Key Roles the Project Manager Often Plays on Projects
By Brad Egeland
It’s not secret that project managers wear a variety of hats on nearly every project they manage. Exactly what hats they wear usually depends on several things – the complexity of the project, the culture of the organization, how much authority the PM is given, and sometimes even how the customer wants the project manager to lead the project (important customers tend to have a lot of weight on some projects). I’ve asked around, started discussions in forums and social media, and the roles that seem to come up the most often in people’s minds are these four…so I’d like to discuss them here and get your feedback as well. The four that are often mentioned are:
The strong leader. This is probably an obvious one, but remember what a PM must do as a leader. They must lead individuals for whom they do not have direct responsibility. They must lead a customer they don’t know that much about…yet. They must listen well, speak well, encourage often, agree, disagree, make on the spot decisions often without enough information, and they must do all of this while taking on full responsibility for a project where many things will happen – both good and bad – that they likely can’t control. It’s a tough leadership position to take on.
The ‘no’ person. The ability to say ‘no’ – to the customer who is off base in their notion of what they need and what the project should be, to the team member who disagrees with the path the project is on, to executive management who may be taking an action that is negatively affecting the project – is critical to the role of project manager. Agreeing is easier, but the project manager must be stubborn – must be willing to stick to their decisions and stay focused on the success of the project. It isn’t about making friends, it’s about doing what is right for the success of the engagement overall.
The expert communicator. I will never sway from my stance that the key role of the project manager is that of effective and efficient communicator. If the PM fails in this role, there is very little hope for the project to succeed. All project communication happens with the project manager – it all needs to go through this one position. And if it doesn’t – if critical communication routinely circumvents the process and goes around the PM – then the project is likely headed for disaster.
The PM is the central point for project status, project meetings, emails, revised schedules, issues tracking, risk tracking, and budget management. And if the project manager is a poor communicator, then even if all communication flows through the PM it may not be utilized properly and miscommunication and erroneous and dangerous decision-making can be the result.
The change agent. By definition a project is change. It is a one-off effort to introduce a new solution or revise a process within an organization. The project manager is delivering change with every project he manages. The project manager is the change agent and sometimes has to work hard to knock down barriers to change within an organization. They must work well with others inside the business or with the client to make that change happen and to help that change to be accepted.
That’s four….there are many many more hats that we wear as project managers…I just can’t list them all here. And sometimes they happen so fast that you don’t even think about it. One time I had to report to two major milt-million dollar project clients – giants in their industry – that my company’s CEO was a fraud and had just taken his own life as the FBI, IRS and Treasury Department were closing in on him. I’m not sure what hat that fell under but it was one I don’t want to revisit anytime soon.
How about you – what key roles stand out to you as ones that the project manager must regularly fill in their leadership role within the organization?