The main job of any project manager is to organize people and manage different tasks in order to reach a specific goal. What that goal or “project” is can vary widely. Sometimes it is the publication of a report or the organization of a conference; it can also be the completion of a building or remodel, or the execution of an interior design scheme. Though the settings can be very different, managers do share some universal attributes. All focus on managing people, for one thing, and all require a broad view of the individual tasks that need to be accomplished in order for the goal to be reached. Much of a project manager’s job involves setting a master plan of action, then making sure that all the pieces are in place to see that plan through to completion.
Project managers are essentially leaders who organize action in a particular direction. They have usually been tasked with completing something specific, then provided with a staff — often called a “team” — to help reach the goal. Managers usually start by breaking the larger end-goal into smaller pieces, then setting internal deadlines for completion of each component. Calendaring is an important part of the job, as are regular staff reviews and pep talks, if needed.
Many project management experts say that, to be successful, a manager must balance four main areas. He or she must understand the scope of the project. The manager must find the right people and materials, and use them effectively. All tasks must be scheduled so that they are completed on time. The project manager must also make sure that the project is completed within the budget assigned to it.
Importance of Coordination
One of the most important parts of a project manager’s job is personnel coordination. The manager must be able to create teams that will be effective and motivated to produce consistently good work. The ability to delegate tasks and responsibilities is essential, and managers have to be willing to step in and make changes if a problem or delay occurs.
To coordinate a project successfully, the manager needs to be aware of what each team member is doing and whether or not that person will meet his or her deadlines. Many project managers use special software programs to help them track this. This software often allows team members to discuss the project with each other, see project to-do lists and who is responsible for what tasks, and share files and documents. It can also allow managers to see which tasks are on schedule and where the project stands in terms of the budget. This type of software is especially valuable for large projects and teams.
Office-Based Conceptual Projects
In corporate and other offices, most of the projects that need the attention of a manager have to do with research and writing. Shareholder reports, major summaries of findings, and publications put out by scientific labs or non-profit organizations are often complex endeavors that require many different steps to move from the “idea stage” through to completion. Project managers in these settings usually act as information coordinators, making sure that all of the needed elements come together in the right way.
Office projects typically require a lot of in-person collaboration, which the project manager usually organizes. He or she keeps track of who is doing what either by scheduling interviews or tracking progress electronically, usually through databases or digital communication like e-mail. Team leaders are also usually responsible for preparing the final product, which includes proofreading and last-minute changes. The success or failure of the project is typically on the manager’s shoulders, and he or she must be able to justify all choices to corporate superiors.
Executing Physical Projects
It is often a lot easier to see the day-to-day workings of a project manager when the project is something tangible, like a construction or landscaping endeavor. In these settings, managers usually act as site leaders, making sure that all team members have a job and understand what it is, exactly, that they are meant to do. This sort of leader is usually responsible for arranging for all needed tools and supplies, and must also acts as the communications go-between for the people who own the land or building being worked on and those coordinating the work that is to be done. This job often requires a combination of office-based planning and actual site visits and coordination.
Skills and Experience Needed to Get the Job
It usually takes a lot of experience in order to land a project manager’s job. Most of the time, managers are chosen from within an organization — that is, they are selected based on their experience actually doing the sort of work that needs to be managed and coordinated. A lot depends on the industry and the project at issue, but advanced education either in the field of focus or in business or personnel management can also be helpful.
Many people who are interested in taking on project management roles take classes to become certified. Programs are offered by a number of different schools, although the Project Management Institute's Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification is widely respected. It is increasingly common for companies that hire outside project managers to specifically mention these credentials in their job advertisements.