What Does a Project Manager Do: The Complete Guide
What does a project manager do exactly? We are often faced with this question and the answer is one of the most crucial to our project success.
Executing projects and all the details related to them can become chaotic and overwhelming and that’s why it’s important to clearly define the roles and responsibilities of everyone involved.
Poor project management can lead to frustration, burn-out, demotivated team members, unhappy clients, and ultimately harm the business in the long run.
Now is the time to introduce the project manager, whose vital role is to lead and coordinate the project, and make sure everything runs smoothly.
In this article, we will discuss all the important aspects of a project’s manager job, the responsibilities that come with it, why we need a project manager, and what to expect from one.
What is the Role of a Project Manager?
The project manager plans, organizes, leads, and monitors projects. They are responsible for delivering within scope, budget, and time. Another essential role of a project manager is to provide moral support for the team.
Although there are certain certifications and education programs to become a project manager, it often happens that you can become the project manager yourself when starting your own business. There are many different scenarios and what the project manager does will highly depend on who they are working for and in what field.
Sometimes it can even be so that you are not a dedicated project manager but you somehow have most of the responsibilities of one.
No matter what the case, the person who manages a project needs all the useful tools and knowledge to enable him to control and lead a project.
Let’s see some of the most common responsibilities of a project manager in more detail.
What does a Project Manager Do in General?
The tasks of a project manager will vary, depending on the field they are working in, the available resources they have at their disposal, and other factors. Sometimes, a project manager will have fewer responsibilities, sometimes – more.
We can sum up these tasks in the following plan:
- Plans the project
- Allocates Resources
- Manages the project in action
- Monitors the quality of the project
- Mentors, motivates, and supervises the team
- Delivers a project
- Reports on a project
In addition to this list of roles, there are a few characteristics a project manager will inevitably develop in time. These characteristics include a positive attitude, becoming proactive, working on soft skills and communication, and keeping calm under pressure. Not in the last place, it’s important to stay becoming organized. There are many training programs, books, and mentors who can help you develop most of these skills and there are many tools to help you with organizing your work.
Everything boils down to patience and willingness to learn so you can become the best project manager you can be. We will break down the steps of being a successful project manager and how to grow in your career.
What Does a Project Manager Do Daily?
Every day brings new challenges to a project manager and the unpredictability of it is what brings fun to project management. Here are some common daily tasks the project manager will most likely take care of each day:
- Meeting with leadership to decide scopes for new projects
- Pitching to the finance team for changes in the budget
- Creating project charters, schemes, tables, templates
- Making a risk assessment scheme
- Making updates to the project calendar
- Participating in daily and progress meetings with the team
- Coordinating tasks between different project members
- Relocating tasks between team members
- Ensuring no one from the team is overloaded with tasks
- Communicating with the client, leadership, finance team, etc.
- Collecting feedback after completion of a project – both from clients and team
There are quite a lot of responsibilities, and therefore, many things that could go wrong. We’ll break down the risks and give a list of suggestions on how to avoid mistakes and what strategies to try.
What Mistakes Can Project Manager Make and How to Fix Them
Project managers make mistakes too. They are not superheroes! The reality is, that with a little bit of effort, mindfulness, and with time, everyone can get better as a project manager.
So let’s see which are the most common mistakes, that fairly new project managers can make and how to avoid them:
1. Not communicating effectively with the team and client
To begin understanding the client’s needs, the project manager needs to find the right tone. Try to be patient, make sure both sides are on the same page. Ask questions and check on progress or/and discusses issues.
2. Not paying attention to the team and team dynamics
Your team is your main force and it will help you a lot to know how all the little parts of your “machine” work together. It’s worth investing your time in building a strong team.
3. Fails to delegate
It’s important to learn to delegate responsibilities with time, as your own responsibilities will eventually grow. To avoid burnout and stress, you will need people to help you. It’s close to impossible to do everything on your own and it’s risky to try to sustain it in the long run.
4. Can’t create a clear, shared vision for the project’s outcome
This is another mistake that young project managers often make. Sometimes, we think that our vision is obvious to the rest of the team. Usually, it takes some dedicated time to sit and make sure that everyone on board understands what is the desired outcome of the project.
If that helps, create a list for the team where you can include the most important points to be covered in the project.
Keep in mind, that distributing tasks between team members is not enough to communicate what’s important for this project and what’s the end goal.
5. Not taking decisions or micromanaging
We already talked a bit about micromanaging, but on the opposite end lies the fear of taking decisions and taking action. It can be equally problematic for you as a project manager.
