Who is a Contractor (definition)?
In construction, a contractor is an organisation (or sometimes a person), hired by the client to carry out the work that is required for the completion of a project.
Nevertheless, contractors don’t always have the expertise or the trades that are needed for completing all construction work by themselves. For that reason, they are also in charge of appointing subcontractors who would be able to complete some parts of the project. Normally, there will be a significant number of subcontractors involved in a construction project.
It goes without saying that the role of a contractor has many different levels as they are responsible for a wide range of tasks and people. In this article, we try to shed some light on the various responsibilities that a contractor can have.
The responsibilities of a general contractor
Contractors can serve a construction project from many different roles and positions. That of a general contractor (main contractor) is potentially the most influential of all.
A general contractor is responsible for a plethora of details in the course of a construction project. Finding the right people to get the job done is probably one of their most important missions. But it’s not the only thing they have to do.
Taking care of materials, equipment, and any other services required for the smooth development of the project is part of their job. This is also where subcontractors can provide valuable help, as in most cases they have their own network which can support the progress of the project.
Furthermore, here are some of the most common project aspects that a general contractor can be responsible for:
- Building permits application
- Property security
- Providing (temporary) facilities on site
- Taking care of generated waste
- On-site personnel management
- Site surveying
- Site engineering
- Schedule monitoring
It’s clear, then, that a general contractor is also the one accountable for the quality of the work delivered to the client. In any case, though, safety should always be the top priority for everyone involved in a construction project.
Other types of contractors
General contractors are probably the primary type of contractor that you can find. However, this doesn’t mean that they are the only contractor category in the industry. There is a plethora of different contractor roles which vary between them with regards to the assigned responsibilities, the level of risk they take on and of course the amount of reward that they require.
In a nutshell, here are the main types of contractors that you need to know about:
A construction manager is normally hired in the design phase so that they can help the team in developing the project based on their rich experience. In some cases, a construction manager can initiate the construction phase before the design process is over.
In such cases, construction managers must be perfectly sure that they have all the information they need in order to kick off the project and keep it running within the agreed deadlines and budget. Otherwise, there is a serious possibility that the efficiency and quality of the project will plummet.
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Construction managers can also be responsible for managing trade contractors. Nonetheless, clients can be in charge of the trade contracts in many projects if they have the required experience. If the trade contracts aren’t placed with the client side, then the management contractor is the one responsible for that.
Construction managers are seen as the king of the construction site given the vast amount of responsibilities and people that they have to manage.
Another category of contractors that you need to know about is the prime contractor category. It is a vague category as there are many definitions someone can give to prime contracting. Sometimes a prime contractor can be a synonym to a general contractor.
Prime contracting is a good choice for large-scale clients. Ministries, such as the Ministry of Defence, could be an excellent example of a prime-contracting client, as they are constantly in need of building or maintenance work.
In general, though, the relationship of a client with a prime contractor is a long-term commitment which may include one or more future projects.
A contractor can also be responsible for ensuring that all work done in a project complies with the CDM regulations. They cover a wide range of project aspects which primarily have to do with health and safety.
In short, these are some of their most noteworthy duties and responsibilities:
- Progress monitoring.
- Planning and managing a project’s construction phase.
- Coordinating with principal designer and the client.
- Staying on top of the work done on site.
- Making sure that health and safety specifications are followed.
- Continuously reviewing, modifying, and updating the programme of the project based on the latest changes and received feedback.
- Collaborating with other contractors.
Design and build contractors
Last but not least on our list, it’s the design and build contractors who are in charge of first designing the project, and then take care of its development while managing the numerous details on site.
It’s a more holistic approach as the contractor is involved in almost every step of the project. In some projects, the contractor remains on top of the project even after its completion by maintaining the built structure.
Common pains for a contractor
By now, it’s evident that being a contractor is extremely demanding. You need to have full control over your projects and be able to quickly identify any problem source. Only then, you will be able to act fast and prevent costly mistakes from happening.
All in all, here are some of the most common obstacles that contractors need to overcome:
- Managing the team on site: Keeping a strong connection between the site and the office can be tough. Especially, in cases where a contractor has to stay on top of numerous projects at the same time. That is where digital tools can bring great value today.
- Task delegation: The better connection between office and site the easier it becomes to delegate tasks and keep everyone on the same page. The advent of interactive systems has made things in that direction much simpler.
- Programme reviews and updates: As construction expert, Matt Ghinn said, “Programme is king”! That being said, contractors need always to be on top of the latest project updates. Tracking changes to the programme can be easier today with the help of construction software but it can still be a big challenge if a contractor works simultaneously on multiple projects.
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- Paperwork: Paperwork is one of the biggest nightmares for every contractor. The amount of captured data in the course of a construction project is humongous and with in mind, it becomes clear that the transition from pen and paper to digital is of paramount importance.
- Collaboration across the supply chain: Improving communication and by extension collaboration across employees and subcontractors can make the difference between the success and failure of a project. At the moment, there are too many decision makers in the supply chain and that needs to change.
- Learning from past projects: Last but certainly not least, contractors have to become better with the collected project data. These valuable bits of information can function as the basis for improving efficiency and reducing rework rates in future projects.
Contractors as specialists
There is a lot of discussion about the diverse role that a contractor has in a project. There are many examples of contractors who spread themselves too thin in an effort to satisfy different types of projects and clients.
Interestingly enough, an essential shift in that direction has started to emerge. The specialisation of contractors could be a smart strategy moving forward for the benefit both of the construction industry and the contractors per se.
What do we mean by referring to specialisation? Simply put, we refer to the dedication of contractors to a specific type of construction projects (eg. building bridges). This approach would allow contractors to become better on what they do while minimising their financial risk.
If done right, it can be a win-win situation for the entire sector as it can boost quality, financial stability and support the standardisation of the sector.
To sum up, it is evident that providing a specific definition for the role and the responsibilities of a contractor can be harder than it might look due to the multi-purposed services that they provide in the course of a construction project.
However, the advent of digital tools in combination with the challenges that the sector faces in terms of project delivery has paved the way for a new approach in the duties of a contractor.