Understanding the Role of a Client on a Construction Site

By Lynn Pearcey, MBA, Copywriter, AIA Contract Documents

October 13, 2023

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Client Responsibilities
    • Select a competent contractor
    • Build a capable management structure
    • Manage the welfare of the construction site
    • Monitor the progress of the project
  • Conclusion


On a construction site, everyone plays a role. Project Managers assist in planning, logistics, and estimation, while Quantity Surveyors estimate, monitor, and control costs. Then there are Architects, rendering designs to ensure the final results are accurate. There are also carpenters, electricians, plumbers, and an army of heavy machine operators. Each person plays a role in the construction process, but as quiet as it’s often kept, so does the client.

One of the greatest misconceptions about construction is that the client’s sole responsibility is to wait for the keys once a structure is complete, walk in, and live happily ever after. It sounds good, at least in a perfect world, but, in reality, nothing could be further from the truth. When it comes to a successful construction site, everyone plays a pivotal role, and that includes the client.

Client Responsibilities

Select a competent contractor

Contractor selection is the responsibility of the client. Selection is the first step in the construction process and the one that gets the proverbial ball rolling. During this phase, the client interviews, does background checks and vets the pool of potential contractors to ensure the one they choose can service their needs. Getting to know the contractors is not a task to be taken lightly, as making the wrong choice can lead to a financial disaster, lawsuits, and mountains of frustration.

Some clients often make the mistake of going with the lowest price. While a low-price provider can lead to a higher profit margin, they can also lead to a subpar finished product. With that being the case, clients should always step back, survey the bids, and decide based on what works for them over the long term, not on potential cost savings.

Build a capable management structure

The contractor will have project managers and leaders on-site, but the client should have capable management professionals at the location. These people are the eyes and ears of the client. Their job is to report back to the client with data that they can use to make the necessary decisions to make the project successful. The choices should be well-versed and seasoned in the many aspects of construction. Above all, they must possess high levels of integrity with the ability to spot challenges and communicate them to the client so critical decisions can be made in the project’s best interest.

Manage the welfare of the construction site

Construction sites are busy with movement going every which way. It’s chaos at times, but when it all comes together, the finished product can result in a thing of beauty. But to reach that place the welfare of the construction site should be placed at a premium. This means having proper safety protocols, amenities including toilets, rest areas and changing stations are available. At every turn, the client must look to infuse value into the site with the understanding that the investment will yield dividends that go beyond dollars and cents.

Monitor the progress of the project

Contractors will bring Project Managers to the project to review plans and ensure everything remains on the proper course, but the client must also be involved in this process. The last thing any client wants is to get to completion only to find that the building they thought they were receiving misses their expectations. The client is the ultimate Project Manager, so maintaining some semblance of contact throughout each phase of the construction process is a must.


 Everyone plays a role in the construction process, including the client. The process begins with them, but the critical piece to remember is that they must be a part of every phase. It is incumbent upon them to build sound management mechanisms and demand the same from the contractors. Parts, pieces, and expertise factor into the mix, but creating the right environment is just as important. Lastly, clients should remain connected to the project to ensure the beginning renderings meet their expectations when the work ends.

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AIA Contract Documents has provided this article for general informational purposes only. The information provided is not legal opinion or legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship of any kind. This article is also not intended to provide guidance as to how project parties should interpret their specific contracts or resolve contract disputes, as those decisions will need to be made in consultation with legal counsel, insurance counsel, and other professionals, and based upon a multitude of factors.