Leave the most important decision to you, and don’t try to make them someone else’s responsibility. Only with time and going out of your comfort zone, you will get better and you will gain confidence. And we all know, confidence is important for any aspect of our lives.
Try not to delay making important decisions, but also do not rush them. Create a calm atmosphere and dedicate some of your time to look at your plans and have the mental clarity to make the best decisions possible for this current moment.
Overall, it’s crucial that a project manager can inspire, coordinate, and have good soft skills.
This brings us to the next point.
What Makes a Good Project Manager?
When avoiding mistakes, naturally we are left with room for improvement. We have more time and mental energy to focus on how to do our job better. There are small things a manager can do, that make the job more pleasant and rewarding.
A good manager always tries to improve. And here are some things worth improving.
1. Empathize with team and clients
Empathy is caring and it is a key to understanding what people need and in your case – the key to understanding your client’s needs and your team’s needs. Which results in a better working environment and returning, happy clients.
Think of it like that – if you don’t care and listen to what your team members have to say; if you are not responsive to the client – what will be the end result? Probably and sadly, failure – because people won’t like and want to work with you if their needs are not met.
2. Handle conflict better
You will learn to handle conflicts better with time. Don’t expect to be perfect from the very beginning. The best way to do that is to never run away from it. Unsolved issues always reoccur and that can affect your projects.
A good tip is to stay neutral, keep your positive attitude and listen attentively to the sides in the conflict. Then, spend some time finding a happy medium for the parties involved.
If the client is trying to get into a conflict with you, don’t try to be defensive, be open to dialogue, and if you can’t come up with a solution to the client’s concerns, politely tell them you will get as soon as possible with a solution. That way, you will have some time to react and make a plan for action. The client will be happy that you took the initiative too.
3. Take responsibility for the outcome of each team member’s job
A good manager is also a mentor to the team members. They educate and elevate team members and are responsible for creating an environment that enables the team to do their job.
It’s also the project manager’s responsibility to check the quality and outcome of the team members’ tasks. Having a dedicated QA expert also counts.
What’s important is to never send products to the client, which are not checked for meeting certain standards.
4. Come up with suggestions for problem areas in a project
Always try to improve your work processes. It’s again the role of the manager to suggest solutions to problems in a project. Even if the manager doesn’t have the specific details and knowledge about a problem, they could always turn to a colleague, who can explain the situation.
5. Stay organized and always have a good overview of the project
Ah, that sounds scary, doesn’t it? Staying organized can be a difficult task but that’s a great reason to work on it.
You should always have a good overview of your project and what is happening with it.
Fortunately, there are many software tools that can help you stay on top of your game and take care of the complex coordination for you.
6. Stay ahead of possible problems, risks, and conflicts
If you stay organized, then you have more time to predict possible future risks, problems, and conflicts. In short, if you have more time for planning, you spend less on organizing.
Research shows that most of the projects fail because of poor planning, meaning also a poor assessment of possible risks, problems, and uncertainties.
So make sure to leave some more of your space and time dedicated to planning and predictions.
That said, one of the most important responsibilities of a project manager is NOT to micromanage but predict a few steps ahead of how a project will develop and be active in making general decisions, and then delegate tasks. Planning is more important than fixing mistakes later.
Not in the last place, a good project manager will aim at always improving communication – both internally with the team and externally with the client.
What Should the Project Manager Do?
Here are some extra tips on what actions should project managers take to successfully manage projects and teams:
1. Have a meeting with an agenda and a plan
Prepare before a meeting, and involve the team in problem-solving and planning. When managing a project you will have to coordinate things with the people involved. Don’t make the mistake of having meetings only for the sake of it. It’s not productive and it will confuse the team. If you stick to important issues in your meetings, your team will be more attentive – they will know, that the meetings have a purpose and a goal.
It’s a good practice to ask your team for their involvement – tell them about the meeting in advance, ask them to write down questions, problems they encountered, and so on. As much as you want, you can’t see all that’s happening in a project and the feedback from your colleagues can give you useful insights, and why not, help in even preventing future problems.
Besides, everyone would be happy to contribute to a better working environment and meetings are a great way to open a conversation.
2. Monitor closely budget and resources
Make decisions based on facts and figures, not assumptions. This point can be very specific to the field that you are in. The general idea here is to be mindful of the technical aspects of a project and to keep an eye on budget, changes, etc. It’s not a good idea to eyeball things with projects, where many things are at stake and there are many dependencies.
