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Construction Manager Vs. General Contractor

Construction managers and general contractors both oversee projects, but their areas of expertise differ. This article will cover the job descriptions and outlook for each career to assist you in selecting the best one for you.

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Comparing Construction Managers to General Contractors

A career as a construction manager or general contractor may appeal to those with strong analytical and technical skills. Although individuals in both positions work on new projects, general contractors join during the construction phase, while the construction managers also take part in the design. Other similarities and differences between these careers are highlighted below.

Job Title Education Requirements Median Salary Job Growth (2014-2024)*
Construction Manager Bachelor's degree $89,300 (2016)* 5%
General Contractor Bachelor's degree $62,001 (2017)** 5% (Construction Managers)

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,**PayScale.com

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Responsibilities of Construction Managers vs. General Contractors

Construction managers and general contractors both play a management role in new construction projects. A construction manager is hired by a property owner during the pre-construction phase of a project. In contrast, a general contractor is chosen by the client through a bidding process and becomes involved during the construction phase. The construction manager advises the project owner and leads the team that includes the general contractor and design architect.

Construction Manager

Construction managers are responsible for overseeing all aspects of a project, including setting a budget and overseeing personnel, for residential, public, or commercial structures. They may work for specialty trade contractors, building construction firms, or engineering construction firms. Construction managers may work in an office, but primarily spend time in the field at construction sites. This career requires a bachelor's degree in construction management, construction science, or a related field and relevant work experience. Most construction managers gain experience as an assistant and receive on-the-job-training. Interested individuals can pursue certification through the Construction Management Association of America or the American Institute of Constructors.

Job responsibilities of a construction manager include:

  • Collaborating with engineers and architects assigned to a project to make sure it runs smoothly
  • Hiring low-level managers to oversee particular parts of a project, such as plumbing
  • Creating project budgets and work activity timelines
  • Analyzing and providing guidance on contracts or technical material to colleagues

General Contractor

General contractors specialize in the daily operation and direction on construction projects. A primary duty of general contractors is to collaborate with the engineers and architects on a project. Since they are not involved in the pre-construction phase, contractors may require engineers and architects to modify their original plans for a project. Contractors are also responsible for utilizing and managing subcontractors on projects. General contractors spend most of their time traveling and working at job sites. This career requires a bachelor's degree in construction management or engineering and relevant work experience, with the option to pursue certifications like the Certified Professional Constructor.

Job responsibilities of a general contractor:

  • Examining construction diagrams and contract terms to set an appropriate bid amount to present to the client
  • Communicating with the project architect during the construction phase
  • Hiring reliable subcontractors to handle specialized work, such as plumbing or electrical work
  • Ensuring all work is completed correctly and on time

Related Careers

If you would like to become a construction manager, consider a job as an architect, as both careers involve working with building design. Individuals interested in a career as a general contractor may be interested in a job as a cost estimator, since both careers involve setting project budgets.

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