A general contractor, main contractor or prime contractor is responsible for the day-to-day oversight of a
construction Construction is a general term meaning the and to form , , or ,"Construction" def. 1.a. 1.b. and 1.c. ''Oxford English Dictionary'' Second Edition on CD-ROM (v. 4.0) Oxford University Press 2009 and comes from ''constructio'' (from ''com-' ...

site, management of vendors and trades, and the communication of information to all involved parties throughout the course of a building project.


A general contractor is a
construction manager Construction management (CM) is a professional service that uses specialized, project management Project management is the process of leading the work of a team to achieve goals and meet success criteria at a specified time. The primary challenge ...
employed by a client, usually upon the advice of the project's
architect An architect is a person who plans, designs and oversees the construction of buildings. To practice architecture means to provide services in connection with the design of buildings and the space within the site surrounding the buildings that ha ...

engineer Engineers, as practitioners of engineering Engineering is the use of scientific method, scientific principles to design and build machines, structures, and other items, including bridges, tunnels, roads, vehicles, and buildings. The dis ...

. Responsible for the overall coordination of a project, general contractors may also act as
building design Building design refers to the broadly based architectural upright=1.45, alt=Plan d'exécution du second étage de l'hôtel de Brionne (dessin) De Cotte 2503c – Gallica 2011 (adjusted), Plan of the second floor (attic storey) of the Hôtel ...
er and
foreman __NOTOC__ A foreman, forewoman or foreperson is a supervisor A supervisor, or also known as foreman, boss, overseer, facilitator, monitor, area coordinator, or sometimes gaffer, is the job title of a low level management position that is primarily ...
(a tradesman in charge of a crew). A general contractor must first assess the project-specific documents (referred to as a bid, proposal, or tender documents). In the case of renovations, a site visit is required to get a better understanding of the project. Depending on the project delivery method, the contractor will submit a fixed price proposal or bid, cost-plus price or an estimate. The general contractor considers the cost of home office overhead, general conditions, materials, and equipment, as well as the cost of labor, to provide the owner with a price for the project. Contract documents may include drawings, project manuals (including general, supplementary, or special conditions and specifications), and addendum or modifications issued prior to proposal/bidding and prepared by a design professional, such as an architect. The general contractor may be the construction manager or construction manager at high risk.


A general contractor is responsible for providing all of the material, labor, equipment (such as
engineering vehicles Heavy equipment or heavy machinery refers to heavy-duty vehicle Truck classifications are typically based upon the maximum loaded weight of the truck, typically using the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) and sometimes also the gross trai ...
and tools) and services necessary for the construction of the project. A general contractor often hires specialized
subcontractor A subcontractor is an individual or (in many cases) a business that signs a contract to perform part or all of the obligations of another's contract. A subcontractor (or sub-contractor) is a company or person whom a general contractor, prime con ...
s to perform all or portions of the construction work. When using subcontractors, the general contractor is responsible for overseeing the quality of all work performed by any and all of the workers and subcontractors. The general contractor's number one priority is safety on the job site. A general contractor's responsibilities may include applying for building permits, advising the person they are hired by, securing the property, providing temporary utilities on site, managing personnel on site, providing site surveying and engineering, disposing or recycling of
construction waste Construction waste or debris is any kind of debris from the construction process. Different government agencies have clear definitions. For example, the United States Environmental Protection Agency United States Environmental Protection Agency, E ...

construction waste
, monitoring schedules and cash flows, and maintaining accurate records. The general contractor may be responsible for some part of the design, referred to us the "contractor's design portion" ( JCT terminology).Joint Contracts Tribunal
Intermediate Building Contract with contractor’s design (ICD)
current edition 2019, accessed 7 July 2021

UK and Commonwealth usage

In the
United Kingdom The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain,Usage is mixed. The Guardian' and Telegraph' use Britain as a synonym for the United Kingdom. Some prefer to use Britain as shorth ...

United Kingdom
and some
British Commonwealth The Commonwealth of Nations, generally known simply as the Commonwealth, is a political association of 54 member states, almost all of which are former territories A territory is an administrative division, usually an area that is under the ...

British Commonwealth
countries, the term 'general contractor' was gradually superseded by 'main contractor' during the early twentieth century. This was the term used by major professional, trade, and consumer organizations when issuing contracts for construction work, and thus the term 'general contractor' fell out of use except in large organizations where the main contractor is the top manager and a general contractor shares responsibilities with professional contractors. General contractors who conduct work for government agencies are often referred to as "prime contractors". This term is also used in contexts where the customer's immediate contractor is permitted to sub-contract or circumstances are likely to involve sub-contracting to specialist operators e.g. in various public services.

