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The Difference Between a Project Manager, Construction Manager and General Contractor

When beginning a construction project, one of the very first questions that comes up is: who should I hire to run my project? With this inquiry comes many confusing possibilities, and eventually the question becomes not who is to be hired but rather what is to be hired.

In general, there are three common consultants which run a construction project: Project Managers (PM), Construction Managers (CM), and General Contractors (GC). The differences between these job descriptions are distinct, but they are often and easily confused. Each consultant comes with a different perspective and it is important to identify which is best for each project. 


A Project Manager  is involved in all aspects of the a real estate project, including pre-construction activities, construction administration and post-construction. The Project Manager understands the client’s goals and priorities, and ensures that all project consultants are in line with these goals. The PM manages the human resources according to the target capacity, budget, time frame, and quality of the project. They are on-site throughout the project, but in contrast to a GC or CM, they oversee the entire project from pre-construction to close-out, not just construction. A project manager typically manages the Construction Manager and/or the General Contractor on behalf of the client. Essentially, the project manager becomes an extension of the client’s internal team and is able to guide all consultants in accordance with the client’s goals. 

Construction Managers are hired before construction begins and are heavily involved during pre-construction. They also work with the design architect. The CM is involved in setting the budget and schedule of the project. Construction Managers work with onsite managers who handle the projects during construction. The value of a Construction Manager is advising the project owners and leading the team of construction workers, including the general contractor. Construction managers are responsible for setting and keeping schedules, monitoring finances, and making certain that all contractors are doing what they should every day.

General Contractors are chosen through a bidding process by the client and are involved during construction and in the daily direction and operation of projects. They are mainly credited for ensuring that all work is completed correctly and on time. General Contractors hire subcontractors, like plumbers and carpenters, for specialized work. The physical work completed onsite is done by the General Contractor and their team of construction workers. 


*Watchdog’s intern, Alana McCaffrey, contributed to this post.

Katie Craven
Katie Craven is Marketing, Communication and Brand Manager at Watchdog Real Estate Project Managers, a real-estate consulting firm that provides owner’s representation and project management services. More about Watchdog Real Estate Project Managers as well as additional blog posts can be found here.
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