What Does A Project Manager Do?

The job title might sound straightforward: a project manager (PM) must organize, plan and execute a project. In reality, however, the role is multifaceted. A project manager is a leader and motivator, a communicator and collaborator and an organizer and negotiator. There are many hats to be worn, and a lot of responsibilities to be handled. 

Specifically, a project manager must plan a project from beginning to end, then draw up a timeline and make sure their team works within its time constraints and budget. The PM must also troubleshoot any issues that arise, making sure stakeholders are apprised of progress and ensure delivery of the service or product.

As of May, 2020, over 1.4 million project managers were employed in the U.S., with the largest concentrations in the New York City, Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles metropolitan areas. According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), the leading professional organization for PMs, the demand for effective project managers is expected to blossom over the next several years. PMI anticipates that, by 2030, there will be a need for 25 million new project professionals globally, which means that some 2.3 million people must enter the field every year between now and 2030.

Before we go further, it is important to note that there is a difference between project management and product management. While the roles often intersect and the lines between their responsibilities can sometimes blur, the distinction between the two is that, while product management focuses on a product’s life cycle, project management ushers the product through that life cycle. In other words, the product manager is concerned with product strategy, market research and development, while the project manager is responsible for the delivery of that product (e.g., on time, on budget).

A project manager’s role should not be confused with a program manager or a portfolio manager. A program manager coordinates the management of several interrelated projects, which involves working closely with the project managers of each of those ventures. A portfolio manager, on the other hand, oversees all of an organization’s programs and projects; evaluating, organizing and prioritizing them according to the enterprise’s overall objectives. This is in sharp contrast to the project manager’s role, who will usually focus on one project at a time, and do so at a much more granular level than a program or portfolio manager will.

Project Manager Responsibilities

Here is a summary of a project manager’s responsibilities when undertaking any given project:

A graphic displaying the responsibilities of a project manager.

  • Formulating a Plan: It is during this phase that budgets and timelines are established. Everything is outlined, including time, cost and workforce requirements to complete all deliverables and reach assigned milestones — all with the project’s greater goal in mind. The PM usually confirms internal and external stakeholders, examines similar projects that have been undertaken in the past and develops a firm understanding of all that might be required to finalize the current project. Flexibility is a must, as there is an inherent understanding the project’s initial plan will be ever-evolving and circumstances may change throughout the process.
  • Executing the Plan: During this step, the PM monitors and oversees workflows, making sure to resolve any issues that arise and adjusting the plan as necessary in the face of changing circumstances. Communication and conflict resolution are also integral to this process, which is why excellent soft skills are key as a PM.
  • Monitoring/Reporting: While managing workflows and achieving plan milestones, the PM must also be cognizant of budget and timeline constraints. Another key responsibility is reporting on project KPIs, budgetary status and resource management to all stakeholders in a timely fashion.
  • Finalizing the Project: The key element of this phase is communicating with internal or external clients, gaining assurance that the project has been completed to their satisfaction or receiving feedback on issues that need to be resolved (if within the scope of the project charter). It is also important that any lingering budgetary issues are resolved, and project files are stored away for future reference. In addition, a post-launch review is usually performed to ascertain what worked well and what process improvements can be made before the next project begins.

On a day-to-day basis, it is essential for a PM to communicate with team members and stakeholders, resolve issues that arise and manage budgets. It is also important to bolster team morale through informal gatherings and team-building exercises.

Project managers must also issue weekly, monthly and quarterly status reports. They must approve timesheets and invoices on a timely basis, as well as document processes and key project decisions. As necessary, they must recommend adjustments to processes, budgets or project assumptions to ensure optimal efficiency and adherence to project goals.

Sample Project Manager Job Description 

A project manager oversees all facets of a project, making sure it’s completed on time and within budget. They’re responsible for planning, documentation, timeline and resource management, as well as execution. Their roles demand a well-organized, detail-oriented approach that is essential to set objectives, make assignments and monitor the project’s progress from beginning to end. They must also be adaptable and capable problem-solvers, who can juggle various tasks, update resource allocations and adjust to changing circumstances.

It is also vital that PMs utilize excellent soft skills to establish and maintain good relationships with key stakeholders, third-party vendors and adjacent departments’ management. This not only garners support and resources for their project, but also enables the PM to resolve challenges that occur more effectively. And, through these relationships, it is often possible to gain cooperation and work around temporary resourcing or timeline setbacks due to the trust and goodwill that the PM has built over time with key stakeholders.

