Commercial Management

What is a Quantity Surveyor?

Written by:

Nick Adams



What is a Quantity Surveyor?

A Quantity Surveyor is a pivotal professional in the construction industry, responsible for the management of various commercial aspects involved in the creation of built assets.

The role encompasses a wide array of responsibilities including procurement, contract management, and oversight of financial activities throughout the design and construction lifecycle of projects.

The history of Quantity Surveying

Tracing its roots back to ancient Egypt, the concept of managing construction costs and resources has long been integral to the success of building projects. However, modern quantity surveying emerged primarily in England, during the reconstruction efforts following the Great Fire of London in 1666.

The term “Quantity Surveyor” itself was coined in 1859, paving the way for the formation of the Institution of Surveyors in 1868. This institution later evolved into the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), the globally recognised governing body for quantity surveying today.

Types of Quantity Surveyors

Quantity surveyors usually work in one of two types of organisations:

  1. Consultant Quantity Surveyor: Often referred to as a Professional Quantity Surveyor (PQS), this role involves working on behalf of a client who is procuring the asset.
  2. Contractor’s Quantity Surveyor (CQS): This individual works for the main contractor or subcontractor responsible for constructing the asset.

Roles of a Consultant Quantity Surveyor

In a typical day, a consultant QS might engage in:

Cost Planning and Reporting

  • Initial Estimation: Using construction drawings and other design documents, a quantity surveyor takes measurements and develops an initial cost estimate.
  • Cost Monitoring: Throughout the project, adjustments to the initial estimates are made, factoring in market conditions, labour costs, material costs, and any design changes.
  • Budget Control: Frequent cost reports are delivered to the client, ensuring that the project remains within budget constraints.

Procurement and Tendering

  • Strategic Sourcing: Advises the client on selecting contractors based on project needs.
  • Tender Documents: Prepares detailed tender documents, including bills of quantities, to solicit bids from contractors.
  • Tender Evaluation: After the tender process, the quantity surveyor assists in evaluating bids, clarifying any commercial points, and making final recommendations to the client.

Contract Engrossment

  • Contract Assembly: Works closely with legal advisors to assemble the contracts.
  • Contract Details: Includes all pertinent pricing information, deadlines, and the scope of work into a formal contract.
  • Contract Award: Assists in finalising and awarding the contract to the chosen contractor.

Measurement and Quantification of Construction Works

  • Valuation of Work: Regular site visits to assess the work done, comparing it to the initial estimates.
  • Billing: Works closely with the contractor’s QS to agree on billing and payments for work performed.
  • Change Management: Manages any changes or variations, adjusting the budget and timeline as necessary.

Contract Administration

  • Commercial Oversight: Manages commercial aspects of the contract like payment terms, variation orders, and potential disputes.
  • Documentation: Keeps meticulous records of all commercial transactions for audit or dispute resolution.
  • Final Accounts: After project completion, ensures all financial matters are settled according to the contract terms.

Roles of a Contractor’s Quantity Surveyor

The contractor’s QS focuses on:

Subcontractor Procurement

  • Scope Definition: Defines the work packages for subcontractors.
  • Bid Management: Solicits and reviews bids from subcontractors.
  • Contract Engrossment: Finalises the terms and conditions with selected subcontractors.

Subcontractor Management

  • Payment Management: Administers payments to subcontractors as per agreed terms.
  • Change Orders: Manages and approves any changes or variations that affect subcontractor work.
  • Conflict Resolution: Handles disputes or disagreements with subcontractors, if any.

Cost Control and Reporting

  • Monthly Reconciliation: Performs monthly Cost-Value Reconciliation (CVR) to track project cashflow and finances.
  • Forecasting: Regularly updates ‘cost to complete’ reports to monitor profitability.
  • Client Reporting: Provides financial updates to the client as required by the main contract.

Applications for Payment

  • Payment Schedules: Prepares detailed payment applications based on work completed.
  • Invoice Management: Ensures accurate and timely invoicing as per contract terms.
  • Cash Flow Management: Aims to maintain a positive cash flow through efficient invoicing and payment collection.

Change Management

  • Change Identification: Actively identifies elements that could lead to changes in the scope or cost.
  • Pricing: Prepares and submits price variations for approval.
  • Negotiation: Engages in commercial negotiations to finalise the price and scope changes.

Why You Need a Quantity Surveyor

Both consultant and contractor QS’s serve as risk managers for their respective stakeholders. With the construction project being the source of various risks, each party employs a QS to manage commercial concerns uniquely affecting them.

Career Prospects in Quantity Surveying

Quantity surveyors are in high demand globally, offering services across various sectors, such as residential, commercial, utilities, and transportation.

Career progression typically starts as an Assistant Quantity Surveyor and may lead to roles like Senior Quantity Surveyor, Managing Quantity Surveyor, Commercial Manager, and ultimately, Commercial Director.

Skills Required for a Quantity Surveyor

Typical skills that most quantity surveyors have are,

  • Strong mathematical acumen – there can often be a significant amount of numerical and data analysis required with activities such as cost planning, measurement, and reporting.
  • Analytical problem solving – QS’s are required to solve commercial problems that often benefit from a creative approach.
  • Excellent communication skills – QS’s regularly engage with other professionals and organisations.
  • Proficiency in IT systems – quantity surveying and corporate workflows significantly rely upon computer systems.

How to Become a Quantity Surveyor

Although a degree isn’t mandatory, possessing a university qualification in quantity surveying is advantageous. Employers may also offer apprenticeships to promising candidates.

A typical early career path could include undertaking an RICS accredited quantity surveying degree, finding employment as either a consultant or contractor’s QS, and completion of an RICS chartership pathway.


As a critical role in the construction industry, quantity surveyors are responsible for commercial management and risk assessment. Their work is indispensable in safeguarding the financial interests of clients and contractors alike. With a structured career path and a set of specialised skills, becoming a quantity surveyor presents a fulfilling and lucrative professional journey.

Written by:

Nick Adams


Commercial Management
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