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The Role of the Project Manager

~ By Duncan Haughey

A project management workflow diagram written on yellow sticky notes

A project manager is a person who has the overall responsibility for the successful initiation, planning, design, execution, monitoring, controlling and closure of a project. Construction, petrochemical, architecture, information technology and many different industries that produce products and services use this job title.

The project manager must have a combination of skills including an ability to ask penetrating questions, detect unstated assumptions and resolve conflicts, as well as more general management skills.

Key among a project manager's duties is the recognition that risk directly impacts the likelihood of success and that this risk must be both formally and informally measured throughout the lifetime of a project.

Risks arise from uncertainty, and the successful project manager is the one who focuses on this as their primary concern. Most of the issues that impact a project result in one way or another from risk. A good project manager can lessen risk significantly, often by adhering to a policy of open communication, ensuring every significant participant has an opportunity to express opinions and concerns.

A project manager is a person who is responsible for making decisions, both large and small. The project manager should make sure they control risk and minimise uncertainty. Every decision the project manager makes must directly benefit their project.

Project managers use project management software, such as Microsoft Project, to organise their tasks and workforce. These software packages allow project managers to produce reports and charts in a few minutes, compared with the several hours it can take if they do it by hand.

Roles and Responsibilities

The role of the project manager encompasses many activities including:

  • Planning and Defining Scope
  • Activity Planning and Sequencing
  • Resource Planning
  • Developing Schedules
  • Time Estimating
  • Cost Estimating
  • Developing a Budget
  • Documentation
  • Creating Charts and Schedules
  • Risk Analysis
  • Managing Risks and Issues
  • Monitoring and Reporting Progress
  • Team Leadership
  • Strategic Influencing
  • Business Partnering
  • Working with Vendors
  • Scalability, Interoperability and Portability Analysis
  • Controlling Quality
  • Benefits Realisation

Finally, senior management must give a project manager support and authority if he or she is going to be successful.


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Comments (6)

Topic: The Role of the Project Manager
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20th October 2016 8:14pm
Alick Nyangulu says...
I totally agree with Matthew. A project manager in any particular field must primarily be technically qualified in the field in which one is engaged. In-depth knowledge in one's field, coupled with experience creates a very successful PM. The lack of knowledge in a particular field can yield very catastrophic contractual issues. I have worked with a number of PMs who frankly don't know how to manage projects because they do not fully understand what the roles and limitations of their team members are.
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28th December 2016 9:12am
Samantha Maeer (Dubai) says...
I completely disagree. I have been a successful PM for many years and have covered the following areas Hospitality, Construction, IT Design, Finance and now Aviation.

A PM is there to ensure that the teams responsible deliver on their milestones. Not to know everything about everything. In fact, having too much technical knowledge can be a detriment. Obviously you don't let people pull the wool over your eyes but...
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10th January 2017 4:24pm
Eddie Ignacio (Hermitage PA) says...
Samantha, reality is that both of you are right. There are areas where you MUST have an understanding of what you are doing to properly understand the risks. Because you don't know what you don't know, a good PM must do his/her homework. The question then becomes what constitute in-depth knowledge. I do not need to know how to perform the specific tasks from every project but having an understanding how they can impact the outcome can and will likely prevent potential 'catastrophic' failures. To define the PM role as "there to ensure that the teams responsible deliver on their milestones" is way too simplistic. Bottom line, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to the selection of the right PM. At the end, it is a matter of how much there is at risk.
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29th February 2016 10:58am
Dave Hanson (Dubai) says...
Let me ask a general question. Looking through the list of tasks defined above as the responsibility of a project manager, how many require an engineering degree?

Why is it those job descriptions in the engineering-based industries inevitably dictate that PM applicants must have an engineering degree, often a masters, and/or 20+ years as a discipline engineer?

It makes no sense to me at all. The PM is a business manager, and other people sort out the technical stuff.

Any thoughts?
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2nd March 2016 3:38pm
Matthew Lake (Birmingham) says...
Hi Dave,

To answer your question from my perspective, I am currently employed as a Project Manager within the Asset Management Discipline, however, prior to this, I operated in a similar function for a medium sized M&E firm. I agree that a technical based degree is standard fare on a lot of the job specs for Project Managers within those related industries, and I think it is in part to give you a deeper understanding of the tasks at hand.

How could you, for instance, control costs and time on a project if you have no understanding of the topic. Yes, you could have a right-hand man who is a technical expert and helps you to understand those intricacies, but wouldn't it be a lot easier and not to say cheaper to amalgamate the two and have a technical expert, and a Project Manager rolled into one?

I agree that a great many tasks on the list could be handled by someone non-technical, but how would you go about Quality Control, Resource Planning and Time/Cost tasks without at least an industry related degree or a number of years experience. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, if you are operating as a PM on behalf of an Engineering Firm you need the knowledge, autonomy and confidence to successfully engage with the client, who will, in turn, expect the PM to have a broad knowledge base of his/her industry.
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4th March 2016 3:45pm
Greg Philp (Scotland) says...
Hi Dave/Matthew,

To a degree I agree with you Dave, that the job spec for a lot of the positions advertised are chasing unicorns, everyone wants to find that ideal candidate.

Matthew, you're right it definitely makes sense to have a candidate with experience in the field you are operating in, but you end up employing experts. A project manager should not be an expert in engineering or IT or otherwise -because expertise requires you to be incredibly focused on the minutiae, and if you are focused on the tiny details, then you cannot possibly be looking at the big picture and properly enabling change.

A lot of people end up in project management by accident, or rather they were never destined to be there but happened to get to that position through promotion from other positions. Most lack the leadership skills required to deal with conflict or enable change in an environment that is resistant to the very thing you are trying to achieve...

It's tough to know which way to go. In my opinion, the project manager doesn't need to have a complete understanding of the engineering, the software, or the business (prior to appointment) but with appropriate subject matter experts advising him/her throughout the requirements spec and planning process there is no reason he/she cannot successfully manage any of the above.

Regs,
Greg

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