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Distinguishing Between General Contractors and Construction Managers

Distinguishing Between General Contractors and Construction Managers

When it comes to a construction project, many individuals play vital roles in executing plans and overseeing the entire operation. These include property owners, architects handling designs, engineers ensuring stability, and various tradespeople and workers performing daily construction tasks. 

Yet, two individuals take center stage as the primary overseers: the general contractor and the construction manager. Both play crucial roles in managing day-to-day activities on the construction site, with shared objectives of completing the project on time and within budget. 

Due to their overlapping responsibilities, there’s often confusion between these two roles, making it challenging to differentiate them. However, establishing a clear hierarchy and defining each role distinctly is essential at the project’s outset. This clarity ensures smooth communication throughout the construction process, starting with a clear understanding of the roles of the general contractor and the construction manager. 

What Constitutes a General Contractor? 

A General Contractor, often abbreviated as GC, fulfills the crucial role of overseeing the entirety of a construction project. This consists of a wide array of duties, ranging from establishing schedules to managing day-to-day operations, all with the aim of ensuring the smooth progression of the project from its inception to its finalization. 

Following the completion of the design phase by the project owners, the General Contractor is brought on board to spearhead the construction process. The complexity and size of the project dictate whether the General Contractor operates as an independent contractor, subcontracting tasks to a diverse network of carpenters, skilled workers, and other professionals, or as part of a construction company with its own dedicated workforce. 

What Exactly Constitutes a Construction Manager? 

A construction manager, often referred to as a CM, is an individual or a team responsible for overseeing all facets of a construction endeavor, starting from its inception to its culmination. While their duties may seem akin to those of a general contractor, in some instances, a construction manager may also assume the duties of a general contractor. 

Typically, a construction manager is not directly involved in the physical construction of the project. Instead, their primary objective is to ensure that the project remains within the allocated budget and timeframe, all the while adhering to predefined quality benchmarks. Consequently, they collaborate closely with architects, engineers, contractors, and other relevant stakeholders to ensure that the project aligns with the client’s expectations and specifications. 

In addition to their role as project overseers, construction managers may also undertake ancillary responsibilities such as financial management, cost estimation, or other tasks pertinent to the project lifecycle, encompassing the pre-construction, construction, and post-construction phases.

Construction Manager vs. General Contractor 

When comparing the roles of a construction manager and a general contractor, it’s evident that while there’s significant overlap, their specific duties can vary based on the project and the client. Here’s a breakdown of their respective responsibilities: 


Construction Manager 


General Contractor 

Oversees the overall planning and coordination of the construction project, from start to finish.  Focuses primarily on executing the construction work according to the plans and specifications provided. 
Manages the project budget, including cost estimation, tracking expenses, and ensuring cost-effectiveness.  Responsible for procurement, subcontractor management, and ensuring materials and resources are available as needed. 
Coordinates with architects, engineers, and other stakeholders to ensure design specifications are met and any necessary modifications are communicated effectively.  Liaises with the client or project owner, providing regular updates on progress, addressing concerns, and obtaining approvals as required. 
Manages the construction schedule, identifying critical milestones, and ensuring timely completion of various project phases.  Oversees on-site construction activities, including scheduling labor, equipment, and material deliveries to maintain workflow and meet deadlines. 
Addresses any issues or conflicts that arise during construction, implementing solutions to keep the project on track and within budget.  Ensures compliance with building codes, safety regulations, and quality standards throughout the construction process. 

While both roles involve managing aspects of the construction project, the construction manager typically focuses on the overall planning and coordination, whereas the general contractor is more involved in the hands-on execution of the construction work. 

Payment Method

In the initial phase of a construction venture, the primary contractor presents an estimate for the total expenditure. This estimate typically encompasses all facets of the project, spanning from material costs to labor expenses to equipment fees, including the contractor’s entire charge, often a fixed sum. 

During the project’s execution, the contractor bears the responsibility of engaging and supervising subcontractors to execute the tasks outlined in the original agreement, adhering to the estimated price. The overall profitability of the contractor hinges on the project’s progression. Should the project remain within or under the budget, the profit margin expands. 

Conversely, if the project surpasses the budget, the additional expenses incurred will detract from the contractor’s earnings, diminishing the profit margin. Consequently, it is in the contractor’s best interest for the project to advance as efficiently as possible to secure a favorable profit margin. 

