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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 (10)

Topic: The Role of the Project Manager
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20th April 2017 2:36pm
Cheryl (Wichita) says...
A project manager does not have to be an expert in the field he is managing, but he does need to have enough knowledge to be able to understand what needs to be done and communicate effectively with his team.

For instance, we had a PM that knew nothing about our business. In a meeting we talked about some things we could do now to decrease the learning curve for the users we were affecting. This PM left the meeting and assigned someone the task to 'test tile view', which made no sense to anyone. When the person asked the PM what he meant by that, the response was "what was discussed in the meeting".

The problem with that is thar our PM knew NOTHING and rather then going to that person and talking about the situation then assigning a task that made sense where both the PM and the party assigned knew what the PM wanted, the PM just threw a task out there and basically threw the person under the bus. Regardless of age, the PM needs to know enough about the subject to be able to understand what he is asking people to do. But he doesn't need to be an expert.
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11th April 2017 9:29am
George Rooney (Glasgow) says...
Interesting comments. Those against technical knowledge are most probably young, came out of college, all sorts of degrees, more letters after their name than in my name. Most likely, can tell you the cubic capacity of a jam jar but can't get the lid off it.

Knowledge is a wonderfull thing; a little bit of knowledge is a catastrophe waiting to happen. If I'm building a house, I'm looking for someone to built it facing the correct way not someone from a college background with little experience, trying to bully their way through the project to cloak lack of knowledge. And yes, I am an old b@"££ard
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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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17th March 2017 1:30pm
Janine Greene (Baltimore) says...
I think it depends on the field. A technical project manager, like one for IT, requires experience in IT, not just from a human resource perspective, but from a comprehension of the IT environment. There aren't always resources for technical expertise, so if you know IT and you know project management, you have the best of both worlds. I currently work with someone who was a production manager in the theater world. Her skills translate very well into project managing the types of projects we do at work, so I believe it's all about the industry you're working in and how technical it is. Just my two cents...
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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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12th March 2017 12:30pm
Ben (Adelaide) says...
I have some how bumped into this forum online while surfing for information relating the topic of discussion relating to my essay topic on; Should project managers posses strong technical background in order to manage a project.

From my research, I have realized that project managers plays a management role in managing projects. Management of a project means managing the Human Resource and the system to actually deliver the intended project objective. So I don't see why some organizations choose to recruit project managers with technical background in the project.

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