What Is a Project Manager and How Can You Become One?

What Is a Project Manager and How Can You Become One?

A joke says: “A good project manager makes updates. A bad project manager makes up dates.” You can easily find a project manager job description, but you would need to dive deeper into the topic to understand the joke.

  • A lack of defined milestones and project objectives leads to 37% of projects failing.
  • 80% of companies and organizations spend half their time on rework.
  • 27% of projects usually run over budget.

So, what is a project manager (PM) exactly? A PM is an expert with a wide range of competencies that enable them to implement the project in the context of existing opportunities and limitations. The roles of a project manager may vary depending on the objectives, goals, deadlines, and resources.

In this article, we collected the most relevant facts and insights on the topic of becoming a project manager.

Project Manager Role

What is the role of a project manager? A PM is a middle manager who takes responsibility for the project implementation. A project is any time-limited activity that produces a unique result. 

Projects can be anything from developing software or a service to building a skyscraper. If the project is completed on time, within the budget, and meets the customer's expectations, the project manager has successfully performed the task.

Responsibilities

The project manager's responsibilities depend on many factors: available time, budgets and resources, project size, and the company’s business field or niche. However, PMs across industries have a common set of tasks.

Which of the following are typically the responsibility of a project manager?

  • Project management (quality control, time, budgets, and risks)
  • Communication with the customer (coordination of plans, deadlines, requirements, and budgets)
  • Project team management
  • Project and technical documentation maintenance:
  • Calendar plans
  • Technical tasks
  • Functional requirements
  • Financial statements, etc.
  • Participation in tenders and contracting
  • Post-project customer management and additional sales

The listed responsibilities require certain skills and personal qualities.

Skills

There are no specific project management skills. Depending on the project, experienced PMs need to know a bit of everything. The most desirable line in a CV often is general business knowledge

As for the personal qualities of a project manager, leading HR experts point out a list of classic soft skills every PM should consider developing. 

  • Managerial skills: Analytical approach to solving problems, critical thinking, task setting within time management, and a leadership attitude to business.
  • Social skills: Teamwork attitude and ability to delegate, ability to hear and listen, and the talent to quickly resolve disputable and conflict situations within the team.
  • Personal qualities: Self-discipline and self-organization, self-confidence in decision-making, stress-resistance, and excellent communication skills.

For example, you may not need to have deep knowledge of programming in IT projects. Yet, you need to be able to give accurate and detailed tasks to the developers. This role implies ensuring that your team members have all the information necessary for successful project completion.

Project Manager: Benefits for Your Company

What does a project manager do? In general terms, PMs ensure efficient and seamless communication inside the team and with a customer. Harvard Business Review highlighted the four main types of project managers.

  1. Prophets

This type of manager works with projects that lie beyond the existing strategy in areas where there is very little data to predict the likelihood of success. The prophets bring a fresh vision to the organization and make others believe in this idea.

  1. Gamblers

These managers work with projects that are part of the company's strategy but don’t have reliable business cases to prove their likelihood of success. The players persuade their employees to place a bet on a good idea without justifying their point of view.

  1. Experts

This type of manager works with possibilities and options outside of the existing strategy but can be validated by data. The experts call on staff to pay attention to new trends confirmed by credible cases.

  1. Executors

These managers work with projects that are part of the company's strategy and supported by data. There are no risks in realizing these capabilities. They simply need to be carried out qualitatively. The executors use analytics and case studies to persuade other team members to implement strategically significant projects.

To specify, PMs are responsible for:

  • Communication with a client. Project managers should understand the client’s needs and desires and transform them into clear requirements and metrics. This includes both initial project assessment and ongoing feedback.
  • Interactions with the team. Basically, a PM fulfills the role of a bridge between a client and IT professionals. It’s important to establish open communication based on respect and transparency with both parties. 
  • Project planning and supervision. While developers have daily or weekly tasks on their agenda, a PM should have a clear long-term vision to prioritize the tasks to ensure smooth software development. 

An accurate project manager description should focus on the idea that a PM is not the boss but rather an essential link that makes the overall work process more effective, structured, and coherent.

Project Manager vs. Team Leader

What is a project manager in relation to a team leader?

Many people commonly confuse the PM’s and team leader’s roles. Now, let us see the differences between the questions "What does a project manager do?” and “What does a team leader do?”

A team leader (TL), as the name suggests, leads a team that is involved in the tech side of the project implementation. TLs are specialists with deep professional knowledge and long-term experience in what their teams focus on. While the PM of a software development project may no have professional programming skills, the TL must be an experienced developer.

A team leader is a special link between project managers and each team member. According to the tasks set by the PMs, TLs monitor the process within the team, controls the task quality individually, and report the results to the PMs.

For example, in custom software development, a TL is the person who is responsible for everything concerning the actual development process. They have rich functionality - assessing the client's request, estimating the project’s volume and time, taking into account the risks, assigning tasks within the team with maximum efficiency, planning, and launching releases. They even motivate the team to work and participate in key release presentations to the customer.

Teamwork is a sophisticated mechanism, and if you pull out at least one part of it, the entire mechanism will go out of order. PMs provide global project management, while TL’s focus on the activity-related detail. The roles of a project manager and a team leader cannot be interchangeable, but an effective management mechanism perfectly complements them.

What Does It Take to Become a Good Project Manager?

Any project manager job description posted on main recruitment platforms may give you some general idea of the most common requirements. This role is the most suitable for highly multitasking people with exceptional communication skills. Besides, PM must always be ready to learn something new. 

Many PMs are recruited by the companies providing outsourcing services. In this case, in addition to technical knowledge within the company, PMs become pros in the client's business – anything from dog food production to selling building supplies.

Project manager responsibilities define the role’s professional development. An ideal PM:

  • Understands the client’s real needs and can offer the necessary functionality – they can explain why the current project’s stage requires (or doesn’t require) additional features;
  • Processes tasks, divides them into small subtasks, and delegates them according to wise resource management;
  • Sees the whole project and understands that the plan is not just a paper for a report but a real road map to the successful project’s completion for the entire team;
  • Manages risks and is ready to fix all the problems timely and efficiently.

How to be a project manager?

There are many real-life stories of successful PMs. Some come to this profession having expensive university degrees in business. Some start from internships or junior positions. However, all experts agree that continuous self-learning is the key to success. Today’s online education options are plenty and can be helpful for both beginners and experienced professionals. Here are some:

  • edX, a massive online learning platform created by MIT and Harvard, offers programs and courses in leadership and project management.
  • Coursera, one of the biggest online course providers founded by Stanford University, provides a wide range of courses in project management for all levels.
  • Udemy, a large American online education provider, is another option for professionals in project management in different fields.

Final Thoughts

What does a project manager do? In general terms, effective project management involves efficient resource allocation. Once resources are assigned to specific tasks, the responsibility area moves towards workload management. It’s important to have a good strategy and necessary tools to avoid conflicts and complexities and ensure that the project is carried out by non-overworked staff with maximum performance.

A highly skilled project manager is an essential part of a successful team. This role requires responsibility, adaptability, analytical and strategic thinking, determination, stress resistance, and even a love for risky actions. Such a specialist understands the client's needs and pains and can effectively translate your ideas to the team to ensure your project's smooth and successful completion.

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