Here’s the truth: There’s no standardized list of project manager roles and responsibilities.
The primary role of the project manager is to organize and motivate people to do the work in a controlled way that will help to achieve the project’s goal. Sometimes, a project manager needs to select and build a project management approach suitable for the given project.
Project Management Institute also encompasses a considerable list of roles and responsibilities. Nevertheless, you might not encounter them all in your company.
So, what should be the baseline for you in your current organization and on your given project?
I’ve worked as a project manager for ten years in different companies. The roles and responsibilities of a project manager vary depending on the culture of the organization.
In this article, I will explain the essential roles and responsibilities. You need to select the one you can fulfill.
- Full List of Project Manager’s Responsibilities.
- What Does a Project Manager Actually Do?
- In-depth Review of Five Key Roles of a PM.
- In-depth Analysis of Responsibilities of a Project Manager.
- Responsibilities that No One Talks About.
- What is not the main responsibility of a Project Manager?
Let’s jump right in:
Full List of Project Manager’s Responsibilities
Why are employers pay you big money for being on a project?
There’s a lot you can do. Moreover, you need to do everything possible (within ethical conduct) to reach project objectives.
However, not all of your activities are useful.
Here’s what a good project manager is responsible for!
(If someone ever tells you that a project manager does nothing on a project, show him or her this list.)
- Has ultimate responsibility for the project’s success.
- He’s the main communication point with a Client.
- Promotes a productive and collaborative environment.
- Controls and enhances the positive effects of cultural differences.
- Ensures professional interaction between team and stakeholders.
- Ensures collaboration within the team.
- Resolves personal conflicts.
- Enforces personal responsibility.
- Protects the team from internal politics.
- Assists during the pre-sale process.
- Helps to produce Project Charter.
- Identifies all key stakeholders.
- Develops a strategy to work with all stakeholders.
- Selects appropriate processes for the project.
- Sets up a collaboration with global and virtual teams.
- Explains the project life cycle and processes to stakeholders.
- Coordinates work between the project and key stakeholders.
- Integrates all pieces of a project into a whole.
- Works with stakeholders to identify constraints and assumptions.
- Is responsible for producing the Project Management Plan.
- Leads and facilitates the planning process.
- Ensures collaboration of the team and stakeholders during planning.
- Identifies dependencies of project activities.
- Enforces risk management processes.
- Analyses required time and cost reserves.
- Identifies the required level of quality for the project.
- Selects and controls processes that can deliver the required quality.
- Is responsible for developing a realistic schedule.
- Participates in procurement processes.
- Creates Change Management Plan.
- Actively avoids changes.
- Controls implementation of approved changes.
- Assists the team during project execution.
- Works with stakeholders to meet their expectations.
- Ensures that deliverables are accepted by the customer.
- Works with the team to keep as close as possible to the Plan.
- Moves the project towards its goal on a daily basis.
- Uses metrics to control project progress.
- Communicates project progress to key stakeholders.
- Keeps the focus of the team on Risk Management throughout the project.
- Spends time to improve processes.
- Works to improve project and product quality.
- Motivates the project team.
- Ensures that people leave the project motivated.
- Holds team-building activities.
- Casts his vision of a successful project and product.
- Develops team members both for project and organizational benefits.
- Organizes performance reviews.
- Solves problems.
- Controls the project in all aspects (scope, time, costs, risks, quality, etc.)
- Analyses variances with the Project Management Plan.
- Determines whether a change request is needed to get back on track.
- Performs project closure.
- Ensures all contract obligations are closed.
- Logs lessons learned.
- Updates the organization’s knowledge base.
That’s a huge list of responsibilities. The Project Management Culture in your organization may not require you to fulfill them all.
We’ll analyze the general responsibilities below.
But it doesn’t help understand this:
What Does a Project Manager Do?
I remember when I was fresh and new to project management. I always felt the need to fill in the gaps in the team.
Someone is slowing down – I’m here to help and push forward.
