What is a General Contractor? What Does a General Contractor (GC) Do?

Published on 15th June 2022

A General Contractor (GC) is an entity in a construction project who oversees the entire construction project from beginning to end. GC’s role includes:

  • Hiring and managing subcontractors, vendors, employees, and clients
  • Maintaining effective communications between all parties involved in the construction project
  • Ensuring the project completes within the budget and timeline
  • Looking after the overall safety of personnel and the construction site
  • Providing labor, materials, and equipment needed to complete the project
  • Assuring the project meets regulatory guidelines and quality standards

What is a general contractor?

A general contractor is an entity that takes responsibility for the outcome of a construction project whether it's large or small. It is the responsibility of the GC to take the construction risks and handle all the variables in construction while ensuring the construction outcomes are as per the expectations of the client or the project owner. In most cases, a GC obligates the responsibilities through a legally binding document.


A licensed general contractor or licensed GC is a person with a contractor's license schedule and directs the day-to-day activities on the construction site. It can be a person for small-scale construction like a residential contractor or home improvement contractor or it can be a specialized organization for large-scale construction projects.


It is the GC’s responsibility to manage the project from start to finish while maintaining a steady flow of materials, labor, and equipment. In the UK, Main Contractor is the alternative term for a general contractor. Additionally, the main contractor who works primarily with government agencies is known as a prime contractor.


Contrary to a specialty contractor, a general contractor typically acts as a direct extension of the project owner or the construction manager. The general contractor then hires exclusive professionals or subcontractors to manage more specific components of the project, such as plumbing, and electrical work.

Why is a general contractor important?

Several works go on simultaneously on a construction site. For the fruitful completion of the project work, all the works need to be synchronized and coordinated. This is where a GC has a major role as GC ensures the below-mentioned tasks are carried out smoothly.

  • Developing and monitoring a construction timetable
  • Organizing and managing the construction site
  • Recruiting and supervising subcontractors
  • Choosing suppliers and vendors
  • Equipment licensing and rental
  • Labor management
  • Ensuring safety on site
  • Complying with environmental regulations
  • Maintaining the overall quality of the project
  • Ensuring safe cleanup and demolition

What does a general contractor do?

A general contractor is in charge of overseeing a building project from start to finish. But what exactly does this include?


A general contractor serves as a liaison between the project owner and everyone involved in the construction process, including material suppliers, vendors, and craftsmen.


Here are the main functions of a GC.

Project Planning

Project planning is an important phase that can influence the course of a project. The contractor must plan everything, including cost estimation, to prevent cost overrun and delay. GC is also responsible for planning tasks for each team and providing the teams with deadlines to implement the plans.


This planning is quite beneficial since it divides the large project into manageable segments. These segments are further divided into interdependent stages. A deadline is then set for each stage to maximize efficiency and keep the project on track.

Human Resources Management

Human resource management is another important quality for becoming a general building contractor. Major commercial construction has several human elements associated with the project. Therefore, a GC’s task of managing all these human resources can severely impact the implementation of the project plans.

Subcontractor Management

Different construction activities, especially commercial construction, require different sorts of subcontractors to complete specific elements of the construction process. The major responsibility of the general commercial contractor is to find suitable subcontractors who can perform the particular tasks within the timeline.

Finance Management

To ensure the project's financial success and ease of management, the general contractor appoints a team of financial management professionals to handle all accounting, bookkeeping, and overall financial management. Keeping the entire project within the budget is a part of this financial management.

Supply-Chain Management

Any construction megaproject requires the movement of a substantial number of personnel and materials. It becomes necessary that this movement be timely and well-coordinated to ensure the availability of men and materials at the right place at the right time. 


It is the responsibility of the general contractor to employ a capable team of professionals experienced in supply chain management.

Vendor Management

Large construction projects depend on the supply of raw materials and building components from various vendors. GC has to ensure this supply from vendors remains streamlined and vendors are paid on time. 


As part of the vendor management process, GC oversees the vendor management to handle the intricacies of vendor sourcing, obtaining estimates, capacities, quality work, turnaround times, invoicing, and timely payment.

