What Is a Controller in Construction? Key Roles Explained

June 12, 2024

In the construction industry, the role of a financial leader is crucial. This person can either be a controller focusing on day-to-day financial management, or a Chief Financial Officer (CFO), who strategizes for future growth. Both positions are integral to maintaining the financial health and ensuring the smooth operation of construction projects.

Roles and Responsibilities

Controllers – Living in the Now

Controllers are primarily concerned with the immediate financial health of the company. Their key duties include:

  • Supervising payroll
  • Performing basic bookkeeping and accounting
  • Generating daily, weekly, or monthly financial reports
  • Overseeing accounts receivable and payable
  • Handling month-end financials and book-closing tasks
  • Ensuring tax compliance and reporting

In addition, controllers may also be tasked with fraud prevention and managing queries related to the company’s accounting software.

"Construction continues on the control structure of Folsom Damâs new auxiliary spillway June 17, 2013" by USACE HQ is marked with Public Domain Mark 1.0. To view the terms, visit https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/mark/1.0/.

CFOs – Thinking of the Future

The CFO takes on a more strategic role, focusing on improving the overall financial performance of the company. Their responsibilities include:

  • Generating budgets and forecasts
  • Developing strategies to maximize cash flow
  • Harmonizing business operations with finance
  • Analyzing monthly financial statements
  • Overseeing tax planning
  • Assisting with the company’s purchasing decisions

They also negotiate with lenders and other funding sources and maintain relationships with banks, ensuring the company's long-term financial stability.

"Flood control construction next to St. Charles streetcar" by Eric Fischer is licensed under CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/.

Determining the Need

In the absence of a controller or CFO, the financial responsibilities often fall to the business owner, which can lead to potential overload. Rapidly growing businesses should at least hire a controller to manage day-to-day financial tasks. If a current controller is overburdened, it might be time to hire a CFO.

For companies with tight budgets or those hesitant to hire in-house, outsourcing controller or CFO services can be a viable option. Additionally, engaging consultants on short-term contracts can help develop strategic directions without a long-term financial commitment.

"Flood control construction in median" by Eric Fischer is licensed under CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/.

Here to Help

Construction CPAs and business advisors can provide objective advice and guidance tailored to meet the specific needs of construction companies. For instance, Doeren Mayhew’s Business Advisory Group offers tailored solutions aimed at enhancing the performance of construction firms. Construction companies are encouraged to reach out to such professionals for more information and assistance.

Hiring the right financial leader, whether a controller or a CFO, can significantly impact the financial health and success of a construction company. By understanding the roles and choosing the right fit based on the company's current and future needs, construction companies can ensure sustainable growth and operational efficiency.

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