I’m a bit of a designer, partially a quality assurance guy, sort of business analyst, and the rest for the administrator. Jack of all trades.
Now I understand that as a project manager I can contribute to the project success without working directly on the project deliverables.
So, how should a project manager act? What is his role?
Before answering that, you need to understand what a project manager is designed to do.
A Day In the Life of a Project Manager
If you want to know what it feels to be a Project Manager check these series.
These are real-life five days work on one of my software development projects.
What is the Role of a Project Manager (According to PMI)?
Project Management Institute (PMI) has its own definition:
“The project manager is is the person assigned by the performing organization to lead the team that is responsible for achieving the project objectives.”
– PMBOK Guide sixth edition
You can fit anything you want into this definition.
There is nothing about specific processes, tools, knowledge, or skills.
There is nothing about the size and complexity of a project.
It doesn’t specify the required level of experience for a PM.
However, did you noticed that?
A project manager is a leader first of all!
So, I would highly suggest improving your leadership skills.
Difference Between Roles and Responsibilities in Project Management
Usually, people mix up the roles and responsibilities of a project manager together.
It brings too much uncertainty.
Let’s draw a line between the two:
A Role is a function or a model of behavior that you must follow. For example, the role of a proactive problem solver.
A Responsibility is something that it is your job or duty to deal with. For example, a responsibility to report progress to project stakeholders.
Now, let’s review the Roles of a Project Manager.
5 Roles of a Project Manager: In-Depth Analysis
“Project managers function as bandleaders who pull together their players each a specialist with individual score and internal rhythm. Under the leader’s direction, they all respond to the same beat.”
– L.R. Sayles
You may have additional roles in your current organization.
However, these five are typical for many projects.
1. Ultimate Responsibility Bearer
The best project managers are never passive executors. They feel ownership over the project and every decision they make.
They feel like the president of a small company. They live and care for the project.
The client is always right. Well, in his understanding of his own business.
Likewise, a project manager must always be right with the selected approach to finish a project successfully.
Therefore, it is your responsibility to set up expert authority over project management. (even if you are a junior PM)
You should be ready to tell a client that you know the best way to reach his objectives. Then, you should be willing to take responsibility for anything that goes wrong.
If there’s a problem with the project, the most proactive person to solve it is you – the project manager.
Ultimate Responsibility with Limited Authority
A project manager subordinates to others. He must get approvals before making important decisions. He may not have direct control of some resources.
Moreover, there are a lot of controlling departments monitoring the project.
You don’t have an Ultimate Authority. You need to negotiate with others to achieve what needs to be done.
In such an environment, it is tempting to share responsibility. Spreading it thin among all parties.
Nevertheless, be aware that you will still be responsible for the outcome of the project at the end of the day.
There are so few circumstances that can excuse a project manager for failing a project.
(I would not even bother thinking about them.)
A contractor provided a deliverable of poor quality, and the project missed a deadline.
You are to be blamed.
A team member doesn’t perform well.
It is your problem.
A functional manager forced you to take an inexperienced or not suitable specialist.
That is your problem as well.
It will not be a valid excuse if a project fails.
“The price of greatness is responsibility.”
– Winston S. Churchill
It’s not a responsibility. It’s the nature of the profession.
In the long run, I would not even name The Ultimate Responsibility Bearer as a responsibility. It is more of a nature of the profession.
If you think of your project like your own business.
If you think of yourself as the president of this business.
And if you are acting like you are spending your own money.
You will be just fine.
2. The Primary Role of Project Manager is Integrator
Integration Management is the only reason we need project managers. Seriously.
Someone needs to produce results, data, and information that will seamlessly pass through the whole project management process.
A project manager needs to connect the Goal of a project with the tangible results a project team delivers.
Moreover, a PM must be able to tell what does it take to create each separate piece required for project success.
- How much does it cost?
- What work is needed?
- How long will it take?
- What should we do to make a quality result?
- Do we have any risks related to a specific part of the project?
Moreover, you need all these answers for the future (planned values). And you need reports on actual values after the work is done.