Communication Management

Communication is the most important factor in ensuring the project's success. The general contractor ensures that the whole communication infrastructure is robust during the construction phase.


For this, GC has to identify and hire the appropriate communication team to ensure an effective and glitch-free communication channel among various project units.

Quality Management

Ensuring quality is of paramount importance for the success of the entire project. Thus, the contractor determines the quality and durability of the materials for the project. After all, quality materials can save a lot on maintenance costs once the construction is complete and the premise begins operations.

Dispute Management

A GC has to ensure total control over all the activities and personnel on the project site. Therefore, GC resolves any disputes that arise on the site and maintains discipline among all the parties involved in the construction.

Safety of the site and personnel

Among the responsibilities of a GC, maintaining safety on the site is probably the most important. GC has to ensure there is complete safety on the site, including the safety of the working professionals, workers, materials, and overall project site.

Responsibilities of GC during the project’s construction phase

A general contractor has essential duties before, during, and after the construction process.

Before construction

Before construction begins, a GC may be responsible for some or all of the following:

  • Developing and implementing a construction budget
  • Finding subcontractors to do specialized work
  • Work with the architect to ensure construction takes place as per the design requirements.
  • Getting necessary permits, including the building permit and environmental clearance

During construction

While construction is taking place, the GC will likely tackle the following:

  • Supervising construction work by studying design standards
  • Keeping the project on track and maintaining deadlines
  • Reacting to schedule disruptions and other obstacles
  • Keeping everyone safe and avoiding property damage
  • Avoiding cost overruns

After construction

Once construction work is completed, a GC still has responsibilities, including:

  • Obtaining and keeping track of lien waivers
  • Ensuring that subcontractors are compensated for their work and services
  • Managing payment concerns down the payment chain from subcontractors and project managers to workers

The general contractor serves as the primary point of contact between subcontractors and the project's owner. Before disbursing payment to any party, GC ensures that work is done as per the specifications mentioned in the design and blueprint.


In a nutshell, a general contractor oversees all the moving components that allow a construction project to be completed smoothly and on time.

Qualifications for general contractors

A high school diploma is the minimum educational qualification required to work as a general contractor. However, in many regions, a two-year associate's or bachelor's degree may be necessary to become a GC.


Some contractors even pursue a four-year college degree in structural science, building, economics, statistics, and other financial matters. Nowadays, several universities around the world offer various degrees in developing and managing construction projects, including advanced master's degrees.

General Contractor license requirements

A professional license is essential for all general contractors. The regional jurisdiction heavily influences the process of obtaining a contractor's state license.


The criteria may vary for licensed general contractors, but most of them demand an educational background and professional work experience in the license application. Some countries require a candidate to complete professional training and pass a test before issuing a contractor's license.


Who are subcontractors?

Subcontractors are independent contractors with expertise in a particular segment of the construction process. The GC hires them to complete specified tasks for a mutually agreed price.


Depending on the nature of your construction project, you may require multiple subcontractors or none. Some of the most frequently contracted subcontractors for construction projects are:

  • Surveyors: for surveying the land, terrain, and topography of the project site
  • Earth-moving contractor: for excavation and site preparation
  • Foundation contractor: for preparing footings and cellar walls 
  • Electrical contractor: for carrying out all electrical works on the site
  • Plumbing contractor: for laying out pipelines and plumbing channels
  • Painting contractor: for the overall painting of the structures

In a nutshell

A GC, or general contractor, is a single point of contact on the project site who is solely responsible for the success of a project. Overseeing the entire management of the site, ensuring the supply chain, timely payment of the workforce, and resolving disputes are the most important responsibilities of a licensed general contractor. 


Furthermore, project tracking and maintaining building pace are other key areas where a GC must be competent to ensure timely project completion without overrunning the budget. Thus, having a well-qualified and experienced licensed contractor is a must for any construction project.


P.S.: Are you a general contractor? Are you looking for new opportunities in construction projects? Check out our Global Project Tracker that can help you get new general contracting projects around the world. 

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