How to build good relationships with your subcontractors

Gina Theron   |   August 19, 2015

Subcontractors are a fundamental requirement for the execution of most larger construction projects. It is important to establish a good relationship with your subcontractors in order to encourage a positive work ethic and a quality finished product. Here is an outline of some of the areas we believe should be considered when working with subcontractors to help establish this positive relationship. 

      1. Be clear on what you want 

It's important to have a clear plan and outline of what you require to be completed by your subcontractors for your project. Having a clear action plan and written outline of what needs to be done is a good way to ensure the required tasks are completed and encourages efficient time management.

Issues often faced by management and subcontractors include:

  • The reorganisation of a subcontractor’s team, materials required, project action plan... and more, due to the sporadic project changes made by management.
  • Changes to quotes and deadlines. Management can forget that the changes they make to each project has a ripple effect, and can cause the original quotes, time frame, and subcontractor availability to change.

Be organised from the beginning of your project. Walk your subcontractors through your action plan and if you predict potential changes may arise throughout the duration of the project, make sure your subcontractors aware of this so you can set up a contingency plan. 

      2. Prepare for delays

Understand the volatile nature of construction projects and be realistic about the potential delays that may occur. When engaging subcontractors ensure you allow some wiggle room in case there are delays outside of your control (such as unpredictable weather). It may be smarter to schedule your subcontractors to work one week longer than the proposed project completion date, so that you still have them locked in and available if you need them.

Allowing the subcontractors a window of time at either end of the project will ensure all their work will be finished within the project time frame. Preparing for delays will prevent the project from running over time and therefore going over budget. Following these suggestions will lower the chances for disappointment and maintain a positive relationship between you and your subcontractor. 

     3. Communicate! 

Set a meeting before the project commences in order to be on the same page as your subcontractors. Communicating what each person’s role entails will avoid conflict as this will establish an agreed upon respect for each others input.

Communicating expectations will:

  • Give you the opportunity to explain that you may be on site from time-to-time giving direction and will have an input where required, as part of your job description.
  • Allow your subby's to outline the areas in which they need their space, ensuring you avoid conflict due to micro-management.

It's important to remember that they are professionals and you hired them because they are experts in their field. Trust your choice, don't tell them how to do their job, give guidance as a manager not an instructor.

    4. Discuss top line financials

Expenses and budgets are often difficult to predict, especially with project management. It is important that when working with subcontractors, you convey the budget restrictions you're working within and explain the limits. Being upfront and transparent will encourage a positive working relationship.

Manage your budget by:

  • Leaving yourself some room to move.
  • Selecting subcontractor quotes below your budgeted amount (but keep in mind that you should always choose the subcontractor which will produce the most value for your project- not just the cheapest price).

By doing some forward thinking and being selective with quotes, you will avoid stress and disagreements about finances with your subcontractors. 

    5. Pay your subbies on time

No one likes to do weeks or months of work without getting paid. If you want to have a solid relationship with your subbies, treat them how you would want to be treated, and pay them on time, every time! Not paying your subbies is a sure fire way to create some tension. While there may be reasons outside your control as to why you can't pay them on time, ensure you maintain an open channel of communication by confirming you're aware of their payment and that it is on your priority list. Never be tentative to talk about payments, keep everyone on the same page and pay your subbies on time.

    6. Choose the right team for the job

Do your research! Choose a subcontractor you're comfortable with and you can see the potential for developing a healthy working relationship with. This is important for developing good communication and if they respect you they will be more inclined to work hard on your project.

When choosing the subcontractor for your job:

  • Look deeper than a quick search or scan of who's available
  • Ask within the industry and find out who is highly recommended
  • Look into past projects they've worked on to assess the quality of the final product
  • Ensure they have all relevant licenses and insurance
  • Run credit checks and enquire about past experiences with management on previous projects

If you have a positive attitude and are working with subcontractors you trust, it will be easy to establish a good working relationship.

   7. Be organised 

Being organised is an art from and a key component for building good relationships within any job and role. Keeping your project in order can prevent unexpected hiccups within a project, which may lead to conflict or tension.

There are plenty of tools and online resources out there to help keep you and your business organised. We've created a free Gantt Chart template which you can download and use to help stay on top of all your tasks and manage your subcontractors through the project process. 

gantt chart template

Gina Theron
Gina is a Marketing Coordinator at Felix. She is a business and engineering student, and relishes working for one of Australia's greatest mining and construction disrupters. Harsh critic of tomatoes and spiders that surprise her.

Related Articles

Works set to begin on $13.75m regional roads upgrade in SA

Approximately $13.75 million has been invested in a package of works that will upgrade a number of vital regional roads in South Australia.

VIC Gap Road level crossing removal project marks new milestones

The Rail Infrastructure Alliance (RIA) has been awarded the contract to deliver works that will remove the dangerous and congested Gap Road level crossing along Victoria’s Sunbury Line. 

$131m Yan Yean Road Upgrade in VIC to boost local jobs

Yan Yean is going to see a boost in local jobs with the $131 million Yan Yean Road Upgrade Project that is being delivered by local workers as well as businesses while utilising local materials.

Get the latest project news

Formerly known as the PlantMiner blog, Felix Project News is Australia's top 10 Construction blog.

Join thousands of construction and mining pros getting the best content right in their inbox.

✓ updates on Australia's pipeline of state and federal projects

✓ fresh contract awards from major contractors and builders