Someone needs to tie all this information, processes, and tool into one cohesive whole.
As a project manager, you should always think about how to connect it all together, how to make the work seamless.
Project Integration Management
There are several levels of integration on a project:
- Integration on Objective Level
- Integration on Processes and Tools Level
- Integration on Stakeholders Level
- Integration on Environment Level
You need to be an integrator on all of them to finish a project successfully.
I have a separate post on Integration Management. So, if you don’t feel confident about this role do read the following article:
3. Project Manager Role of a Facilitator
Put an engineer, a designer, a quality assurance engineer, and a business analyst in one room.
Then ask them to produce a solution for your project.
I’m 95% sure that they will not come up with any reasonable solution.
Give them a little direction, keep them to the topic, and aligned with the project goals and constraints.
Suddenly it is a treasure box with useful ideas and constructive solutions!
Experts have to be facilitated.
Without the least hidden motive, they will provide you with the best solution they are capable of.
However, it will be out of the context and in a vacuum.
It is your role to take the initiative and stream their expert knowledge towards your goals in the best way possible.
4. Proactive Communication is a Duty of a PM
Stakeholders are busy people. Some of them are great technical experts in their field of knowledge. Some of them are successful businessmen.
But none of them knows everything.
Most probably they initiated your project because they do not have the time or knowledge to produce the required product, service, or result.
They may also not know anything about project management, the nature of the project, processes, or best practices.
So, your primary role is to become the most proactive communicator.
You have to be able to communicate project status, problems, and questions in words that customers understand.
On the other hand, you need to interpret the customer’s requirements, fears, and concerns.
Then, formulate and communicate them to the team in terms that they understand.
Initiate difficult topics
Moreover, you should always initiate communications to provide as much transparency as possible.
Ask about technical aspects that you don’t understand. I bet 80% of stakeholders don’t understand them as well. But they don’t want to show it.
Or, quite often, technical experts are afraid to talk about risks. They always tend to hide them behind buffers.
You got the point. You need to bring up the topics that others shy away from. And you need to discuss them openly.
5. Proactive Problem Solver
Problems that do not fall under anyone’s responsibilities appear on a project every day.
And it is not an exaggeration.
Some problems will be on responsibility boundaries; some will be entirely new.
In most cases, people will think that someone else should handle it.
The truth is, there is only YOU who is intentionally biased to solve problems. You can’t delegate it to others.
You will have to correct the mistakes of others and more often than not you will be accountable for them.
Moreover, you must be proactive, and you need to deal with problems before they appear.
It is a necessity. All in all, you want to be a leader for your team, not only the administrator.
Your efficiency in solving problems is contagious.
At some point, your team will begin to solve problems on their own. Even more efficiently than you ever will.
Additional Role of a Project Manager – Scrum Master
It is a common practice when a PM assumes additional roles that are present in the given industry.
Combination of a Project Manager and a Scrum Master. Or a mix of Project and Product Managers. Just as an example.
In such cases, you act as a PM, but also, you need to follow prescribed activities of the framework. Or add up processes from other knowledge domains.
That is OK. But…
I don’t know all the possible additional roles. Nevertheless, the recommendation is only one:
“Don’t let additional roles to be an excuse not to do proper project management.”
I would recommend reading this article to understand the possible challenges:
Agile Project Management With Scrum or Kanban (2018 Guide)
The Role of a Project Manager Develops with the Project
Roughly your role develops in three stages during one project.
Until you fulfill your duties at the first level, you can’t efficiently move to the second one. The same applies to the third level.
1. Administrator Role
- Define the project boundaries
- Create a project management plan
- Staff the positions on the project
- Define processes and policies
- Create the workflow
- Define roles and responsibilities
- Organize the project team
- Ensure the project is progressing
- Control the project
1. Facilitator Role
- Resolve conflicts
- Ensure Interactions
- Coordinate the work
- Educate the team
- Stay out of the way
3. Leadership Role
- Set goals
- Empower responsibility
- Develop team
- Influence stakeholders
- Make tough decisions
- Ensure collaboration
- Design meaning for the work
In-depth Analysis of Project Manager Responsibilities
“Diffused accountability translates to weak governance which results in ineffective decision making.”
