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9 min read

What does a project manager do? Role and responsibilities

Wondering what project managers do? Discover their roles, responsibilities, and required skills to prepare for this new and challenging career path.
From Team '23

Tempo Team

If you’re a new project manager, or considering becoming one, you may be wondering, “What does a project manager do, exactly?” From a high level, it may seem like the role’s primary goal is setting schedules. However, the role of a project manager is complex and challenging, requiring a diverse range of skills for success. 

Learning about the importance of this specialized team member, including the position and responsibilities, will help you excel as a project manager or determine if the career path is right for you.

Here’s what you need to know before becoming a successful project manager.

What’s a project manager?

A project manager is a leadership position found in a wide variety of industries. Often confused with product managers, project managers are responsible for planning, overseeing, and delivering the outcomes of a business initiative. Product managers, on the other hand, possess expertise in a particular product type and industry, overseeing all aspects of its development and production.

Project management involves managing risks, problem-solving, and working with team members to ensure initiatives run on schedule and within budget 

Roles and responsibilities of a project manager

The project management process is consistent no matter your industry. Whether you're a software development, marketing, or construction project manager, the aim is to successfully deliver the required outcomes by ensuring the team works efficiently and productively from beginning to end.

A project’s life cycle breaks down into five distinct phases, each demanding unique responsibilities from the manager.

1. Initiation: Define the scope

Project managers are responsible for establishing and documenting the initiative’s: 

  • Goals

  • Deliverables

  • Tasks

  • Costs

  • Deadlines

Together, these items determine the project’s scope, which identifies expectations and assigns responsibilities while providing focus for the team’s activities. Scope also stipulates procedures and criteria for approval of individual task outcomes. In other words, it describes what a successful outcome looks like.

During initiation, the manager is also responsible for effectively communicating scope outlines to stakeholders, securing buy-in, and building alignment by connecting outcomes to long-term strategic goals. 

2. Planning: Outline tasks and manage resources

After gaining scope approval and establishing goals, it’s time to outline how the team will achieve their objectives. Managers create a project plan defining tasks, completion schedules, and required resources. 

Resource management is one of the trickier tasks facing project managers. Because resources are always limited, managers need an accurate estimation of workloads to properly allocate. Project management software helps track team capacity and resource availability, making it a valuable tool for maintaining momentum.

3. Execution: Supervise the team

While defining a solid plan and effectively budgeting resources will take managers far on their project journey, successfully getting over the finish line requires keeping team members focused. Leaders actively manage project activities to prevent or address deviations from scope. Risk assessment can help identify potential issues, and tracking timelines and resources can ensure delivery according to schedule. PMP’s lead troubleshooting when things go wrong, ensuring the solution supports the desired objectives.

4. Monitor and control: Communicate progress with stakeholders

Project managers establish a communication plan to regularly update stakeholders on the work's progress. They also use their communication skills to motivate team members. They must promote smooth operations by navigating conflict, building team alignment, and ensuring everyone feels valued. It's an often overlooked responsibility, but a PMP can increase productivity by 13% by keeping employees happy.

5. Closure: Document and report progress

From charters and work breakdown structures to lessons learned, project managers track every decision, process, and outcome to make replicating success easier and avoid repeating errors. 

They present these findings during a post-mortem meeting held soon after project completion, allowing team members to contribute their insights while still fresh in their minds. This information can help improve the manager’s practice, identify where the team excelled, and reveal potential improvements. 

Project manager skills

Pursuing project management certification requires more than proficiency in creating schedules and perfecting management software use. Here are some core competencies to consider developing to enjoy a successful project management career.

Great communication

As a PMP, you’re responsible for communicating with team members and external stakeholders to keep everyone on track and updated on progress and developments. You need to understand the different audiences to provide the right amount of information at the right time. And you must rely on your powers of persuasion, encouraging compromise where needed and securing buy-in from stakeholders.

Leadership

Guiding a group toward success can be challenging and requires leadership skills like:

  • Active listening

  • Negotiation

  • Conflict management

  • Delegation

  • Team building

Developing these capacities and others will contribute to your ability to deliver a successful project while ensuring a smoother process and a pleasant working environment.

Time management

Managing a project team's time is a big part of the job description. When managers set an effective schedule, it results in more than the successful delivery of the desired outcomes. Productive time management also avoids cost overruns due to overtime payouts and protects your staff from burnout caused by working long hours.