The successful candidate will also demonstrate top-notch leadership skills and be capable of identifying and leveraging the skills and strengths of each team member. They will understand how to delegate responsibilities and coordinate their team’s workflows with other teams’ processes and objectives — all with the goal of optimizing efficiency. 

The ability to maintain up-to-date and accurate project documentation is critical to success as a PM. Whether it be budgetary reports, project timelines or ensuring technical specs reflect the latest changes, this PM function is one of the least glamorous yet most important aspects of the job. The PM maintains the “one source of truth” regarding the project, and all information flows from that source.

Project Manager Background Requirements

While a specific college degree is not required, it is helpful to have a foundation in business, computer science or another industry-related field. An MBA or MSM (Master of Science in Management) also provides a prospective project manager with the necessary context to thrive in this field.

Similarly, certificates — like a Project Management Professional (PMP) certificate or a Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) certificate — are preferred, but generally not required. Additional credentials, such as the Certificate of Completion from Berkeley Tech Project Management Boot Camp, enable participants to develop the proficiency to lead technology projects in a variety of industries.

A key technical competency for any project manager is resource planning, which requires the ability to build a workable plan and shift resources at a moment’s notice. This includes adjusting budget, staffing and managerial focus as priorities change.

In addition, a grasp of project management software (e.g., Asana, Basecamp, JIRA, Microsoft Project) enables project managers to plan and track workflows more effectively. At the same time, project managers use agile frameworks, such as Scrum and Kanban, to run projects iteratively, whereas methodologies like Waterfall are best suited for linear, sequential projects. There is also the prospect of using hybrid methodologies, where the foremost attributes of these frameworks are melded and put to best use.

Soft skills are also essential for anyone looking to fill this role — a conclusion that’s supported by PMI research. Communication skills are particularly important, as indicated in a study by The Economist Intelligence Unit, where 44 percent of business leaders pointed to faulty communication as a reason projects are delayed or left incomplete. Conversely, an emotionally intelligent PM (i.e., self-aware, empathetic, socially skilled) will likely produce more effectively in such a position. 

The ability to think critically — considering all available information and reasonable constraints — and then confidently make decisions in the best interests of the project is a key PM trait. The ability to think clearly and critically, though under stress and in the midst of differing opinions and agendas, is one of the most valued skills a PM can have, and one that organizations value greatly. 

And finally, one of the most difficult responsibilities of the PM, is the ability to manage conflict, which the Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK) calls “one of the biggest challenges a project manager faces.” How do you mitigate such issues? How do you strike at the root causes of a conflict? How do you build a constructive working relationship? These are the questions a successful project manager must answer correctly every day.

Different Types of Project Management

As in many professional disciplines, there are different areas of focus or specialization. Below are some of the most common areas of project management specialization that allow professionals to immerse themselves in a specific sector or industry, applying that knowledge to better manage and execute their projects within a specific sphere.

What Does a Technical Project Manager Do?

Technical project managers possess expertise in a specific field that enables them to guide complex IT and engineering projects to completion. A recent example is that of Lionel Quettier, technical PM for a new type MRI that is in development. This technology, once completed, could make it possible for healthcare professionals to study the brain much more extensively.

The duties of technical project managers, like Quettier, are similar to those of a classic project manager in that they outline objectives and manage timelines. However, the significant difference is that these PMs have technical knowledge which enables them to understand requirements, review technical documentation and collaborate with the engineering team while meeting the needs of other technical and business stakeholders.

Want to learn how to become a tech project manager? Your journey begins at Berkeley Tech Project Management Boot Camp. Learn in-demand, real-world skills and technology that tech PMs use every day. Invest in yourself and enroll today!

What Does a Project Manager Do in Healthcare?

A healthcare project manager’s responsibilities are typified by those of John Moore, PM for Mississippi State University’s Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems-Extension (CAVS-E). Moore oversees a telehealth initiative that was launched throughout the Mississippi Delta region in September 2021. In the case of one hospital, this involved the distribution of Apple iPad tablets and various other devices to 200 chronic patients.

In addition to general project management duties, healthcare PMs like Moore must be capable of juggling several projects at once, whether they involve an extensive renovation to the facility, adding staff or overseeing an initiative to enhance efficiency.

What Does a Project Manager Do in HR?

Monica Mautino, HR project manager for the automotive supplier Marelli, recently oversaw an overhaul of the company’s HR platform to make it more user-friendly for employees in all 24 nations where Marelli operates. Per Forbes, Monica called it one of Marelli’s “most important pillars,” as it enabled the organization to “improve our employees’ satisfaction while standardizing our processes at the global level.”