– Kiron Bondale
Disclaimer: I’m not suggesting generic staff below. These are the concepts of taking responsibility in the project management process.
Project Management approach dictates the responsibilities of a Project Manager.
It means that a PM should follow prescribed policies, processes, and requirements in the first place.
Then, you need to develop or adapt the approach to the needs of the given project.
You need to build on the environment you are working in.
Let’s decompose it further:
#1: Responsible for Defining Project Goals
First of all, you must identify the project goals.
Recheck the definition:
“…to lead the team that is responsible for achieving the project objectives.”
Why is it your responsibility, not client’s?
When a sponsor or client initiates a project you, as a project manager, get an authority to spend the allocated resources.
However, you are ethically bound to spend those resources in the best way possible to achieve the business goal of the client.
But there is more:
Your stakeholders might not have a clear understanding or knowledge of the project goal.
Identify Project Goal with Project Charter
And you know this:
“If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.”
So, it will be tough to achieve success criteria and make your stakeholders happy.
I suggest you read my article on Project Charter and its benefits as a starting point.
You may not have a Project Charter as a formal document to capture project goals.
Nevertheless, you do have a responsibility to identify the goals of a project.
#2: The Responsibility of the Project Manager for the Project Management Plan
I can rephrase this one:
You are responsible for increasing the Project’s chances for success.
If you did your previous responsibility diligently:
- You know the project goals.
- You have reasonable constraints.
- You are sure that the project is feasible.
Now, you need to prove that you can achieve the project goals within given constraints.
Again, different companies will require different levels of planning. Some may not require any plan at all.
If you are comfortable committing to delivering a project within given constraints without a plan – it is up to you!
(Don’t forget that you bear the Ultimate Responsibility for project success. It’s your ROLE.)
However, no serious project is done without proper planning.
So, first of all, you need to identify the requirements of your company for planning.
Then, you need to ensure that this planning approach is sufficient for the given project.
Review these articles as a baseline for project planning:
#3: Project Manager Duties During Project Execution
When a project is underway, there are hundreds of activities that a project manager is responsible for.
In fact, you are responsible for everything.
However, everything should fall under the only category – “Following the plan.”
You are responsible for following your own plan.
First of all, you allocate tasks to different people.
They do the tasks; you control the process.
The concept is simple.
You also need to ensure professional interactions between the project team and stakeholders.
You need to coordinate and facilitate their work.
Besides that, you must ensure collaboration within the team.
It means you will have to resolve personal conflicts. You need to enforce personal responsibility.
(Otherwise, you will have to micromanage everything.)
In general, you are responsible for developing a strategy to work with all stakeholders.
You need also to ensure that your communication plan works. You need to set up a collaboration with global and virtual teams if required.
Here, think of communication across all activities and processes. Think about all the information flows. Not only meetings and discussions.
That is not all!
You are responsible to keep it as a cohesive whole.
As an integrator, you need to put all the pieces of a project into a whole.
Your project will produce information like reports, estimates, lists of risks, schedules, etc.
Everything should work together.
You are responsible for enforcing risk management processes.
You need to set up quality assurance processes.
And this list goes on, and on, and on.
What you need to understand is that you need to have a plan in all aspects of a project.
Including communications, motivation, stakeholder engagement, etc.
Responsibilities beyond project management.
- You might need to develop the product the project creates.
- You might need to build business relationships with your customer.
There is no definite list of PM’s responsibilities in this part.
You need to think of it from the perspective of responsibility for project success.
Then, you need to decompose it to find out what it really means.
For different projects, for various companies – it will be a separate set of responsibilities.
#4: Project Manager is Responsible for Controlling the Project
You have the authority to use allocated resources.
It means that you have a responsibility to report on how well you used them.
At the very least, you need to report project progress in status reports.
