What is a Project Manager?

by Natalie Ward
, 4 min read
what is a project manager

What comes to mind when you hear the title project manager?

Do you picture the lead on a new version of a software product? Or maybe you visualize the person overseeing the design and build of a new site for a growing company? What about the expert in manufacturing pushing improvement in the production process of medical devices?


See "How to be a Better Project Manager: 81 Tips from PM Experts" for advice on honing your project management skills.


You'll also find a project manager (or often a traffic manager) at an agency driving the latest campaign deliverables to completion for a major retailer.

Whatever industry you imagine, the role of a project manager refers to the professional charged with overseeing the five processes of project management including: initiating, planning, executing, monitoring, and closing or delivering a project.

Even more simply defined, project managers decide what it is that needs to be done, when it will need to be done by, and how much it will all cost.

"Project management is about combining the What, the How, and the Why to reduce stress and allow us all to go home with a smile on our faces each Friday." – Frank Ryle, PMP

But let's take a closer look at the position. In reality, the role of project manager is anything but simple. Like the projects they manage, there is a fairly complex list to the actual job requirements, which include:

  • Develop and communicate an effective work plan based on objectives.
  • Acquire, allocate, and manage appropriate resources.
  • Set priorities and assign deadlines.
  • Navigate and overcome unforeseen obstacles.
  • Deliver quality project deliverables.
  • And, do it all on time and on budget.

Quite an undertaking!

In order to successfully handle that list, a good project manager will have certain traits and abilities. It's fairly obvious that great organization skills are a must.

A few more helpful traits for a project manager include the ability to be comfortable with constant change and adapt plans accordingly, the foresight to set achievable outcomes, and analytical skills to help determine actionable timeframes and deadlines.

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During the daily grind of project management, it is key to be able to shift back and forth between managing the everyday workflow and the big picture.

It's imperative to focus on the seemingly small, yet critical, details of the tasks and not lose sight of the bigger picture—to process how the project is fulfilling the strategic goals. A good project manager will also be able to interpret how the project can help the business evolve and succeed.

This toolkit of skills is enhanced when a project manager takes the time to cultivate good people skills. Clear communication with team members and stakeholders increases collaboration, builds trust, and improves problem solving.

It's clear to see why good project managers are becoming more valuable in organizations of all kinds and increasing in demand worldwide. The Project Management Institute (PMI) explains:

"Project managers are change agents: they make project goals their own and use their skills and expertise to inspire a sense of shared purpose within the project team.

They are organized, passionate and goal-oriented (people) who understand what projects have in common, and their strategic role in how organizations succeed, learn and change."

When it comes to the tactical aspects of the job, experts agree there are certain practices that successful project managers learn to do well. No PM wants to land in the project management hall of shame.

In a recent compilation titled "Project Leadership: Lessons from 40 PPM Experts," project management professionals share their personal insight on success. Three common themes rise to the top to be an effective leader:

Create Visibility

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Optimize a team's time and talent by balancing each person's strengths, abilities, and workload.

A successful project manager will establish the role of a gatekeeper and know how to best allocate available resources and shift workloads when necessary.

One way to do this is to centralize work requests by standardizing the request processes—create one way to request work and one place for incoming and ongoing work to reside.

This will improve resource planning and create visibility across the team so that no one person is overworked. It also puts an end to ad-hoc requests that easily pile up and sideline the workflow.

Develop Processes

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Regardless of the methodology a team uses, efficient processes are needed to get projects from start to finish.

One way to establish consistency is to create standard templates and timelines that everyone can follow.

Outlining recurring steps and resources needed for every activity will ensure that critical tasks aren't overlooked or done in the wrong order. Once a template contains all of the necessary tasks in the correct order, timeline thresholds can be added to complete each step.

Defined work processes will help avoid rework and meet specified timeframes.

Ensure Effective Communication

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Balance the importance of the process with the importance of your people.

A key step in managing multiple deadlines and projects is regular communication between project managers and team members. Effective communication will help build trust among the team. It also helps everyone cope with and adjust to changes in workflow together.

Plan brief, but regular, status updates to help manage work and enhance collaboration. Clarify the goal of the meeting is to identify relevant issues, ask questions, and seek out solutions together. This will help create a responsive and adaptive environment.


Interested in more project management insights? Read more from the ebook Project Leadership: Lessons from 40 PPM Experts or check out the "A-Z Guide on Project Management" for more project management terms defined.

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