3. Don’t blame team members for failures
It’s a no-no to be negative with team members. If you are in charge, if you are the project manager, they expect you to be leading the project. Of course, they have to be professional, but you will be the most charged with responsibility for the outcome of your project.
It’s proven, that employees react 3 times better to positive feedback than negative. So one of the roles of the project manager is to address possible problems with a very careful tone.
Once that you’ve acknowledged and analyzed what went wrong, you can try and prevent it the next time. Part of your success will lie in communicating to your team how you can improve, what’s the strategy for the next project, but as we said, don’t start (or finish) with blaming!
4. Be realistic
No matter if it comes to budget, team resource, or time, you will have to try to predict what can delay your project. It might be an important team member on sick leave, new projects, unexpected spending, depending on vendors, etc.
It’s always better to say to the client that you can complete a project in 7 days, instead of 6.
5. Get official approval from the client for any changes incorporated in the project
More often than not, there will be things, which weren’t obvious and taken into account in the planning.
The client might want an additional feature to their project. You might need another solution and resources for the client’s problem.
Think carefully about what will affect the time and budget and seek the client’s approval on time. No one likes surprises!
Of course, you don’t have to share every little detail with the client – if you need to allocate one team member to another task and you find someone else who can replace him/her – that’s not really a concern for the client, as long as you can provide the same quality.
6. Steer clear from micromanaging
Yes, being a project manager is a very responsible job, with a lot of tasks and things to coordinate. But this doesn’t mean that you have to get involved in the tiniest of details.
Learn to delegate some of your responsibilities to the more experienced team member – this way, you have more time for better planning and strategizing and your team members are happy that they take responsibility too!
7. Decide what’s important and what not
Don’t overwhelm team members with unnecessary information; still, inform them who else is affected by their tasks.
Same as sharing information with the client – the key here is to share only what you think it’s necessary. And don’t worry, you will find your balance with time.
Encourage team members to discuss a shared project, to learn what the other team members are doing. Often, looking at colleagues’ work, you realize how your own tasks are affecting their job.
That said, don’t miss the opportunity to optimize your work and increase productivity by keeping your team well informed!
8. Revisit project plans often
Unfortunately, your job as a project manager will not end with receiving the client’s brief, making a plan, and dividing the work between the team members. You will have to revisit your plans often and see if everything is still on track.
9. Report with the team
Share what worked and what did not during a project. This will create a feeling of shared responsibility and will give an opportunity for the team to improve.
Once you’ve completed a project, it’s crucial to evaluate and reflect on it. Take notes for yourself, but also prepare some relevant for your team.
It’s not only you that can get better at your job but also the people you are working with!
Even if you are not working with the same team next time, you can be glad, that you helped them with useful feedback.
10. Asks for feedback
Giving feedback and reporting with the team is important, but even more crucial is to ask for feedback from your client.
At the end of the day, you manage projects for them, and you should keep your clients happy.
Most of the time, they will be glad to give you constructive feedback, and as a result, you will be able to deliver even better results next time!
Once that you’ve familiarized yourself with the roles and responsibilities of a project manager, you are now ready to consider who is the best fit for the role in your company or if you yourself can do the job. That surely raises the next question:
Is Project Management Stressful?
There is no short answer to this question. There are many things to take into consideration – the person’s experience, social skills, interest in planning, and organization. And many people will perceive the roles of a project manager differently – some will like it, others will dread it.
Looking at the comments and opinions in business communities, reading some researches, you will find that being a project manager could be a stressful job. At the same time, there are ways to make your job more enjoyable for you.
Keep in mind that, working as a project manager:
1. It will get better with experience
Experience, adaptability, awareness, and soft skills help a lot in making the job easier. Some things to always watch out for are: limited and poor resources and unrealistic client expectations – they can always hinder the project’s delivery on time, within budget and scope, no matter how experienced you are.
2. You should plan twice, execute once
Good, thorough planning – forecasting and removing as much uncertainty as possible is crucial to decreasing stress around a project manager’s job. Thus said, extra time spent on planning + some years of practice will save a lot of unforeseen crises and overall the project will run smoother.
3. Learn to avoid burnouts – recharge
Burnout is a potential hazard and because of juggling too many tasks at once, a project manager should find a way to rest and turn off their brain outside working hours.
You will find that being a project manager can be challenging, but exciting and highly rewarding when you see the positive results of your work! If you’re interested in learning more about project management, we recommend you to proceed with The 12 Project Management Best Practices You Can Start Implementing Now.