In contrast, a construction manager operates on a predetermined fee, typically a fixed percentage of the total project cost. This fee replaces the lump sum traditionally charged by a general contractor to cover overhead and profit. This arrangement is advantageous for both the construction manager and the client, as it ensures a predetermined payment for the construction manager while eliminating any incentive for compromising quality. 

Under this working arrangement, a construction manager consistently fulfills their responsibilities at the owner’s direction, effectively serving as an extension of the owner’s team. It is also in the construction manager’s best interest to oversee the project’s timely completion while upholding stringent quality standards.

Key Considerations When Selecting Professionals for Your Project 

When faced with the decision between hiring a general contractor or a construction manager for your project, it’s crucial to weigh several key factors, with safety standing out as paramount. 

Safety is undeniably a top priority, particularly in the construction industry, which consistently ranks among the most perilous sectors in the United States. Despite comprising only a modest 6% of the nation’s workforce, construction accounts for a staggering 20% of all workplace fatalities. Given that construction workers face double the risk of injury compared to the average worker, prioritizing safety is non-negotiable.

In evaluating potential candidates, it’s imperative to scrutinize their safety record meticulously. The chosen professional must demonstrate a solid history of emphasizing safety through the effective implementation and enforcement of stringent safety measures aimed at safeguarding workers above all else. 

Herein lies a potential advantage for general contractors. With their extensive experience in risk management and the oversight of all construction facets, they are often better equipped to uphold rigorous safety standards. Moreover, the comprehensive lump sum payment typically extended to general contractors covers all insurance expenses for both their personnel and subcontractors, absolving you of any liability in the event of unfortunate mishaps. 

In contrast, a construction manager typically enters the project as a consultant, lacking their own robust insurance coverage for high-risk scenarios. This discrepancy underscores the importance of thoroughly evaluating safety considerations when making your selection. 

Additional Considerations 

When determining whether to engage a general contractor or a construction manager, various elements must be taken into account, such as the project’s size, intricacy, and unique demands. These factors should guide your decision-making process: 

Project Scale: Depending on the magnitude and intricacy of the endeavor, it might be prudent to enlist both a construction manager and a general contractor to oversee distinct facets of the project. Typically, the construction manager assumes responsibility for project management duties, while the general contractor focuses on executing the actual construction tasks. 

Timeline: The presence of a construction manager often translates to a lengthier project timeline. However, their expertise is indispensable in maintaining operational efficiency and ensuring timely completion. Conversely, a general contractor is adept at expediting work, making them suitable for projects with tight deadlines. 

Budget: While a general contractor’s lump sum payment structure may appear more cost-effective compared to a construction manager’s fee based on a percentage of the project cost, the latter’s skills are invaluable in optimizing budget utilization by mitigating delays and cost escalations. 

Experience and Credentials: Whether opting for a general contractor or a construction manager, assessing their proficiency and examining their track record with similar projects remains crucial. Verify their licensure and relevant certifications to ascertain their capability to address your project’s specific needs. 

Efficiently Manage Your Project with a Trusted Ally 

When it comes to undertaking your next construction project, deciding between a construction manager and a general contractor is key. It signals your quest for a steadfast collaborator you can rely on. Arrant Construction stands out as one of Houston’s prominent commercial general contractors, dedicated to bringing your aspirations to fruition. 

In the realm of commercial construction in Texas, specifically catering to clients in Houston and beyond, lies Arrant Construction, a licensed entity primed to serve. With a rich history spanning over three decades, we’ve cultivated invaluable relationships with esteemed vendors and subcontractors. This network enables us to procure top-notch materials at competitive rates, ensuring your project receives nothing but the finest. Connect with Arrant Construction today and set your project on the path to success! 


What’s the difference between a general contractor and a construction manager? 

A general contractor oversees the entire construction process, while a construction manager coordinates various aspects like scheduling and subcontractor management.

How do I choose between a general contractor and a construction manager?

Consider your project’s complexity and your preferred level of involvement. If you want someone to handle everything, go for a general contractor. If you prefer more control and oversight, opt for a construction manager. 

Which option is better for my project? 

It depends on factors like budget, timeline, and your comfort level with delegating responsibilities. Assess your needs and consult with both general contractors and construction managers to determine the best fit. 

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