Licensing requirements

Licensing requirements to work legally on construction projects vary from locale to locale. In the United States, it is the states' responsibility to define these requirements: for example, in the
state of California California is a state in the Western United States The Western United States (also called the American West, the Far West, and the West) is the List of regions of the United States#Census Bureau-designated regions and divisions, region co ...
, the requirements are stated as follows: In every state (that requires a license), a
surety bond In finance, a surety , surety bond or guaranty involves a promise by one party to assume responsibility for the debt obligation of a borrower if that borrower defaults. Usually, a surety bond or surety is a promise by a surety or guarantor to pay o ...
is required as part of the licensing process, with the exception of Louisiana, where bonding requirements may vary in different parishes. Not all states require General Contractor licenses - these include
Vermont Vermont () is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), ''The State'' (newspaper), a daily newspaper in ...

New Hampshire New Hampshire ( ) is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), ''The State'' (newspaper), a daily newspap ...

New Hampshire
Maine Maine () is a in the region of the , bordered by to the west; the to the southeast; and the of and to the northeast and northwest, respectively. Maine is the , the , the , and the most rural of the . It is also the among the , the nor ...

, among others.

Licensing qualifications

In the United States, there are no Federal licensing requirements to become a general contractor, although most states require general contractors to obtain a local license to operate. Some general contractors obtain bachelor's degrees in
construction science Construction management (CM) is a professional service that uses specialized, project management Project management is the process of leading the work of a team to achieve goals and meet success criteria at a specified time. The primary challenge ...
building science Building science is the collection of scientific knowledge Science (from the Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the ...
surveying Surveying or land surveying is the technique, profession, art, and science of determining the terrestrial or three-dimensional positions of points and the distances and angles between them. A land surveying professional is called a land surveyo ...

, construction safety, or other disciplines. General contractors often start out as
construction worker A construction worker is a worker employed in manual labour Manual labour (in British English British English (BrE) is the standard dialect of the English language English is a West Germanic languages, West Germanic language fir ...
s. While gaining work experience, they learn about different aspects of construction, including
masonry Masonry is the building of structures from individual units, which are often laid in and bound together by ; the term ''masonry'' can also refer to the units themselves. The common materials of masonry construction are , building such as , , an ...

carpentry Carpenters in an Indian village Carpentry is a skilled trade A tradesman, skilled tradesman, or tradie refers to a skilled worker who specializes in a particular occupation that requires work experience, on-the-job training, and often fo ...

, framing, and
plumbing Plumbing is any system that conveys fluids for a wide range of applications. Plumbing uses pipes, valves, plumbing fixtures, tanks, and other apparatuses to convey fluids. Heating and cooling (HVAC), waste removal, and potable water delive ...

. Aspiring general contractors communicate with subcontractors and may learn the management skills they need to run their own company. Experience in the construction industry as well as references from customers, business partners, or former employers are demanded. Some jurisdictions require candidates to provide proof of financing to own their own general contracting firm. General contractors often run their own business. They hire subcontractors to complete specialized construction work and may manage a team of plumbers, electricians, masons, carpenters, iron workers, and other specialists. General contractors build their business by networking with potential clients, buying basic construction tools, and ensuring that their subcontractors complete high-quality work. General contractors don't usually complete much construction work themselves, but they need to be familiar with construction techniques so they can manage workers effectively. Other reasons include access to specialist skills, flexible hiring and firing, and lower costs.

General contractor example

A property owner or
real estate developer Real estate development, or property development, is a business process, encompassing activities that range from the renovation and re-lease of existing buildings to the purchase of raw Real Estate, land and the sale of developed land or parcels ...
develops a program of their needs and selects a site (often with an architect). The architect assembles a design team of
consulting engineer Engineers, as practitioners of engineering, are Professional, professionals who Invention, invent, design, analyze, build and test Machine, machines, complex systems, architecture, structures, gadgets and materials to fulfill functional objectiv ...
s and other experts to design the building and specify the building systems. Today contractors frequently participate on the design team by providing pre-design services such as providing estimations of the budget and scheduling requirements to improve the economy of the project. In other cases, the general contractor is hired at the close of the design phase. The owner, architect, and general contractor work closely together to meet deadlines and budget. The general contractor works with subcontractors to ensure quality standards.

See also

Construction bidding Construction bidding is the process of submitting a proposal ( tender) to undertake, or manage the undertaking of a construction project. The process starts with a cost estimate from blueprints and material take offs. The tender is treated as an ...
*Construction communication *Performance bond *Ownerbuilder *Construction management *Lien waiver *Mechanic's lien *Subcontractors *Punch list


{{DEFAULTSORT:General Contractor Building engineering Construction trades workers