In recent years the construction industry has experienced the birth of a new construction team member: the construction manager.
In essence a construction manager may be a replacement for a general (prime) contractor, although there are significant differences in their relationships and functions. Actually the typical construction manager's functions straddle between the typical roles of owner and general contractor.
Traditionally, the general contractor contracts to build the project in accordance with the plans and specifications provided by the owner. The actual work is performed by a mixture of the general contractor's own forces and trade subcontractors. In this situation the general contractor is fully responsible for producing a completed project in accordance with the plans and specifications. He contracts with, coordinates, schedules, controls and is responsible for his personnel, his suppliers, his subcontractors and their suppliers/subcontractors.
In the typical general contractor project the owner ideally gets the project completed in accordance with plans and specifications at or before the agreed completion date, lien-free, along with certain warranties and guarantees. All of those features are assured by the general contractor in the classic owner-general contractor situation.
Under these circumstances the owner has very few contracts: only those with the architect, the general contractor and perhaps a specialized engineer (particularly soils).
On the other hand, the construction manager functions as the owner's agent engaged to locate and negotiate contracts with both design professionals and the various trade contractors (carpenters, plumbers, excavators, electricians, painters, roofers, masons and a host of others). Unlike the general contractor, the construction manager does not contract with the tradespeople-the owner usually does. Generally, the construction manager is charged with the responsibility of coordinating and managing all aspects of the project from the planning and design stage through construction completion. The construction manager's responsibilities range from preparing trade contracts and purchase orders to the review and approval of payment applications with a measure of inspection added.
In essence the construction manager assumes some of the functions of the owner, some ordinarily performed by architects and some of the activities for which a general contractor would otherwise be responsible. These functions and arrangements can be tailored by contract according to the needs and desires of the parties.
The merits of construction manager vs. general contractor are frequently debated. As there is no coat suitable for all seasons, there is similarly no such thing as an all-purpose construction arrangement. The capabilities and requirements of the parties involved and the nature of any particular project may well dictate that construction management would be most suitable.
If so, one of the best starting places might be the American Institute of Architects construction management agreement forms (owner/construction manager) and general conditions (construction management edition). A careful review of those forms should provide the parties with an understanding of what to expect of each other and whether such arrangement would be satisfactory. Otherwise, changes should be made either in concept or as to particular details.
Parties contemplating construction management should carefully weigh its advantages in the particular circumstances involved. Since the concept departs from the traditional general contractor practice there probably should be some unique circumstances to justify use of construction management.
Such circumstances might range from the benefit of having a qualified construction manager involved with design economics from early stages to an owner's wishes to avoid any involvement himself with the construction until its final completion.
Construction management is now fairly well ingrained in the construction community in practice. Prudence dictates that owners entering into such arrangements fully understand the concept as well as the differences from the more common general contractor arrangement.