“A project manager is like a doctor who leads the trauma team and decides the course of action for a patient - both at the same time. Without the right kind of authority to efficiently handle all the project management issues, development teams can easily get into trouble.” - Scott Berkun, the author of “Making Things Happen”
How did it all start? In the late 1980s, Microsoft was launching an ambitious project and had run into a problem: there were way too many players involved. There were teams from marketing, engineering, and the business end, and no one knew how to coordinate all of them.
So, Microsoft came up with what was then an ingenious solution. They picked one person to take charge of who would be given significant authority to organize and coordinate their new project. Once Microsoft appointed a dedicated leader, everything went smoothly and the teams were much happier with their work dynamics. The end result of this new strategy was Excel.
Eventually, Microsoft made this new role as a staple for all their projects. Thus, the project manager was born.
8 key roles and job responsibilities of project managers
At the end of this post, you'll find a cheat sheet containing an overview of a project manager's key responsibilities! But first...
WHO are project managers and what are they like?
Good project managers are people with an excellent entrepreneurial mindset. This allows them to think about a project beyond the basic skill set needed to manage it, and it is the project manager’s job to direct teams and team members to the finish line. At the end of the day, the project’s success or failure rests solely on the project manager’s shoulders, and he or she is the one responsible for the end result.
Project managers keep knowledge and information flowing seamlessly. They need both technical know-how and first-hand knowledge of the tasks they assign to others to keep the project moving forward.
"Project Managers play the lead role in planning, executing, monitoring, controlling, and closing projects. They're expected to deliver a project on time, within the budget, and brief while keeping everyone in the know and happy."— Cam Lee, Rock Agency
But technical know-how does more than enable project managers to communicate ideas effectively to all those involved. Good project managers use their technical understanding to win team members’ respect. Since project managers influence more decisions than anyone else in the company, their primary task is to use what they know to not just win employees’ respect, but keep it throughout the project and into the future.
What do project managers DO? 8 key roles and responsibilities
1. Activity and resource planning
Planning is instrumental in meeting project deadlines, and many projects fail due to poor planning. First and foremost, good project managers define the project’s scope and determine available resources. Good project managers know how to realistically set time estimates and evaluate the team's or teams’ capabilities.
They then create a clear and concise plan to both execute the project and monitor its progress. Projects are naturally unpredictable, so good project managers know how to make adjustments along the way as needed before the project reaches its final stages.
2. Organizing and motivating a project team
Good project managers don’t get their teams bogged down with elaborate spreadsheets, long checklists, and whiteboards. Instead, they put their teams front and center. They develop clear, straightforward plans that stimulate their teams to reach their full potential. They cut down on bureaucracy and steer their teams down a clear path to the final goal.
"There is no other way than leading by example. If you are doing your part correctly, always supporting your team, and having a fair and healthy approach with them, motivation should never be a problem."— Dragan Hrgić, Remade
3. Controlling time management
Clients usually judge a project’s success or failure on whether it has been delivered on time. Therefore, meeting deadlines are non-negotiable. Good project managers know how to set realistic deadlines, and how to communicate them consistently to their teams.
They know how to effectively do the following:
- Define activity
- Sequence activity
- Estimate the duration of activity
- Develop a schedule
- Maintain a schedule
4. Cost estimating and developing the budget
Good project managers know how to keep a project within its set budget. Even if a project meets a client’s expectations and is delivered on time, it will still be a failure if it goes wildly over budget. Good project managers frequently review the budget and plan ahead to avoid massive budget overruns.
5. Ensuring customer satisfaction
In the end, a project is only a success if the customer is happy. One of the key responsibilities of every project manager is to minimize uncertainty, avoid any unwanted surprises, and involve their clients in the project as much as is reasonably possible. Good project managers know how to maintain effective communication and keep the company’s clients up-to-date.
6. Analyzing and managing project risk
The bigger the project is, the more likely there are to be hurdles and pitfalls that weren’t part of the initial plan. Hiccups are inevitable, but good project managers know how meticulously and almost intuitively, identify and evaluate potential risks before the project begins. They know how to then avoid risks or at least minimize their impact.
"You have to go in expecting that things won't be as you had planned, and things won't be as easy as first expected. Goals, conditions, and circumstances will change."— Kalila Lakeworth, 3D1go
7. Monitoring progress
During the initial stages, project managers and their teams have a clear vision and high hopes of producing the desired result. However, the path to the finish line is never without some bumps along the way. When things don’t go according to a plan, a project manager needs to monitor and analyze both expenditures and team performance and to always efficiently take corrective measures.
8. Managing reports and necessary documentation
Finally, experienced project managers know how essential final reports and proper documentation are. Good project managers can present comprehensive reports documenting that all project requirements were fulfilled, as well as the projects’ history, including what was done, who was involved, and what could be done better in the future.
Scroll down till the end of this post to find our cheat sheet where all these roles and responsibilities are summarized!
Do you need a project manager?
No matter how large or demanding projects are, you need someone who will reliably and consistently maintain efficiency and productivity. Not only has research shown that 89% of high-performing organizations include a project manager, but also that the profession is consistently one of those most in demand. Project management is indispensable to successful businesses, and business owners need leaders with the right vision, the right skills, and the right know-how to face the biggest challenges and ensure projects are completed successfully and according to schedule.
Project managers are integral parts of almost every kind of organization—from small agencies with only one project manager guiding a handful of projects to multinational IT companies that employ highly specialized project managers placed in charge of ambitious projects. If one of these describes your business or any kind of enterprise in between, then the answer is definitely yes.