The project manager role — responsibilities, skills, and more
Project managers are largely responsible for realizing an organization’s goals. They spend hours coordinating tasks and communicating with various stakeholders. Executives who fail to support them can miss deadlines and lose revenue opportunities.
The right project manager can lead, motivate, and coordinate your team to complete plans successfully. A 2022 PMI survey showed that organizations with efficient project management offices outranked competitors in revenue generation, customer satisfaction, and other metrics.
The need for project managers has never been greater, so it’s essential to understand their role in your organization. To help you grow in your role or lead your project managers well, this post will cover:
- What a project manager does
- Seven key responsibilities of a project manager
- A day in the life of a project manager
- Project management skills and qualifications
- Differences between project, portfolio, and program management
- Five popular industries for project manager roles
What does a project manager do?
A project manager (PM) plans, organizes, schedules, directs, executes, maintains, and troubleshoots a project so it gets completed on time, within budget, and according to projected scope. The PM also serves as its liaison to stakeholders.
Project managers manage relationships across a project’s initiating, planning, executing, monitoring, and closing phases. Here's a closer look at how a PM executes each phase of the project life cycle to support efficiency and, ultimately, business growth.
- Initiating. A project manager determines a project's scope and goals and communicates them to key stakeholders. They’ll also set expectations and obtain necessary authorizations.
- Planning. The PM creates a plan to achieve the project’s objectives with the available resources. They identify deliverables, set specific tasks for each team member, and determine milestones. They also adjust the workload for team members, resources allotted for specific tasks, or the tasks themselves as needed.
- Executing. The project manager ensures each team member completes their assigned tasks. They also help remove obstacles that prevent team members from accomplishing assignments and guide them through project changes.
- Monitoring and controlling. PMs monitor and control team progress and budgets during a project. They ensure team members meet quality standards and achieve milestones while avoiding additional costs, time, and other budgetary overruns.
- Closing. At the end of a project the PM contacts stakeholders to confirm task completion, releases personnel and resources, submits invoices, and collects files and assets.
Seven key responsibilities of a project manager
A project manager’s scope of work will vary depending on their industry, organization, and the specific types of projects they manage. However, there are seven critical responsibilities that they typically have in common.
- Planning the project
- Assembling a team
- Setting deadlines and monitoring project progress
- Problem solving
- Managing resources
- Communicating with stakeholders
- Evaluating project performance
1. Planning the project
A project manager is responsible for developing a project idea into an actionable plan with clear objectives. They work with clients and stakeholders to set expectations for the project and determine the expected deliverables. A PM also identifies the necessary tasks to complete the project.
2. Assembling a team
Another critical responsibility of project managers is pulling together the right team to complete a project. The project manager evaluates personnel, assigns duties, and shifts team members to new responsibilities as needed throughout the project.
3. Setting deadlines and monitoring project progress
Project managers set deadlines to maintain productivity and complete work within the given budget. PMs use a work breakdown structure to identify individual tasks and determine the time needed to accomplish them. They continuously monitor progress toward deadlines and communicate any potential changes to their team. PMs may also request outside assistance if it looks like someone might miss a deadline.
4. Problem solving
An effective project manager adapts their plans to unforeseen hurdles, changing client needs, and potential resourcing issues. PMs face complex problems and solve them with creative solutions and systematic approaches. Project managers should look at a problem in detail, evaluate the facts available, examine their assumptions about the problem, and experiment with potential solutions.
5. Managing resources
Successful project management depends on the practical use of resources. A project manager carefully tracks their team’s use of funds, hours, and any other resources. PMs also create a clear breakdown of costs for each part of a project and prepare to communicate them to stakeholders as needed.
6. Communicating with stakeholders
A project manager’s duties revolve around communication. It’s not enough for a PM to manage their team members and meet deadlines. They also maintain the trust of stakeholders by keeping them informed of progress and being responsive to their input.
7. Evaluating project performance
Project managers create and monitor key performance indicators (KPIs) for their teams. They establish milestones for each phase of a project and the metrics they will use to measure success. At the end of a project they will revisit original goals and evaluate the metrics established to determine how successful the team was.
