Who is a Project Manager and What Does a Project Manager Do?

If you were to ask a number of project managers these questions, they would each give you a slightly different answer, but you would be able to pick up some common features.

Having managed many projects across industries over the past 10 years, I’ve learned that even though projects are run differently in different industries, project management skills are transferable. Therefore, once you get a hang of who a project manager is and what a project manager does, you can use that knowledge to get a project manager job in almost any industry. I say “almost” because some industries require specific field knowledge that you may not be able to acquire so easily.

That being said, I decided to write this article and explain the role and responsibilities of a project manager based on my own experience and that of fellow project managers I know. No matter where you are in the PM journey, I hope you find this information useful.

Who is a Project Manager?

A project manager is a lead of the project team. According to the Project Management Institute (PMI):

Project managers are change agents […] They work well under pressure and are comfortable with change and complexity in dynamic environments.

As the quote explains, project managers are comfortable with change and are constantly changing themselves and adjusting to new circumstances, teams and projects. What is more, these individuals are well-organized and have good communication and people skills.

Please, keep in mind that you don’t need to have academic background in project management to be a project manager, but you do need to be curious, flexible and willing to learn and grow.

What Does a Project Manager Do?

Project managers are in charge of scoping, monitoring, and following up on a project, making sure that all runs as smooth as possible, on time and within the budget. In addition to that, a project manager is responsible for the project team; not only when it comes to tasks but also when it comes to the team’s professional and personal growth.

When it comes to being in charge of a project, there are several areas that project managers are responsible for. These areas are known as project phases and they include initiating, planning, executing, monitoring, and closing.

The first project phase is initiation. In this phase, a project manager needs to define the project and identify all stakeholders. Then starts the planning phase. Depending on the project, this phase can take some time because a project manager needs to take into account the following: project plan, project scope, time management, budget, people, communication, risks, expectation, to name just a few. It is very important to define all parts of the plan well because that really is a guide a project manager will follow throughout the rest of the phases. Note that plans can change, and that is absolutely OK. If a change happens, it is up to a project manager to adjust the project flow to the change and keep things going.

Once the plan is complete and ready to go, it’s time to execute. In this phase, a project manager sets up all the work, forms and manages a team, manages stakeholders’ expectations, etc. The execution phase usually overlaps with the monitoring phase because a project manager monitors all activities, time, budget, etc. while the project is being executed. At least, that’s how I always saw it.

Finally, the last stage is closing. This means finishing up with all stages, getting all the data, analyzing it and learning from it. Personally, I believe this to be the most important stage of a project. A project manager is expected to adapt and adjust the project to new situations along the way, but closing is the time when the project manager and the team get together, look at the project from a retrospect and pick up all the learnings so they’re equipped with new knowledge and experience for the next project.

At the first glance, the project phases may seem overwhelming, but the more experienced you get, the easier it becomes. However, in addition to the management experience you get, as a project manager, you need to continue developing and improving certain skills that may not be directly project-related.

Project Manager Skills

There are many skills you can develop as a project manager. I’ve decided to list just a few, but you can always find more on the Internet.

Honestly, the more interested you are in your personal and professional growth and the more you invest into those, the better you’ll be at managing projects. It’s all quite tightly connected. If you don’t know where to start, the skills I list below can be a good starting point.

1. Organization and Time Management Skills

As a project manager, you’re expected to plan and organize an entire project from all aspects and with all its little quirks. That requires good organization and time management skills. If you’re constantly running around trying to get things done, you’ll do the same with the project and when it comes to business, time is money. So, learning how to improve your productivity and be more effective will help you to manage projects and teams better and in a more efficient way.

2. Communication Skills

Being a good communicator is crucial for a project manager. You’ll be talking to a lot of people over the course of the project duration. Not only do they all differ as people, but also they have different roles and responsibilities you need to take into account when addressing them. There are many ways you can be a better communicator. You can even take a look at this article I wrote on how to improve your communication skills. It might give you ideas on what to search for next.

3. Leadership Skills

Managing a project includes managing the project team. As a project manager, you need to be able to inspire people, listen to them, and help them grow. In addition to that, you need to be able to build trust within your team so that they know they can come to you whenever and whatever happens. There is so much more to leadership than this, but it’s enough to get you thinking about it.

4. Technical Skills

Depending on the industry you’re in, being equipped with good technical knowledge of the project is crucial for its execution. Please, keep in mind that this is not a must in all industries and fields for you to be a good project manager. However, any project manager needs to have a good understand of what the project is about. Over time, you’ll learn all the other aspects as well.

5. Conflict Management and Problem Solving Skills

Last but certainly not least, a good project manager has exceptional problem solving skills. During your project, there will be hick-ups. Issues popping up in a project is an inevitability. In order for the project to continue running smoothly, a project manager needs to be able to approach problems objectively and help solving them.

On the other hand, working with people means there will occasionally be conflicts within the team other stakeholders. As a project manager, it is your responsibility to mediate and help resolve conflicts as they appear both efficiently and effectively.

So, there you have it. I hope this article gives you a bit more clarity on who a project manager is and what a project manager does. If you’re just starting out as a project manager, I also hope this also assured you that you’re on the right track and gave you some ideas on where to go next. If you’ve been managing projects for a while, I hope this article offers some new insights or is a good reminder of who you are as a professional. Whatever the case, I’d love to read your impressions so please feel free to comment on this article or email me about it.

If there’s something project management related that you’re very interested in and would love to read about, let me know. Maybe I can write about it 🙂

For the time being, I’m adding here several other articles you can check out that are related to this topic.

4 Qualities a Good Manager Should Have

3 Initial Steps in Project Planning

4 Rules to Make Your Feedback Count

Until the next article, keep learning and growing.


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Feature image credits: Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

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