The Project Manager’s Role

What is the project manager’s role? Take a poll at work. Ask people who aren’t project managers – what do you think a project manager’s role is? You might be surprised at the varied answers you receive! Above all, you might be surprised at how many of those answers don’t capture the full answer.

The Project Manager’s Role

Most project managers have similar responsibilities. Those responsibilities broadly defined are

  • Overseeing projects, from planning through execution through closing
  • Managing the project team
  • Aligning the project with stakeholder goals and expectations

Let’s break them down, one by one.

Overseeing Projects

The first part of the project manager’s role is overseeing projects. Projects are unique in that they have defined beginnings and ends, and are about accomplishing a particular goal or outcome. Projects, in a way, exist outside the regular workflow of a company. This is why they have a dedicated manager.

project manager's role

Projects follow a plan, and the project manager’s role begins with crafting that plan. The plan, crudely summarized, is simply “who will do what, when.” Creating a project plan is far more difficult than it appears. Every detail must be accounted for, every moving part nailed down. Schedules are important! Keeping the schedule once the project launches is the next part of the project manager’s role. It’s a crucial part of the active execution phase of the project. During this phase, project managers will monitor project progress to ensure everything runs smoothly. And to that end, the project manager’s role includes:

Managing The Project Team

The active day to day work of a project is done by a project team. In a software project, for example, the project manager is working with developers. The developers are doing the day to day coding, debugging, testing, etc. The project manager is managing the team. He delegates tasks, monitors progress, and manages workflow. This is the most traditional aspect of the project manager’s role. It’s similar to any manager.

Harry wants to take Monday off? He talks to the project manager. Sarah has an issue with her tasks, and needs to know what priority to follow? She talks to the project manager. Kevin and Shirley got into another fight over the coffee machine and aren’t talking to each other? The project manager is the one who has to restore team cohesion.

project manager's role

Aligning The Project With Stakeholder Goals And Expectations

This might be the most challenging aspect of the project manager’s role. Projects often have multiple stakeholders. Often, a project has a sponsor, or client. Senior management also has an interest in the project – and it isn’t always aligned with the customer’s. The team has their own opinions and needs, too. The result of this is the need for one person in the middle of it all, juggling everyone’s expectations. That person, as you may have guessed, is the project manager.

This begins when a project is conceived. Managing the project’s scope is key. Before a project is planned, its goal must be defined, and set in stone. Otherwise you are begging for scope creep. “Hey, why don’t we include a USB port on the new widget?” might sound like an innocent question. But because a project runs on a plan, it actually means ripping up the entire project and redoing it on the fly. The way to avoid this is to have clearly defined scope statements signed in the beginning. It’s on the project manager to ensure this happens. He’s the one answering to the stakeholders.

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