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

When planning a construction project, it’s essential to understand the roles of key players involved. Two crucial positions that often come up are construction manager and general contractor. Though they may seem similar, their responsibilities and approaches are quite different. Knowing these differences can help you make the right choice for your project needs.

A construction manager oversees the entire project from start to finish. They work closely with the design team and contractors to ensure everything aligns with the project plan. Construction managers are often involved from the initial planning stages, making them vital for complex projects needing constant oversight. They focus on managing the schedule, budget, and quality of the project, ensuring it meets the owner’s expectations.

What is a general contractor? A general contractor is primarily responsible for the construction phase. They take the plans provided by the design team and execute the physical construction work. General contractors manage subcontractors, procure materials, and handle on-site issues that arise. They often come into the picture after the design phase is complete, focusing on turning the plans into a finished structure.

Understanding the unique roles of construction managers and general contractors can help streamline your project. Choosing the right professional for your needs ensures that your project runs smoothly, stays within budget, and meets all your requirements. Let’s dive deeper into what sets these roles apart and how to make the best choice for your upcoming construction project.

Who is a Construction Manager?

A construction manager is a professional responsible for overseeing a construction project from start to finish. They work closely with architects, engineers, and other key stakeholders to ensure the project is completed on time and within budget. Their role involves planning, coordinating, budgeting, and supervising the entire process of the construction project. Often, they are brought in during the initial planning stages and stay until the project’s completion.

Essential Skills for Construction Managers

Construction managers need a variety of skills to be effective. They must have strong project management abilities, as they are responsible for coordinating all aspects of a construction project. Good communication skills are crucial for keeping all parties informed and working towards the same goals. They must also be adept at risk management, identifying potential issues before they become major problems.

One of their key skills is budgeting. Construction managers must create and stick to a budget, making adjustments as needed to avoid overspending. They also need to understand the technical aspects of construction work, which often requires specialized knowledge in areas like engineering and architectural design. Problem-solving skills are vital, as issues will inevitably arise that require quick and effective solutions.

When to Hire a Construction Manager

You should consider hiring a construction manager for complex projects that require meticulous planning and coordination. If your project involves multiple stakeholders, sophisticated design elements, or a tight timeline, a construction manager can help ensure everything runs smoothly. They are particularly useful for large-scale projects where oversight and detailed management are critical to success.

Additionally, if you’re not familiar with the intricacies of construction work or the permitting process, a construction manager can provide invaluable expertise. They will handle the day-to-day tasks, allowing you to focus on other aspects of your project. For those aiming for high-quality results and efficient project management, hiring a construction manager is a smart choice.

Who is a General Contractor?

A general contractor is responsible for the daily oversight of a construction site and the management of vendors and trades. They take the project plans provided by the design team and turn them into reality. Unlike construction managers, who are involved in the planning stages, general contractors usually come on board once the design phase is completed. Their main job is to ensure the physical construction work is executed correctly and efficiently.

Skills and Qualifications

General contractors need a different set of skills compared to construction managers. They must have a strong understanding of construction methods and materials. Management skills are also essential, as they oversee subcontractors, coordinate schedules, and ensure the quality of work. Knowledge of building codes and regulations is crucial for compliance and safety.

General contractors must possess excellent problem-solving skills to address issues that arise on the construction site. They also require good negotiation skills for dealing with suppliers and subcontractors. Financial acumen is important as well; they must manage budgets and procure materials cost-effectively.

When to Hire a General Contractor

Hiring a general contractor is ideal when you have a well-defined project plan and need someone to take charge of the actual construction work. If you have completed the design process and need to move on to the construction phase, a general contractor will manage the site, subcontractors, and workflow.

General contractors are particularly useful for straightforward projects where the design is set, and the primary focus is on execution. If your project requires significant on-site management and coordination of multiple trades, a general contractor is essential. They handle the day-to-day operations, ensuring the project stays on schedule and meets all regulatory requirements.

By understanding the distinct roles and skills of construction managers vs general contractors, you can make an informed decision that best suits your project needs.

