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General Contractor Vs. Construction Manager: What’s the Difference?

The titles sound similar, but have you ever wondered about the differences between a construction manager (CM) and a general contractor (GC)? If so, you’re not alone. While both roles are seen as the job’s head contractors, it can be challenging at times to know the difference between the two because the way they operate is similar sometimes.

In some cases, general contractors will do the job of a construction manager. However, beyond the similarities, the two roles are fundamentally different. Moreover, they approach projects differently. To help clarify the responsibilities and roles of the CM and GC, we are going to break it down for you.

General Contractor

One of the primary ways in which a general contractor differs from a construction manager is in their organizational structures. In most cases, a general contractor is typically an individual or business entity with its own employees. For example, they often have superintendents or foremen who work mostly at the job site. They also usually have a team of carpenters, general laborers, and other skilled trades. There are some benefits to working with a general contractor and their team.

  • All parties are familiar with working with each other.
  • Standard operating procedures have been mostly established.
  • If the GC is fair and ethical, the collective team tends to have a good level of cooperation, loyalty, and camaraderie.

Besides their team of employees, general contractors also tend to have a pool of subcontractors with whom they work regularly on other projects. A general contractor often specializes in specific construction types.

Construction Manager

When compared to a commercial general contractor, a construction manager may be simply an individual, or in some cases, a group of people. The primary difference between a CM and a GC is that with a CMS, the people on staff are not generally employees who do the actual building.

Instead, construction managers are project managers, accountants, estimators, or other professionals who have responsibilities before, during, and finally, after a project.

Relationship with the Owner

General contractors and construction managers usually have different relationships with the decision-makers or owners in a project. For new projects, general contractors usually win the project through the process of competitive bidding. In this case, the GC gives a set price and builds the project aspects that are covered in their contract.

The Difference Between General Contractors and Construction Managers

In short, the key difference between construction managers and general contractors is their point of entry into a project. When doing a building project, there are several different people or companies involved. These include any or all of the following.

  • Owner
  • Architect
  • General contractor
  • Construction manager
  • Specialty trades (some of these will have their own project managers)

All of these entities come together to complete a successful project, hopefully on time and on budget. The general contractor is motivated to keep the project on budget. If the project comes in below budget, the general contractor profits. If project costs overrun for unforeseen reasons, the GC will change the project’s scope, alter the specifications, or ask the owner for more funding.

Conversely, a construction manager performs their functions at the owner’s behest for a specific percentage of the project’s total cost. The CM will oversee the construction by hiring subcontractors or more general contractors. CMs usually work nearly exclusively with owners with whom they have established a relationship that’s mutually beneficial. Also, construction managers work from a fee that has been predetermined so they aren’t competing with the owner. CMs come into the project early in the pre-construction services process because they usually participate in the pre-construction phase.

Construction Managers and General Contractors in Florida

Deciding whether to choose a construction manager or general contractor for a project is an owner preference. This decision can be evaluated in the conception stages of different projects. Whichever the owner chooses to work with, it’s important to make sure everyone is on the same page.

For quality construction management in Florida, contact MH Williams Construction Group in Melbourne, Florida at 321.757.5750. Our team of construction managers, general contractors, and engineers provides project management and supervision, along with design and technical expertise for industrial construction.