The content of the report is different. However, you need to understand that you are responsible for collecting data and information.
You will then be able to compile it into a report.
That is something that you need to plan ahead of time.
Moreover, it is the main reason you need a project plan. So that you can compare your initial plan with your current progress.
So, you are responsible for tracking the day-to-day work of your team. You need to track the expenses. You need to monitor the usage of risks and management resources.
If you want to dive deeper into this section, check out this article:
#5: The Responsibility of a PM to Continuously Improve
Remember, a PM is responsible for improving the chances for success of a project.
It relates to all projects around you.
Your current project. Your next project. Projects that your colleagues are doing right now.
That is why during each project you need to collect high-quality “Lessons Learned.”
That is why you need to develop your knowledge and skills continuously.
You never know what project will be next.
Isn’t it great when there is always someone who can share a tip or two on running a project similar to yours?
So, do make your contribution to Project Management.
Responsibilities that No One Talks About
There are apparent responsibilities related to leading a project.
However, there are also the ones that go without saying as a part of PM’s profession.
Here are just the main ones:
A) Ethic Conduct
As a project manager, you will be working with different kinds of people and organizations.
You will see the good, the bad, and the ugly attitude towards professional and ethical behavior.
Though, no one is actively monitoring your work.
Usually, there are no clear guidelines. In fact, you are the one to set up the behavior ground rules as a leader.
So, every day you should do as much as you can to lead the project professionally and ethically.
B) Develop People
It is easy to fix too hard on project goals and deadlines.
You may forget about the people around you. People who do the bulk of the project work.
Moreover, if they do their work well why would you disturb your team?
Here is the catch:
Your best people will leave you sooner or later. Accept it as a fact.
Nevertheless, you can keep them much longer if you provide enough challenges and responsibilities.
As a project manager, you are responsible for developing your people.
Even if you work on short-term projects.
C) Keep People Motivated
The same goes for motivation.
You may think that you are responsible for your project only.
What happens after it – it is a problem for another PM.
If you squeeze all the energy and motivation from your team to finish your project and then they run away from the company.
Well, it is the wrong kind of management.
You need to keep people motivated. After your project ends, they should be eager to start another one.
With or without you.
It should be a part of your Project Management Approach.
What is NOT the Main Responsibility?
There are several functions and activities that you may perceive as your primary responsibility. They are noble and the right thing to do with a team.
However, do not fall under the illusion that they can relieve you from delivering a project on time and within budget.
1. People Management
Hear this correctly.
I do understand the value of people management.
Though, it is not one of the KEY responsibilities. Rather, it is an excellent approach to work.
However, managers often hide behind creating a happy team. It doesn’t give you an excuse to fail the project. Your primary goal is to meet stakeholders’ expectations and deliver the result within constraints. It is great if you can do it while keeping your team happy.
Leadership is another useful instrument to fulfill your responsibilities. But it is not the goal.
It only works to the benefit of the project if you can align it with the project’s and organization’s objectives. Until then, do not assume that you are a leader. First, you need to organize the work and the performing team.
3. Advocate of Changes
There is a conflict in project management. You do need to choose the most appropriate processes and tools. However, the project should not become the battlefield for organizational changes and improvement.
Improving project management processes within your organization is your responsibility. Nevertheless, it should not impede the project. Work hard to make the best use of what the organizational environment has.
Conclusion: Project Manager Roles and Responsibilities
The fact is this article was just one piece of a complex project management framework.
If you are like most project managers, you don’t have formal education. It means you must collect bits and pieces from such articles and YouTube videos.
You have two options now:
Option #1: Try to figure it all out on your own and slow down your career for years.
Option #2: Let me explain the whole project management framework in 45 minutes.
My Full Project Management Tutorial explains how project management works in the real world as a system.
Don’t put your projects and reputation at risk. Ensure you know how all critical processes and tools work.
All successful project managers know it’s better to learn from someone else’s experience (aka lessons learned). Tap into my 12 years of practical IT experience and get access to the Full PM Tutorial now.