General Contractor Vs. Construction Manager

Understanding the differences between a general contractor and a construction manager is crucial for your construction project. Their roles overlap in some areas, but their approaches and responsibilities differ significantly.

Differences in Management Styles

A general contractor typically takes a more hands-on approach. They are deeply involved in the day-to-day construction work, managing subcontractors and suppliers directly. General contractors focus on executing the construction plans on the construction site. On the other hand, a construction manager leans more towards a supervisory and administrative role. They oversee the whole project, from planning through completion, ensuring everything follows the project timeline and budget.

In terms of style, a general contractor is more concerned with delivery and execution. They solve on-site issues and ensure the physical construction proceeds as per the plan. A construction manager, however, is more involved in strategic planning and coordination, ensuring all parts of the project come together smoothly.

Contractual Relationships

General contractors usually work based on a lump-sum contract, where they agree to complete the project for a fixed price. This implies that any cost overruns fall on them unless there are specific terms for adjustments. They often employ subcontractors to handle specialized tasks.

Construction managers typically operate under a cost-plus contract, where they charge for the actual costs of the project plus a management fee. This arrangement can offer more flexibility in managing unforeseen issues, as the client bears the cost of overruns. Construction managers rarely employ subcontractors themselves; instead, they supervise them on behalf of the client.

Cost and Budget Management

One major difference is how each role handles the project’s budget. A general contractor’s fixed-price contract means they have a strong incentive to stay within budget, but it also leaves less room for changes or unexpected expenses. Their primary goal is to deliver the project at the agreed-upon cost, sometimes leading to a focus on cost-saving measures.

Conversely, a construction manager’s cost-plus arrangement provides more flexibility. They can adapt to changes and unforeseen challenges more readily, providing the client with updates and recommended adjustments along the way. This can be an advantage for complex projects that might experience many changes during the construction phase.

Factors To Consider to Make the Right Choice for Your Project

Selecting between a construction manager and a general contractor depends on several critical factors, including the nature, scale, and complexity of your project. Here are some considerations to help make the right choice:

  1. Project Complexity: For complex projects that require extensive planning and coordination, a construction manager is often the better choice. They can manage intricate details and ensure the project stays on track from start to finish. On simpler projects, a general contractor might suffice as they can handle the execution phase more directly.
  2. Budget and Flexibility: If you prefer a fixed budget with minimal changes, a general contractor may be more suitable. However, if your project is likely to evolve, a construction manager provides the necessary flexibility to adapt to changes and manage additional costs effectively.
  3. Timeline: Tight deadlines can benefit from a construction manager’s ability to oversee all aspects of the project from the beginning. Their involvement from the planning stage helps streamline processes and reduce delays. General contractors are effective in executing the construction phase efficiently but might face challenges if the project scope changes significantly.
  4. Owner Involvement: Consider how involved you want to be in the day-to-day management of the project. General contractors handle the execution details, requiring less input from you once the project starts. Construction managers might require more of your input throughout the project to ensure every decision aligns with your vision and goals.

By weighing these factors, you can make an informed decision that aligns with your specific needs and project objectives.


Choosing between a general contractor and a construction manager depends on various factors such as project complexity, budget, timeline, and your desired level of involvement. A general contractor is excellent for straightforward projects with a fixed budget, while a construction manager offers flexibility and expertise for more complex projects. Understanding the unique roles and skills of each can help you select the right professional to ensure your project’s success.

Making the right choice between a construction manager and a general contractor is crucial for the success of your construction project. Both roles bring unique skills and strengths to the table. While a general contractor excels in hands-on construction work and cost control, a construction manager offers strategic oversight and flexibility, particularly valuable for complex projects.

Assess the specific needs of your project to determine which role aligns best with your goals. If you are embarking on a construction project in Las Vegas and need expert guidance, WTD Development is here to help. Our team is experienced in both general contracting and construction management, ensuring your project is completed efficiently and to the highest standards.

Contact us today to discuss your project and learn more about the different building construction types. Let WTD Development, one of the most reputable construction companies in Las Vegas, provide the expertise and support you need for a successful construction experience.