Construction projects are a team effort. No one in their sane mind would ever call it a one-person show. This is because, for the successful execution of any construction project, several skilled professionals are required. To simplify the process further, many contractors hired by the project owners further delegate their tasks by hiring sub-contractors to fulfil roles in niche departments.

This is because the nature of construction projects is very complicated, and they demand extensive planning, various specialisation and varied levels of labour. If we look at it from a realistic and practical method, only some teams or a specific individual will have all the specialised skills required to relay the task. In this article, we will talk about sub-contractors in construction management.

Who is/what is a sub-contractor?

The subcontractor is a freelancer employed on the construction project on a contract basis. This means the free agent will only work when their skills are required. In the majority of the cases, the sub-contractor has a specialised set of skills in addition to having generalised competencies. In most cases, sub-contractors don’t look for independent or large clients and instead find contractors to work for. This allows them to be introduced to an extensive network of clients and choose the jobs that they find lucrative.

What is the difference between a sub-contractor and a contractor?

Defining a contractor to fully understand the relationship dynamics between a contractor and a subcontractor is necessary. Contractors are individuals organisations hire to build either a part or a whole of a project. Hence, in most cases, contractors are responsible for physically building entire construction projects.

On the other hand, sub-contractors are hired by contractors to work on a specific project when they don’t have the expertise or the time to do the task themselves. To avoid delays in the project and to substantiate time deficiencies or skill gaps, contractors hire sub-contractors for specific tasks.

Hence, symbiotic is an excellent word to describe the relationship between contractors and sub-contractors. Both parties benefit from each other as contractors need sub-contractors skillsets, and sub-contractors rely on the clientele of contractors.

Here, it is essential to mention that even though this relationship has existed for many years, it does not imply that it is fruitful for project owners. As contractors and sub-contractors often have different working styles, they can end up arguing due to poorly defined contract terms or a lack of planning. This is where sub-contractor management comes into play.

the difference between a sub-contractor and a contractor

Disadvantages of using a sub-contractor

Before discussing sub-contractor management, let us discuss the risks associated with using a sub-contractor. Even though sub-contractors are meant to improve the quality of construction projects, sometimes their presence can further delay the project or deteriorate its quality.

This is because some contractors are freelancers or independent parties. The nature of the role itself brings a certain level of inherent risk. In other words, sub-contractors are not obligated to show up at a specific time or adhere to certain rules. This means that the contractor may show up late for a job, perform unsatisfactorily or act unprofessionally. This is only sometimes the case, but the risk of unprofessional sub-contractors is often prevalent.

Hiring a sub-contractor for a construction project

It does not have to be challenging to find a trustworthy contractor. It all begins with proper planning. Establish a decent set of criteria that every sub-contractor should meet. This allows the process to be more focused and removes all assumptions from the process.

Moreover, the selection is based on meeting a particular set of criteria, which helps to uphold the quality of candidates for the job. Examples of factors in the criteria can include good references, previous work samples, testimonials, et cetera. Setting the needed criteria and maintaining documents are critical aspects of sub-contractor management.

Hiring a sub-contractor for a construction project

What is sub-contractor management?

Sub-contractor management is taking certain precautions and adopting specific protocols to keep construction projects running smoothly.

This begins by simply identifying the project owner’s needs and selecting quality candidates for the sub-contractor position.

Once the expectations are clearly defined, it is easy to find someone to fulfil them. Through sub-contractor management, clear communication is established between the sub-contractor, contractor and workers, ensuring that everyone is on the same page and has accessibility to the same information.
Examples of some good sub-contractor management strategies include:

• Keeping all documents organised, so that expense records, timesheets, safety standards and other relevant documents can be found when needed.
• Creating easily shareable schedules that keep everyone within the loop and focus on the bigger picture.
• Assign tasks clearly, so there is no ambiguity regarding roles and responsibilities.
• Focusing on quality communication so that effective collaboration is guaranteed.
• Utilising construction project management software so that contractors can teach sub-contractors how to monitor the project process and make adjustments.

Read the article “what is a construction contract?” for more information.


If you spend the appropriate amount of time setting up a decent set of criteria for sub-contractors to adhere to, you will find responsible individuals to fill the role.