Prime Contractor vs. Subcontractor: What’s the Difference?

A prime contractor is the primary contractor on a project. This individual or firm is responsible for the entire project. It must complete the project on time and under budget. A subcontractor is hired by the prime contractor or project owner to complete a certain task.

Most people are probably more familiar with prime and subcontractor agreements in the government procurement system than teaming agreements. In a typical relationship between prime and subcontractors, prime contractors collaborate with the government directly. They are in charge of overseeing any subcontractors and making sure the work is carried out in accordance with the terms of the contract.

Teaming, however, is a different concept. FAR Subpart 9. A contractor team arrangement is described in paragraph 6 as one in which; In order to potentially act as a prime contractor, two or more businesses either 2 form a partnership or joint venture. One or more companies agree to work as a potential prime contractor’s subcontractors under a specific government contract or acquisition program. In essence, the latter is an agreement to create, once the specific acquisition is awarded, a contractor subcontractor agreement.

GSA contractor teaming arrangements provide yet another teaming opportunity. When responding to a buyer’s Request for Quote, Schedule contractors can meet buyer requirements by combining supplies and services from each team member’s separate Schedule contract under the terms of the contractor teaming agreement (CTA), which does not create a separate legal entity but rather permits Schedule contractors to use their GSA schedule to develop a solution for the government.

Subcontractor VS Prime Contractor- The Government Contracting Distinction

What is a subcontractor?

A subcontractor is a contractor who is employed by the project’s prime contractor to carry out a particular task. They may be experts in a particular task, such as electrical systems or window installation They only work when necessary because their work is more specialized, rather than continuously throughout the project. Without a prime contractor, a project may have subcontractors, particularly if the property owner is overseeing the work on-site. Since any professional can work as a subcontractor if they are hired by another contractor to complete a project, the title of subcontractor is not a permanent one.

What is a prime contractor?

A prime contractor, also known as a general contractor, is in charge of the entire project’s work and keeps up consistent work on it throughout. Although they manage and employ other contractors, also referred to as subcontractors, they are not more capable than these subcontractors.

If a project owner doesn’t want to get personally involved or if they need someone with more expertise than a project manager, they may hire a prime contractor to handle the project’s leadership and coordination. Some of their duties, such as maintaining the work schedule, are comparable to those of a project manager.

Prime contractor vs. subcontractor

Here are some specific comparisons between the obligations of prime contractors and subcontractors:


Since qualified individuals can fill either role, there is no official difference in the training needed to be a prime contractor or subcontractor. Whether they work in technology or construction, a prime contractor may have experience and even certification in both project management and industry-specific skills.

The subcontractor usually possesses specialized knowledge, certifications, or licensure in that field because they carry out a particular task on the job. For instance, a licensed electrician may work as a subcontractor for the prime contractor on residential construction projects because they have the knowledge and authorization required to carry out the work safely. Graphic designers, animators, and interior designers with degrees and experience in their specialized fields may be hired by an advertising or marketing professional working as a contractor.

Job duties

A prime contractor’s duties include coordinating and organizing others because they are in charge of overseeing the project’s overall status. This may entail regular and thorough communication with the project owners as well as project management on-site or remotely. The subcontractors’ contract specifies a number of tasks that are specific to their specialization. Both prime contractors and subcontractors assume more responsibility for completing their own work on time and to the standards of the client since they are independent and not permanent employees.

Transferrable skills

It is possible to transition into or out of contract work from either level because both prime contractors and subcontractors have skills that overlap with non-contract work. Here are some transferrable skills for prime contractors:

Subcontractors may use their practical experience to transition into a position performing comparable work for a big business, or they may work as contractors’ employees. They typically receive employment benefits and don’t have to negotiate the terms of each contract when they work directly for a contractor.

Hiring process

Prime contractors and subcontractors join a project at different stages. An owner may appoint a prime contractor to oversee the entire project when they start it. Then, that prime contractor decides which tasks to contract out. Researching and hiring any subcontractors, the prime contractor also negotiates rates and signs individual contracts with each of them.


Despite overseeing the entire project, the prime contractor does not supervise the subcontractor. Since they are both independent professionals, they work to complete their contracts rather than following someone else’s guidance or direction on the project. A worker typically qualifies as an employee rather than a contractor when a manager provides thorough instructions on how they should perform their job.


Pay for contractors is influenced by their role within the project, as well as by their industry and area of specialization. Before starting their work, each subcontractor or prime contractor negotiates the conditions and pay for it, and those terms are written into the contract. Owners pay the principal contractor, who then pays the subcontractors. A payment dispute between contractors can be avoided or resolved with the aid of instruments like mechanics liens, prompt payment requirements, and bond claims.

A prime contractor typically earns more money per project because they are responsible for the entire project while subcontractors are only responsible for a portion of it. However, a subcontractor may work on more projects in the same amount of time, so scheduling and demand have a significant impact on their annual pay. Both prime contractors and subcontractors typically earn overtime pay.

Job outlook


Since both prime contractors and subcontractors fall under the umbrella of contractors, the person or business that owns the project is not required to provide them with benefits like healthcare or insurance. The size of the company and the project can also have an impact on these regulations. Prime contractors and subcontractors who perform work for the government on a federal, state, or local level may be subject to additional training, reporting, and work-level requirements. Each and every contractor is in charge of their own licensing, permits, and insurance.


What is the difference between prime contractor and subcontractor?

Contrary to prime contractors, subcontractors work for other contractors rather than the government directly. Some government contracts call for large companies to work with a small business as a subcontractor. As a result, there are more chances for small businesses to participate in federal contracting.

What is the difference between a contactor and a subcontractor?

Subcontractors, on the other hand, are businesses or individuals hired by the contractor to perform particular tasks or services in their area of expertise. For a construction project, a general contractor might employ a carpenter, an electrician, and a plumber.

What is meant by prime contractor?

A project under contract with the owner must be completed by the prime contractor. The prime contractor is responsible for finishing the project and may use several subcontractors to do so.

What is the difference between independent contractors and subcontractors?

The employment relationship with a laborer differs depending on whether they are subcontractors or independent contractors. Subcontractors are employed by independent contractors and paid by them, whereas independent contractors are employed by and paid by the employer.

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