What Does a General Contractor Do

Written by: Mary Gerardine

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What Does a General Contractor Do

A general contractor is a person or company hired by a client to oversee and manage a construction project from start to finish. If you’re interested in working as a general contractor, you’ll likely be aware of the rigorous licensing requirements involved due to the range of responsibilities associated with this career.

Becoming a licensed general contractor usually involves a combination of education, training, and experience. But, what does a general contractor do exactly? This article explores the roles and responsibilities of a general contractor in more detail as well as the steps required to become one.

Tip: If you’re planning to work as a general contractor, we recommend forming an LLC. This is an affordable business structure that protects your personal assets against debt and/or lawsuits.

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General Contractor Roles and Responsibilities

A general contractor is a construction professional who provides all of the services a project owner needs to complete a project successfully.

General contractors can be an individual or a company. Either way, they’ll take responsibility for the day-to-day management of the operations at the construction site. They also may act as a construction manager, overseeing the planning, design, and coordination of a project from start to finish.

Here’s a more detailed list of a general contractor’s responsibilities:

  • Create and manage the construction budget and schedule
  • Liaise with various construction companies, suppliers, and stakeholders to ensure the efficient coordination and execution of all aspects of the project
  • Hire subcontractors and select experienced contractors who specialize in various fields, such as plumbing, electrical systems, and masonry to execute specific parts of the construction process
  • Contract with suppliers and vendors for the materials and equipment needed for the building project, according to the construction specifications
  • Ensure a house gets built according to the specifications and plans, meeting the expectations of the property owner in a home construction project
  • Apply for building permits and comply with legal and regulatory requirements
  • Keep accurate records of the project’s progress and verify the quality of work performed by subcontractors and other workers
  • Communicate with the project owner, architect, engineer, and other stakeholders
  • Ensuring the proper disposal or recycling of construction waste materials according to regulations and providing temporary utilities on the construction site

In order to perform their roles in a building project effectively, general contractors need certain skills and qualifications, including:

  • Knowledge of construction methods, materials, codes, and standards
  • An ability to read and interpret drawings, plans, and contracts
  • Project management and leadership skills
  • Problem-solving and decision-making skills
  • Communication and negotiation skills
  • Attention to detail and quality
  • Experience working with different types of projects, clients, and subcontractors

Clients typically hire general contractors through a bidding process whereby the contractor submits a quote based on the specifications provided by the project owner or the architect. After this, they enter into a contract to deliver the project as agreed for the price quoted.


Interested in getting started? We recommend using online study materials and prep courses to give yourself the best chance of success.

Types of Contractors

There are many different types of contractors in the construction industry, and they each have a specialized role and skill set.

Some of the most common types of contractors include:

  • General Contractors: These are the main contractors who oversee the entire project and coordinate with other contractors and subcontractors. They are responsible for hiring, managing, and paying the workers as well as obtaining permits, materials, and equipment. They also communicate with the project owner and ensure the project is completed on time and within budget
  • Electrical Contractors: These are the contractors who install, maintain, and repair electrical systems, such as wiring, lighting, outlets, switches, panels, and generators. They also follow codes and regulations for electrical safety and efficiency
  • Plumbing Contractors: These are the contractors who install, maintain, and repair plumbing systems, such as pipes, fixtures, faucets, drains, sewers, and water heaters. They also follow codes and regulations for plumbing safety and hygiene
  • Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) Contractors: These are the contractors who install, maintain, and repair HVAC systems, such as furnaces, ducts, fans, filters, thermostats, and compressors. They also follow codes and regulations for HVAC safety and performance

These are just a few of the contractors you might encounter in the construction industry. There are many more types of contractors who specialize in different aspects of construction work.

How to Get a General Contractor License

General contractors must have a license in order to operate legally. The license requirements may vary, depending on the type and size of the project.

Below are the common steps you must take to obtain a general contractor license.

1. Determine Your License Type and Location

Depending on your state and municipality, you’ll likely need to obtain a license from the local authority in the area where you plan to work. Because license types and requirements can vary by location and project scope, you’ll need to check the official websites of the relevant authorities in your local area.

2. Research Local Regulations

Different states, counties, and cities have varying rules and requirements that govern the licensing of general contractors. This makes it essential to understand your local area’s specific requirements, such as obtaining a tax identification number, getting a local business license, and registering your business name with the state and local authorities.

3. Fulfill Education and Experience Requirements

While many states only require applicants to have a high school diploma or equivalent as a minimum educational requirement, some contractors choose to pursue further education like a degree in civil engineering, construction management, or a related field. In addition to these qualifications, applicants often need to gain between two and four years of practical experience working under a licensed contractor.

4. Pass the Exams

As part of the application process for a general contractor license, you must pass exams that’ll test your knowledge of construction trade skills, business laws and regulations, and construction terminology. Some states may even require you to take pre-licensing courses or have a certain amount of experience in the field before taking these exams.

5. Obtain Insurance and Bonds

It’s common for general contractors to carry liability and workers’ compensation insurance policies — even when they’re not required. This is because these types of insurance will protect your business and its clients from any damages or injuries that may occur during the construction work.

In addition, many states also impose a surety bond or deposit requirement in order to protect your clients from any financial damage caused by any professional errors you may make.

6. Submit Your Application

Your state licensing department or similar authority will provide an online portal or downloadable application form for you to fill out, sign, and submit via its website or by mail. You also must pay a fee, which may vary by location, to obtain your general contractor license.

7. Stay Compliant and Renew Your License

To keep your license active and in good standing, you must complete your renewal requirements and pay the required fees before your license expires. The renewal process and requirements may differ, depending on your location and license type.

Note: The rules and steps required to obtain a general contractor license differ by state so you need to contact your state licensing board or agency for the latest information. Moreover, you may need to get additional licenses or permits from your local or city governments so don’t forget to check with those authorities as well.

What Does a General Contractor Do FAQ

What is a general contractor?

A general contractor is a professional who oversees and manages construction projects. They coordinate with subcontractors, obtain the necessary permits, schedule inspections, and ensure the work is completed according to plan, within budget, and on time. General contractors also serve as the main point of contact between the client and the various tradespeople involved in a project.

What are the duties of a contractor?

A contractor plans, coordinates, and oversees construction projects. Their duties include managing personnel and subcontractors, securing permits, ordering materials, and ensuring compliance with building codes and regulations. Contractors also handle budgeting, scheduling, and client communication to ensure projects get completed on time, within budget, and to the client’s satisfaction. Learn more in our What Does a General Contractor Do article.

What is the difference between a general contractor and general construction?

A general contractor oversees construction projects, coordinates various tasks, and ensures project completion. General construction refers to the physical process of building or renovating structures. It involves tasks like framing, roofing, and finishing. It encompasses the actual work done on a project by construction workers and subcontractors.

How do you become a general contractor?

To become a general contractor, you must first determine your license type, complete the educational requirements, and gain construction work experience. You also must pass an exam, secure insurance and bonds, and submit the necessary application forms. The exact requirements may vary by state. For more information, check out our How to Get a General Contractor License article.