Problem-solving

Projects rarely run perfectly, and leaders must be flexible and think on their feet to prevent a problem from derailing their team’s efforts. When faced with inevitable challenges, critical thinking and risk assessment become invaluable management tools. 

Organization

At its core, project management is all about organization. You need to optimize processes and schedule workflows for maximum efficiency and allocate resources according to priorities. In addition, you’ll lead the charge on establishing a centralized documentation archive that’s accessible to the team.

A day in the life of a project manager

A project manager's daily activities follow a similar framework, but that doesn't mean you're fated to a monotonous work regimen. Issues with internal and external factors will invariably pop up, shifting priorities and introducing challenges that keep you on your toes. 

The best way to wrangle these scenarios is to implement the following best practices and establish a daily routine to help you keep your head above water.

Analyze the day’s circumstances

Upon arriving at the office or work site, review your projects' status to determine if any critical issues require immediate attention. Triage the challenges based on resources and timelines to establish the day’s priorities.

Keep a pulse on each project

Once you’ve scheduled your day’s activities based on project priorities, you can tackle the most pressing tasks in short bursts of activity. This approach lets you stay on top of each initiative’s progress and avoid roadblocks, which is especially important when working on multiple initiatives.

Prepare for meetings

PMP’s often lead or facilitate meetings, which requires preparation. Bring up-to-date status reports and familiarize yourself with any pressing issues that need attention. You should arrive at a meeting ready to answer questions and problem-solve. And having the correct information on hand improves meeting productivity, keeping the team engaged and focused while reducing the need for follow-up work and additional gatherings.

Keep track of the status with timely updates

Encourage communication and transparency by requesting daily status reports from the project’s cross-functional team. It doesn’t have to be an in-depth analysis but must offer a bird's eye view of the team’s performance and achievements. These updates allow you to monitor potential risks and help the team identify proactive steps to avoid any problems.

Close out the day

Before shutting down the laptop, review the day’s progress, noting whether you achieved the goals set in the morning. Send out any final emails and create a to-do list for the following day to tie up any loose ends you didn’t complete. Using this management methodology, you ensure that nothing falls off the radar and provide structure for tomorrow.

What makes an outstanding PM?

Simply developing management skills isn’t enough. To rise to the top of the project management field, you must find creative ways to go above and beyond your peers. Here are several ways to establish or expand your practice and make yourself stand out in the industry.

Seek feedback

It’s very difficult to self-assess. Only 7% of people can accurately review their abilities in alignment with external standards, making it challenging to identify areas for improvement alone. Top-performing PMPs solicit positive and negative feedback from team members and other parties to identify their strengths and weaknesses and find ways to perfect their performance. 

Motivate team members

High performers understand the difference between managing and leading a team. A manager simply operates within given constraints to produce desired outcomes, while a leader establishes the team’s vision, inspiring and motivating members to deliver the best results. 

The best project managers fill both roles simultaneously, recruiting the right people for the team and aligning everyone’s interests toward a common goal regardless of individual agendas. 

Align priorities

Identifying and working toward essential priorities, often called critical success factors (CSFs), is vital to a project team’s success. The PM accomplishes this by:

  • Correctly identifying CSFs

  • Allocating resources to CSFs

  • Establishing appropriate risk management strategies

  • Ensuring the team remains focused on the project’s priorities

  • Preventing anyone from highjacking CSFs

By fulfilling these responsibilities, managers keep their teams operating on the straight and narrow, ensuring outcomes meet the success criteria outlined in the planning phase. 

Becoming certified by the Project Management Institute (PMI) is only the tip of the iceberg. To become a great project manager, you must continually hone and expand your skills. Only through practice will you reach the top of your career path. Thankfully, there’s plenty of opportunity to do so.

Get the job done with the best project management tools

A project management position demands responsibilities that would challenge even the most organized employee. But with the best tools for the job, you’ll be equipped to complete your initiatives successfully and lead your team to success. 

Tempo’s Strategic Roadmaps makes project planning easy by organizing tasks into an easy-to-read blueprint that team members can use to plot their workflows. Timesheets, Tempo’s time tracking software, gives managers an overview of resources and staffing, providing visibility into progress and availability. 

Explore Tempo today to learn how its robust tools and solutions can help you achieve your project goals.