What Does a Project Manager Do?

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A project manager is responsible for managing and coordinating a project with cost, time, and quality constraints. What exactly are their roles and responsibilities? What skills are required? What value do they bring to organizations? Here, we will walk you through all of the aspects of being a project expert.

What is the role of the project manager?

Project managers oversee projects in their entirety to ensure each deliverable is met on time, within budget, and with high quality. They drive success by managing what work needs to be done and by whom to meet the project’s objectives.

Think of the Project Manager as the conductor of a project orchestra.  They need to know a little about every instrument – not necessarily how to play it but when it needs to come in and how it should sound with the other instruments.

That being said, it is important to also understand what a project is and what it means to manage them in the first place. In What is Project Management, we walk you through this.

Note: Sometimes PM is used in short for “Project Manager”. However, this acronym can also be used to mean “Project Management”.

Projects come in all shapes and sizes and across every industry. Project managers can either be specialists in their sector or generalists, depending on the needs of the project and/or organization. Sometimes it is better to have a mix of industry experience to bring a wider vision with different solutions to the project. Other times, a specialist is needed with experience in the field.

How then, do these “conductors” lead projects to successful completion? To do so, project managers wear several hats; they are project experts, leaders, and collaborators.

Photo by Christina@wocintechchat.com on Unsplash

Their role as project experts

As experts in planning and leading projects, they must:

  • Define the project scope, taking into account the needs of all stakeholders,
  • Schedule and manage the project tasks,
  • Determine the resources needed to complete each task,
  • Establish and document all processes, ensuring they are understood and followed by the entire project team,
  • Monitor and report on the progress of the project.

Project Managers can also be schedulers, cost managers, project controllers, risk managers, etc. However, for large projects, these roles are designated to specialists in each of those areas. These types of projects also usually have a PMO for all project management functions.

Their responsibility as leaders

They must anticipate risks, manage the unexpected, and be able to take corrective action to ensure their deliverables are met on time and within budget. At the same time, they are also managers of the project team, so they must:

  • Guide and motivate their teams
  • Enable good communication across the project teams
  • Align all stakeholders
  • Facilitate project decision-making

Their role as collaborators

In addition to delivering the project and guiding their teams, project managers must also provide the organization’s leadership team with the right information to make informed decisions. They must draw on lessons learned to allow the organization to improve on all future projects. They collaborate with their team and key stakeholders to ensure their processes align with the organization and deliver business value.

Their role in Agile projects: Project managers oversee projects in their entirety to ensure their objectives are met, regardless of which methodology is used. In an Agile project, they may also wear the hat of a Scrum Master, who facilitates their team’s communication and ways of working according to Agile principles.

What skills do you need to be a project manager?

As we mentioned, Project Managers wear many hats; therefore, it makes sense that they would need a wide range of skills. Of course, some positions require very specific experience depending on the needs of the organization or the project. However, we find the following skills essential to becoming a Project Manager.

Soft Skills

  • Emotional intelligence
  • Leadership
  • Communication and change management
  • Ability to listen and observe
  • Critical thinking and analysis
  • Ability to anticipate problems and determine solutions
  • Ability to tackle new challenges
  • Interest in learning and professional development
  • Ability to understand the needs of the organization

Hard Skills

  • Understanding of project management methodologies

These methodologies include Waterfall (also called Traditional or Predictive), Agile, Lean, Scrum, Six-Sigma, Kanban, etc. Often a combination of multiple methodologies is best depending on the needs of the organization.

  • Understanding of the core Project Management knowledge areas

These knowledge areas include Scope, Schedule, Cost, Quality, Risk, etc. These as well as Project Management best practices are defined by several institutions and certification programs such as the Project Management Institute (PMI), PRINCE2, International Association of Project Managers (IAPM), etc. They also include Agile best practices, and certain organizations specialize exclusively in Agile such as Scrum Alliance or Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe). 

  • Experience using typical project management & scheduling tools

Some specific tools include Microsoft Project, Planisware, Primavera planning software, etc.

  • Knowledge of monitoring and reporting tools

Data analysis, visualization, and forecasting tools include those such as Excel (especially VBA to automate spreadsheets), Power BI, Tableau, etc. Cost analysis techniques such as EVM (Earned Value Management) are also useful to understand. Finally, the ability to prepare and present reports at the appropriate stakeholder level is important.

Why is a project manager so important?

Managing a team means understanding the people that make it up. It means helping people work together. In this way, projects are best managed by understanding how people work and aligning everyone on what to do and how to do it together.

You may have heard the cliché “if you believe education is expensive, try ignorance.” Transposing this to project management, we could say “if you think a project manager is expensive, think of how much the 70% of failing projects cost.” After all, most projects do fail due to a lack of good project management.

That’s why project managers are so important. They ensure projects are delivered successfully by aligning the team and their work. You could say the project manager is the keystone to any project. As such, they bring value to the organization by:

  • Understanding the business and ensuring the project’s deliverables align with other strategic initiatives
  • Aligning the project team and key stakeholders with focus, direction, and motivation
  • Understanding the global impact of the project and managing costs, risks, and opportunities accordingly
  • Ensuring their deliverables are met both on time and within the established quality standards
  • Keeping an eye out for continuous improvement opportunities

Conclusion

Effectively managing your projects requires a combination of strategic, technical, and interpersonal skills. That’s why it is important to have a specialist who can drive project success by aligning the team and following up on the deliverables to be completed on time and within budget. As the field of project management continues to grow and diversify, good project, program, and portfolio management capabilities are crucial for companies to excel. These capabilities are driven by none other than the Project Manager.

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