How to Build Good Subcontractor Relationships

Find out how build and maintain good relationships with your subcontractors.

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Building good relationships with your subcontractors

Every construction manager and jobsite foreman knows that a subcontractor’s work performance can make or break a job. I have 25 years’ experience managing residential and light commercial construction projects and am currently managing several large facilities. It’s my professional recommendation that whether you are a one-man show or are in charge of million-dollar projects, a robust subcontractor recognition and admonishment program within your company is vitally important.

Here are some simple steps to make it happen:

For starters, get it in writing. It’s good to have an agreement prior to work commencement that you and your subcontractor have signed. Generic forms can be purchased online. In addition to the obvious insurance, legal, work standards, and safety requirements, make sure your agreement includes the following:

  • Be clear that all changes that affect the schedule will be communicated to the general contractor or manager ASAP.
  • Explain expectations of how the subcontractor is supposed to clean up during and after they work in an area.
  • Communicate acceptable working hours and days.
  • Spell out any vehicle parking and material delivery rules.
  • Explain how recyclable items like copper and aluminum will be managed.
  • Create a plan that describes how leftover materials will be managed. Some subcontractors will order items in bulk and leave piles of materials that clutter up the site and leaves them to eventually get damaged or stolen.
  • Address drugs, alcohol, and tobacco rules. Think about it, do you want your customers picking up cigarette butts, tobacco spit containers, or finding alcohol containers in the dumpster?
  • Set guidelines for music. Many subs listen to music or radio programming as they work. Make sure that there speakers are not obnoxiously loud, and the content is not inappropriate.
  • Establish a dress code. It doesn’t have to be struct, but make sure guys are not going shirtless on a professionally run jobsite and instruct crews to leave any offensive tee-shirts at home.
  • Include pre-determined language on how you and the subcontractor will resolve any issues that result in failure to comply with the agreement.

At the end of the day, “if you see it, say it”. Be consistent with your warnings and admonishments, and address any small issues immediately before they scale out of control. Consistency is the key.

Show your appreciation

Everyone likes a pat on the back now and again. There are various ways you can show appreciation to your subs:

  • Get to know them. Nobody likes to be called, “Hey… you.”
  • Bring in doughnuts and coffee on Monday mornings or buy lunch on occasion.
  • Compliment a job well-done
  • Pass along compliments from the client.

It’s a good general guideline that your compliments should always outnumber your admonishments.

About the author

While in school, Chris started working at a local lumberyard fulfilling orders and creating estimates for construction projects. After two years of technical college, Chris accepted a job as a carpenter with a high-end remodeler, and after a few years there became one of their lead carpenters.

Over his career Chris has been both a direct supervisor and a project manager on construction sites. For the last five years he has worked in industrial and commercial maintenance as a director and a boiler operator .