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Construction Manager vs. General Contractor: What is the Difference?
5 minute read
Kevin Forestell headshot
Kevin Forestell
August 25, 2023

Construction Manager vs. General Contractor: What is the Difference 

This article will provide a comprehensive breakdown of both the construction manager (CM) and general contractor (GC) roles on a job site. Helping you to understand the differences, similarities, responsibilities, and how to decide which is right for your construction project.

The most notable difference between a construction manager and a general contractor is in the design factor. While the role of construction managers only begins once the design has already been completed, general contractors are often involved in the design process.

Who is a Construction Manager?

Construction managers primarily focus on the management and coordination of the construction process. They often work closely with the owner and other stakeholders to guarantee a successful project. The construction manager position is vital to any project, especially when ensuring timely and cost-effective execution.

The responsibilities of a construction manager range from project planning, budgeting, and scheduling before and during the construction process. While they may hire subcontractors, construction managers don't always manage them directly. Instead, they often work collaboratively with contractors and subcontractors to ensure efficient execution.

Construction managers are essential because they bring order and organization to any project or site. Their expertise helps to minimize delays, reduce risks, and ensure high standards. Effective construction management can lead to successful project outcomes, increased efficiency, and improved client satisfaction.

Who is a General Contractor?

The roles of general contractor include the overall execution of a construction project. This includes managing all aspects of the project, before, during, and after construction, from planning and coordination to execution and completion. General contractors bear a higher level of risk compared to construction managers. If there is an unexpected issue, they are often the ones held accountable for resolving the situation and mitigating any negative impacts on the project.

In addition to risk mitigation, they work alongside construction managers to hire subcontractors. However, they are responsible for coordinating the work of these specialized teams to ensure the project progresses as planned. General contractors serve as the primary point of contact between all parties involved and are tasked with providing updates and addressing concerns.

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What is the Difference between a Construction Manager and a General Contractor?

When deciphering the difference between general contractors and construction managers, the difference is clear when looking at their roles and responsibilities. General contractors are more directly involved in the execution of the construction work, managing subcontractors, while assuming greater financial and operational responsibility.

Construction managers plan, coordinate, and manage risks. They work with different parties to make sure the project is successful. There is often overlap between positions, and the specific responsibilities often vary depending on the project's size, complexity, and other factors.

Similarities Between Construction Manager and General Contractor: Do Their Roles Overlap?

The short answer is yes their roles overlap, and yes there are similarities. The top three similarities include leadership and coordination, construction expertise, and quality assurance.

Both positions are responsible for general construction project management. These positions entail coordinating various activities, managing schedules, and ensuring that all tasks are executed efficiently. However, they may focus on different groups within the project.

Whether it's a construction manager or a general contractor, they need to possess a solid understanding of construction methods, materials, safety practices, and regulations to effectively oversee and manage projects. This expertise will be beneficial while coordinating, completing quality assurance, and monitoring throughout the project.

Both roles actively monitor the work, conduct inspections, and ensure that they meet the required specifications and standards. Whether it's adherence to design plans or compliance with safety regulations, both roles focus on delivering a high-quality result.

Navigating Project Management: Where Does Each Fit Best?

Determining whether a construction manager or a general contractor is better suited for a specific construction project depends on a few different factors. For projects where comprehensive oversight and coordination are the number one priority, a construction manager is an ideal choice. Construction managers excel in collaborating with architects, engineers, and contractors, ensuring clear communication and successful resource allocation.

On the other hand, when a project requires a single point of responsibility and more streamlined execution, a general contractor is more appropriate. General contractors thrive working on a project where the primary focus is efficient completion and seamless subcontractor coordination. As a result, being skilled in overseeing day-to-day operations and maintaining budgets, comes in handy when delivering tangible results.

Expert Tips: Making the Right Choice for Your Construction Needs

The decision ultimately hinges on the project's scope, complexity, and the preferred approach to leadership and coordination. Here is a list to help you make an informed choice:

Project Complexity

  • Construction Manager (CM): Choose a CM for complex projects with intricacy, multiple stakeholders, and higher levels of coordination.
  • General Contractor (GC): Opt for GM when your project has straightforward designs and a clear scope of work.

Resource Allocation

  • CM: If you want close involvement in selecting subcontractors and suppliers, a CM can offer transparency and input into resource allocation.
  • GC: GCs handle the hiring and management of subcontractors, streamlining the process and freeing you from direct involvement.

Project Size

  • CM: Larger projects with numerous phases and diverse teams benefit from a CM's ability to oversee complex logistical challenges.
  • GC: Smaller to medium-sized projects with defined scopes can benefit from a GC's streamlined approach.

Personal Preferences

  • Consider your personal preferences and comfort level with project management. Do you prefer a more collaborative approach (CM) or a streamlined execution (GC)?

Now you know more about the differences, similarities, and duties of a general contractor and a construction manager. Consider looking at these guidelines and thinking about what your project needs, its complexity, your budget, and how much you want to be involved. After that, you can now decide if a construction manager or a general contractor is the better fit for your project.

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Kevin Forestell headshot
Kevin Forestell
Kevin Forestell is CEO of DOZR and one of the co-founders. Kevin first got started as an entrepreneur when he founded Forestell Landscaping right after graduating from University. His love and passion for the industry and desire to help solve an equipment problem that contractors faced every day is what brought the founding team to start DOZR. Kevin is proud of the level of efficiency brought to the industry through DOZR and hopes that DOZR will help change the standard way equipment is rented.
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