Learn what it means to be a general contractor in this guide to one of the construction industry’s most important roles.
What is a general contractor?
General contractors handle the overall management of construction projects. From start to finish, they oversee the entire construction process in both the field and office setting.
Over the course of a project, the general contractor—commonly referred to as the GC—will coordinate budgets and schedules, manage relationships with vendors and subcontractors, and facilitate communications between the project owner and other stakeholders.
What does a general contractor do?
The primary responsibility of general contractors is to ensure project work is completed according to the contract. Because construction is such a complex process, this means the role of the GC evolves depending on what stage of construction the project is currently in.
What a general contractor does in the preconstruction phase varies depending on the type of project and its delivery method.
In a design-build project setting, the general contractor will work with the architect during this stage to create, finalize, and approve a design with the contract owner. Then, they will develop a project budget, plan the work schedule, source materials and equipment, and hire all the subcontractors who will bring the project to life. They’ll obtain the necessary permits and make sure the project meets all legal obligations.
In a design-bid-build project setting, the general contractor will work alongside the architect, who is operating under a separate contract. So, while the GC will still need to coordinate with the architect, they’re not responsible for the design itself. First, the general contractor will create a bid or complete a proposal to win the project. Then, they’ll focus solely on planning and preparation.
As construction is completed, the general contractor closely monitors project progress. If there are delays or setbacks, they must quickly make informed decisions to keep the project on track.
The GC is in charge of safety and quality, and will likely regularly inspect the jobsite and review daily reports to identify potential issues. They will adjust budgets and schedules as needed, keeping the project owner informed.
Once construction is finished, the general contractor manages project turnover to the owner and ties up loose ends. They make sure all bills are paid and they’ll organize project documentation so that it can be easily referenced.
Becoming a general contractor
To become a general contractor, you’ll need the right skills, experience, and education.
Construction knowledge - You need a thorough understanding of how construction works in order to plan and execute projects effectively.
Organizational skills - With each project GCs manage several moving parts at once, requiring exceptional organizational skills.
Attention to detail - As you’re monitoring project progress, it’s important to review with a critical eye to avoid missing crucial details.
Leadership skills - General contractors lead several smaller teams and are responsible for driving the success of a project.
Good communication - You’ll have to clearly communicate with every project stakeholder from the top down.
Training & education
While many general contractors get their start with field experience, there are several educational programs that can give you a competitive edge.
The following schools offer degrees or certifications in construction management:
This is just a small sample of the available education for general contractors. These programs teach participants about the construction process and introduce them to tools that improve organization and efficiency.
Most states require general contractors to have a license to operate that may need to be renewed on a periodic basis. Licensing protects everyone involved in the project, because it helps ensure the GC understands and meets their legal obligations, including insurance and safety requirements.
Check your state government resources to determine whether or not you need a general contracting license. To apply for a license, you will typically need to provide identifying information, submit proof of insurance, and pay a small fee.
Like most jobs, general contractor salaries will vary by location and company size.
As of July 2023, ZipRecruiter lists the average salary for general contractors in the U.S. as $81, 308 per year and the highest yearly salary for general contractors as $328,500.
Construction is one of the oldest industries, and general contractors are an essential part of its success. Becoming a general contractor can be a secure and potentially lucrative career path.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that, on average, 41,500 construction manager roles open each year. This number includes both newly-created roles and positions that open due to retirements and resignations. From 2021 to 2023 the construction manager role is projected to grow by 8%.
With the current labor shortage affecting construction, there is a great need for more professionals entering the industry.
Benefits of general contractor software
With all the moving pieces, it’s easy to see how difficult managing a construction project can be. Just like field crews need hammers and forklifts, general contractors can work more effectively and efficiently with the right tools at their disposal.
Software that makes monitoring and analyzing data from the field easier is one of the best investments for general contractors. Digital daily reports, time cards, and checklists, general contractors improve reporting compliance.
With software, your subcontractors can use mobile devices to quickly capture field data, which can be automatically organized into actionable insights.
Software reduces risk for general contractors with more thorough and organized documentation. Include a high level of detail in reports and checklists, even adding photos and videos.
Store digital documents in the cloud, where they can be found quickly through a search function. Resolve disputes fairly with definitive proof of what happened on the jobsite at any given time.
We work for general contractors
See how Raken’s general contractor software helps busy GCs monitor real-time progress, improve daily reporting, and avoid costly disputes and litigation.
Our digital toolbox features a comprehensive suite of features designed for ease-of-use. Keep all important project data in one place and share updates from the field to the office—and vice versa—instantly.