Project Manager: Roles and Responsibilities
The project manager is a key figure in project management. Read on to learn what it takes to be a great project manager and if you can be one.
You’re at a pivotal moment in your career. You have little or no previous experience as a project manager and you’ve been tapped to make the transition. And quickly too.
Or, perhaps, you’re the higher executive looking to get more of your team mature into project management to expand their impact.
You’re at the right place.
In this article, we’ll break down what it takes to excel as a project manager when you’re starting off afresh.
What is a project manager?
A project manager is a team member in project management who is responsible for organizing the team, planning, assigning, monitoring progress, and ensuring a project is delivered successfully. A project manager is a specific person who makes sure a project’s objectives are delivered on time and under budget.
Roles and responsibilities of a project manager
To achieve the very noble goal of guiding a team to success and delivering on-project objectives, there are roles and responsibilities a project manager is required to take on. These include:
- Understanding the scope of the project to be worked on
- Estimating the time and resources required to fully deliver the targets set for the project
- Managing time and structuring work to fit into deadlines
- Breaking the project into tasks and assigning them to team members
- Managing individual team members’ workloads to ensure they’re not overworked
- Measuring and managing project risks efficiently
- Serving as the team’s channel to higher management communicating needs and challenges
- Resolving obstacles and blockers that may hinder the team from doing the best job possible
The project manager ensures that the team is focused on delivering the objectives assigned as efficiently as possible.
Skills needed for a good project manager
Before jumping right in, handing out tasks, running retrospectives with team members, and managing deadlines so senior management doesn’t chew you up, it’s important to understand what it takes to function as a project manager.
Here’s what makes a great project manager and the project management skills needed to become one.
Excellent communication skills
When you think of a project manager, it’s easy to imagine a multi-talented geek with three degrees from Stanford, Harvard, and Columbia, who maintains complex codebases, designs complex algorithms, and wins employee of the year awards back to back.
Umm, not really.
At its core, project management is really about managing people. Project management entails: getting an understanding of a task to be worked on, introducing your team to it, and guiding the entire team to do small chunks of that huge task until everything is completed successfully.
Project management is a team sport and people are at its core. A project manager should be able to communicate ideas clearly and simply enough to engage the entire team and provide them the guidance they need to do the best work possible. More importantly, a project manager should learn to listen, exercise empathy, and see things from the team’s perspective. And no, you don’t need a degree in psychology to make that work. You can start by listening more intentionally and communicating with fewer words designed to bring the most meaning.
Communication makes work, work and as the project manager, it’s your job to make communication work.
Orientation to action
It’s easy to analyze all day, draw graphs, plan on whiteboards, and estimate timelines for hours. In the end, someone has to take that first step that gets everyone else rolling out into action. And that’s you, dear project manager (or, rather, project manager-to-be).
In other words, project management is work, not just barking out orders. A good project manager should set the pace for the entire team by creating daily, weekly, or monthly targets, assigning tasks, monitoring performance, and tracking completion.
Most importantly, as a project manager, you should be eagerly ready to jump into the trenches and untangle any hard tasks for your team, saving their time and enthusiasm in the process.
A good project manager leads from the front, and over there in front, it’s your job to get working and keep working as an example.
In the movies, we often see teams sharing donuts or crushing tasks like how the Avengers charged Thanos & Co. in the Endgame movie (great movie, BTW). But very often, no one notices those days when it seems everyone is in a slump and you just don’t feel like opening your to-do list to check what’s there.
That’s where a good project manager steps in. As a project manager, it’s your job to provide some of the mental momentum your team needs to do their best work, encouraging, motivating, and being first in line showing the work can be done.
You may not always bring donuts to the office, but if you lead with a can-do-it mindset, your team will consistently outperform the highs and lows a sugar rush and crash would bring.
As a project manager, what do you think is your job? Before you blurt out an overly technical definition or copy what I wrote above, I’ll just save you the stress.
Your job is to solve problems. Take a prototype and in three months, deliver a complete product to the CEO. That’s a problem waiting there. Break a project into tasks and assign them to team members. You guessed it, that’s another problem. Monitor your team’s performance and keep everyone on the cutting edge. Problem.
Every task in the world is a problem waiting to be solved and as a project manager, your job is to be at the forefront, clearing blockers, and fixing seen and unseen obstacles that may hinder your team from doing their best work.
Maybe you can just go ahead and give yourself the Chief Problem Solver title within your team; you deserve it.
A cool head and analytical mindset
At some point, project management may devolve into putting out fires, catching up with deadlines, and wondering how you’re going to meet your targets now that one team member is on sick leave. Here’s where you need a cool head on your shoulders to calm down, think, and find a way out of issues.
Are you behind your deadline? Not great, but you can meet your boss to explain why and request a longer deadline. And this time, make sure it’s 1.5x long enough. Better under-promise and over-deliver.
Say, one team member took a leave just when you couldn’t afford to slow down? Instead of throwing your hands up in defeat, you can meet with other departments and try borrowing a few hands to make up for the shortfall.
Remember, as a project manager, your primary responsibility is to solve problems. And to solve problems, you need a cool head on your shoulders.
Can functional managers become project managers?
So, here comes the big one. Can functional managers function as project managers? Instead of paying thousands for a project management course, how about assigning Doug from engineering to handle the new product you’re planning to launch soon?
Given the right circumstances, functional managers can double as project managers. But you need to get the circumstances just right. Here are a few situations where functional managers can step in and do a good job as project managers.
Simple projects are a great way to weigh a functional manager’s capabilities and help them get their hands wet on the job. With clear expectations and responsibilities, a functional manager can generally organize a small team and do a good job on a simple project.
If they’ve been doing it long enough, they can keep doing it. The best scenario where you can tap a functional manager to handle a project is if it’s one they have experience working on within their department. In this case, they know the in and outs needed to deliver on tasks and how those tasks fit into bigger goals. Internal projects are great for testing out functional managers and giving them a chance to develop their project management skills.
Experience in handling projects
If a functional manager has experience (no matter how slim) handling projects in a particular vertical within the organization, then it’s safe to assume they can parlay that into more intensive work that’s designed similar to the project they’ve handled. With a little creativity, functional managers can get their hands wet and start working on more complex projects.
Project management software is the secret to PM success for non-project managers
Now, you know what it takes. You can be a project manager without 100 hours of project management training and 21 certifications.
Down at its core, project management is simply about organizing people and managing individual tasks on a larger scale.
Likewise, project management depends equally on the tools you use to get it done. The right project management tool helps you automate manual tasks and keep everyone on the same page. Using no tools, or worse the wrong tools will guarantee failure.
Ideally, a project management software should help you:
- communicate with your team using chat, comments, and @mentions,
- create, assign, and track tasks easily,
- share files quickly and securely,
- pivot your work to the format you like, using Gantt or Kanban, and,
- integrate with the rest of your tool stack.
Kissflow Project does all this and more. Kissflow Projects empowers you to unleash your project management potential by simplifying your work and helps you get more done with less. See how Kissflow Project can transform your project management.
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