A day in the life of a project manager
A project manager will usually start the day by checking emails and answering pressing questions about projects. They might lead a morning stand-up meeting to set the day’s objectives and then schedule meetings with stakeholders. Some PMs reserve a specific time in the week exclusively for answering questions to streamline their overall workload.
Throughout the day, a PM will constantly monitor their team members’ workflows and the amount of resources allocated to a project. They may use a project management solution to help track this information and assign new tasks. A PM will also adapt their strategy as needed to new circumstances or changing client needs.
Project management skills and qualifications
The need for project managers continues to grow, creating many entry-level positions and opportunities for advancement. At a minimum, a successful PM will have interpersonal skills, leadership abilities, and technical know-how.
Whether you’re looking for qualified PM candidates or trying to become one yourself, focus on the following skills and capabilities.
- Conflict resolution capabilities. A project manager navigates conflicting demands from stakeholders and may have to resolve interpersonal conflicts among team members.
- Motivational. An effective PM can motivate their team to overcome the most difficult challenges so they can meet deadlines and remain within budget.
- Resilience. The work never really stops for a project manager. A PM must know how to keep themselves and their teams cool under pressure.
- Decision-making skills. PMs need to know how to make strategic, data-driven decisions every day — and how to course-correct when they get something wrong.
- Time-management skills. A good PM needs well developed time-management skills in order to stay on top of the stream of daily tasks.
Most PMs have a higher education degree and one or more professional certifications. According to Zippa, around two-thirds of today’s PMs have bachelor’s degrees, while 15% hold master’s degrees. PMs should advance their education in tandem with their career goals to remain competitive.
Project managers can also obtain certifications like the Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP) to develop specialized project management skills. Two of the most popular general PM certifications are Project Management Professional (PMP) or Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM).
Differences between project, portfolio, and program management
Project management, program management, and portfolio management are three different types of work management that are easily confused. Each discipline requires managers to perform a different set of tasks.
- Project management. Project management uses a variety of strategies and tools to complete a specific project on time and within budget. A single team serves under a project manager, who facilitates their work and acts as their liaison to stakeholders.
- Program management. Program management oversees a number of projects that all need to be completed concurrently to achieve a specific goal.
- Portfolio management. Portfolio management oversees all of an organization’s projects as a single portfolio. This strategy is sometimes needed to make sure all of the company’s projects are optimized and working together.
Your organization may not need to fill all of these roles, but with a better understanding of each, you can identify critical gaps in your business's infrastructure.
Five popular industries for project manager roles
Project managers are in high demand in many of today’s fastest growing industries, including technology, healthcare, marketing, human resources, and construction. While there are broad similarities between the duties of a PM in every industry, there are some important differences between them.
- Technology. Project managers in the technology industry are under high pressure to stay on the cutting edge, making an advanced education vital to their success. Tech PMs may also face challenges in attracting and retaining top talent, placing a premium on their ability to establish and maintain interpersonal relationships.
- Healthcare. Long lead times, multiple levels of stakeholders, and stringent regulations define projects in the healthcare industry. Project managers need to navigate this landscape on a daily basis. Advanced knowledge of patient privacy and healthcare regulations can help project managers succeed in this space.
- Marketing. Few industries change as rapidly as marketing, which can pose special challenges to project managers. New ad platforms are constantly emerging, search engine algorithms are ever-evolving, and consumer tastes are always changing — making flexibility a key trait of successful project managers in marketing.
- Human resources. The booming human resources industry has a nearly endless need for emotionally intelligent project managers who can attract and motivate top talent. Communication is vital to the success of any project manager and perhaps nowhere more so than here, where the primary resource is people.
- Engineering. The growing need for project managers across the engineering and construction industries can only be met by individuals who have a knowledge of what goes into each project. Project managers in this field need to stay on top of costs, which can easily overrun the budget if no one’s watching.
Manage projects with more efficiency and improve your project life cycle
Understanding the project manager role can help you leverage the position to improve operations across your organization. You’ll know what type of day-to-day support PMs need to bring their projects to completion. By implementing better project management practices, you can also improve each stage of the project life cycle in your organization.
Adobe Workfront can help your PMs plan, manage, and complete projects at scale. Workfront integrates people, data, processes, and technology across the organization, so you can manage the entire lifecycle of projects from start to finish.
Take a product tour of Adobe Workfront to learn how you can improve your project management capabilities today.