Ensuring that employees are engaged and productive is one of an HR project manager’s many duties. While PMs of this type share many characteristics with those in other fields, it is particularly important in the HR realm to have the people skills necessary to manage recruitment, hiring and onboarding.

What Does a Project Manager Do in an Advertising Agency?

As advertising has evolved over the years from radio, print and television to digital channels, so too has the role of advertising project manager evolved.

Today, those serving in an agency PM role must be more tech-savvy than ever, while also being adaptable enough to thrive in an ever-changing digital environment. Over half of the agencies that make use of state-of-the-art technology increase their net profit, and 33 percent of those organizations have seen those profits jump by 11 percent or more. These profit-inducing projects may include the launch of new design software, Content Management Systems (CMS) or more business-focused initiatives such as a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software launch.

Regardless of the project type, agency PMs must be aware of emerging trends and their agency’s needs, adapting resources and timelines as needed.

What Does a Construction Project Manager Do?

At a select board hearing in the town of Swanton, Vermont, Ken Upmal (project manager for the state’s Agency of Transportation) fielded questions about the reconstruction of Route 78 a major thoroughfare in the region. The big question on everyone’s mind was the project’s viability, given both its proximity to the town and a wildlife refuge, as well as how long it might take to complete.

Upmal assured stakeholders that he was in the process of obtaining the necessary documentation (environmental permits, rights of way, etc.) and that the plan was to begin the two-year project in 2024.

This underscores one of the key aspects of being a project manager in any field, but especially construction: communication. A PM is the public face of a project. They must clearly communicate the project’s objectives and scope, while allaying any concerns that might arise.

It is particularly important for a construction project manager to ensure regulatory compliance by obtaining the necessary paperwork, while coordinating the workflows of various parties (e.g., architects, engineers) and subcontractors.

What Does a Software Project Manager Do?

As with project managers in other fields, software project managers must ideate, motivate, delegate and communicate. They devise plans, form teams capable of executing that plan and make sure plans are executed within the allotted time and budget.

Oftentimes in software development, it is a race to launch — from launching the latest video game, to releasing a new type of software in the marketplace. In order to do that, software PMs must be very disciplined in how resources are allocated. As Scott Stiner, president and CEO of the United Technologies in Moosic, Pennsylvania, noted in Forbes, it is essential for a software project manager to identify and take on non-development tasks so that developers are free to focus on their code. This not only helps developers meet tight deadlines to make sure launches occur as planned, but also increases the ROI of resource allocation within the project.

What Does an Engineering Project Manager Do?

One of an engineering project manager’s tasks is to lay the foundation for a project. This is shown in the case of one PM for QEA, a Delaware-based engineering firm. At QEA, the PM was overseeing a dredging project of the Little Assawoman Bay, near the shore town of Fenwick Island. To that end, they had to ensure that soil and archaeological studies were completed before the $1.1 million project moved forward.

This underscores one of the key differences in an engineering PM’s duties; setting them apart from PMs in other sectors: leading the research and development phase of a project. In most cases, PMs enter the project after all research is complete and requirements are defined. However, for engineering PMs, their involvement begins much sooner and they are directly involved, if not leading the research and development phase of the project.

What Does a Marketing Project Manager Do?

It is abundantly clear when a marketing campaign really engages its target audience. Witness Nike’s Just Do It campaign, which transformed the sneaker giant from an $800 million company in 1988 to a $2 billion company ten years later. Or, how about the Got Milk? campaign, which increased milk consumption by 13.5 million gallons between 1993–94.

Such efforts require coordination and collaboration between the project manager and an organization’s creative team. No other type of PM is more dependent on this relationship, given the brainstorming required. Relationships with outside vendors and freelancers are also crucial to developing effective campaigns. As a result, marketing PMs must be familiar with many creative disciplines to understand the likely timeframes activities should take, as well as have meaningful conversations with writers, photographers, talent agencies, production companies, media brokers and more to ensure project success.

Begin Your Tech Project Management Journey Today

Project management is a fulfilling career — one that asks a great deal of those who choose to enter into it. Project management also delivers an enormous amount of job satisfaction, in that PMs see a project through from beginning to end. For those looking to start their journey in tech project management, Berkeley Tech Project Management Boot Camp is the ideal place to start. Invest in yourself and enroll today!

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