction Partner 

If you’re in the process of choosing between a construction manager and a general contractor, it shows that you seek a dependable partner for your upcoming construction project. Look no further than Arrant Construction, one of Houston’s leading commercial general contractors. Our commitment lies in bringing your vision to life. 

Operating as a licensed commercial construction company in Texas, we proudly serve clients not only in Houston but also across the entire state. With a rich history spanning over 30 years, we have fostered strong relationships with trusted vendors and subcontractors in the industry. This enables us to provide top-quality materials at competitive prices, ensuring that your project receives nothing but the best. Contact Arrant Construction today and let’s turn your construction dreams into reality!

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