What’s the Difference Between a Project Manager, Construction Manager, and a General Contractor?

General Contractors: Team Captain

The general contractor (GC) is the linchpin of on-site activities, making sure that everything runs smoothly, on-time and on-budget. They’re the ones actually getting their hands “dirty”, so to speak, working on the site itself and making sure that everything is going according to plan.

With guidance from the CM and the PM, GCs are actively engaged in the day-to-day nuts-and-bolts of construction, working with subs and vendors to put things together, piece by piece.

Construction Manager: The Overseer

The construction manager (CM) is the strategist, working closely with the head of the project (presidents, CEOs, PMs – the structure varies) and architect right from the project’s inception. These are the long-term planners and strategists who make sure a construction project is not only viable but executed correctly.

They handle much, much more than a GC does – they’re running the whole ship, from finances to engineering. Unlike a GC, a CM rarely gets hands-on with the day-to-day operations of the job site. They don’t use tools or instruct subs on jobs. Instead, they make plans and deploy people to oversee the execution of those plans.

Project Managers: The Pivot Point

The project manager (PM) is the most flexible of all of these roles – often finding themselves in positions both above and below CMs and GCs. These highly-flexible professionals have a broad skillset that is largely focused on managing people and achieving short- and long-term goals determined by the project’s overall objectives.

Key Differences and Similarities Between GCs, PMs and CMs

Understanding the nuanced roles of the project manager, construction manager, and general contractor can be confusing, especially as the project manager role can be a small or giant piece of the puzzle, depending on both the project and each individual company’s organizational structure!

Here’s some of the general similarities and differences between these roles.



At the end of the day, there’s a fair bit of overlap between these three roles, especially PMs and CMs, but what this looks like in practice will vary wildly depending on the size and scope of your construction jobs.

If you’re a Roofer, you’re probably not too bothered by the differences between these roles, but once you get beyond the basic jobs and you start seeing those multi-million dollar projects with off-shore funding, keeping things organized via CMs, PMs and GCs becomes important.

More than anything, these roles are leadership and communication roles. Your job in each of these positions is to maintain standards by acting as a prism for your team. You receive information and it’s your job to communicate between your team and your bosses to make sure that the job is completed the way it needs to be.

Additional Reading

Watchdog – The Difference Between a Project Manager, Construction Manager and General Contractor
REX Construction Services – What’s the Difference Between a Construction Manager & a General Contractor?
Gilliland CM – General Contractor Vs. Project Manager
Procore – Construction Manager vs General Contractor: Roles & Differences
Flooring Masters – General Contractors Versus Project Managers
AIA – What are the Key Differences Between a Construction Manager and General Contractor?
CRB Group – CM vs. GC