The role of a project manager
A project manager has a number of responsibilities in order to contribute to a successful project.
Roles within the project team:
In your project team there will be a number of roles that all come with their own responsibilities.
Here are a number of the key responsibilities of project managers.
Ownership of the Project Management Plan (PMP) - The project manager (with the help of subject matter experts) will develop the PMP, providing the delivering framework for the project. The project manager becomes the owner of the PMP, overseeing development of the products in line with the 'instruction' in the PMP. The project manager will ensure that the PMP is approved by the sponsor prior to delivery starting and is reviewed and updated at key decision points (stage boundaries).
Delivery to Time/Cost/Quality - the PMP and Business Case will state the defined and agreed constraints for the project. Critical amongst these are the agreed timescale, budget, and the defined quality characteristics for the project products (in line with requirements agreed). The project manager will develop a schedule to show how the given timeframe will be met, a cost plan to show how the budget is allocated, and ensure that product development is carried out in line with the agreed quality (acceptance) criteria.
Motivation of the Project Team - The project manager will define the work required of the team and delegate this in the form of work packages, although the way this is done is key to the team’s cohesion. The project manager needs to be a people person, developing competency and confidence within the team, providing a vision and using suitable motivators to keep the team moving forward.
The table below summarises the defined roles and responsibilities:
All aspects of governance of project management; strategic guidance and direction; definition of risk capacity or tolerance.
Business case ownership; option selection including financial appraisal; benefits identification, management and realisation; acceptance of deliverables and transfer to BaU; project sign-off; chair the project board; authorise the PMP, changes and resolve issues; determine risk appetite.
Identify the problem or opportunity; provide a high-level statement of needs and requirements; realise the benefits; provide specifications.
Write and own the PMP; deliver the project to T, C and Q; assemble team and keep team motivated through effective leadership; manage requested changes, risks and issues; manage conflict; manage stakeholder expectations.
Provide technical expertise; deliver delegated work packages; keep PM informed of unexpected occurrences; identify risks and issues; apply change control; report progress on assigned work packages.
Define the requirements; highlight operational constraints; operate deliverable as BaU; provide input to team events.
Provide technical advice; provide estimates to PM; provide required resources to deliver a project, i.e., people, equipment, materials, etc.
Administrative support; project support; assurance; methodology, tools and techniques; project management capability development.
Goal setting and creation of the vision for the project; maximising value to the business from the deliverables; voice of the customer representing and communicating with stakeholders outside of the project; generating a high-level release plan; generating and defining the product backlog.
What makes a good project manager?
Managing a team through the successful completion of a project requires a number of key skills.
- Interpersonal skills to engage the internal and external stakeholders. Effective interpersonal skills will help build a high-performing team and ultimately deliver more successful projects.
- Effective communication skills, which help everyone to stay in the loop with your project and ensure that you're setting correct expectations. There are three key parts to effective communication:
- Consider the best way to communicate with your project’s stakeholders.
- Provide a system for message delivery so that your stakeholders receive the right communications at the right time throughout the project.
- Provide a system of monitoring and feedback to ensure that stakeholders understand your messages, and to assess the effectiveness of your communication process.
- Responding effectively to change in the external environment, e.g., in legislation, market demands, competitor activity. This helps to avoid employee disengagement, stress, and conflict.
- An awareness of the regulatory environment. Projects must operate within the law, so you need to know about the legal system and regulatory requirements in the jurisdictions in which you're working. Knowledge of health and safety, environmental, data protection, and employment legislation is also crucial.
Getting into project management
Starting your journey towards project management can be an intimidating prospect, but there are a number of simple steps you can take to get yourself on the right track.
1. Volunteer to manage projects, no matter how small, all experience is good experience!
2. Learn about the skills needed to manage projects and read up on some project management theory – see if you can incorporate any skills in your current position!
3. Work to contribute to a positive team environment in your current team. Gaining an awareness of how your team functions and how individuals deal with situations differently is a key skill to have before stepping into a project management role.
4. Seek feedback from your manager and your colleagues on any project management work you have done so far.
5. Consider pursuing project management certification. Gaining certification from an accredited body not only expands on your existing knowledge base, it can also help to distinguish you from others and demonstrate your commitment to your professional development.
QA can help you progress in your project management journey, with both PRINCE2 and APM certified courses, as well as our Project Management Apprenticeships. If you're not sure on the right course for you, read our guide to deciding between APM and PRINCE2.
Project management FAQs
What is a project?
A project is ‘a unique, transient endeavour to bring about change and to achieve planned objectives' 
A project has:
- a defined start point and end point.
- specific objectives.
- specific resources assigned to perform the work.
The aim of your project is to deliver clearly defined outputs to an internal or external client, who will then use them to deliver desired outcomes and benefits. Sometimes, your client might request changes so that you can better deliver the outcomes or benefits. In these cases, you need to be able to adapt to and include these changes.
When shaping a project, the sponsor needs to make sure that the project has a clearly defined rationale. They document this during the project's concept phase in the form of a 'business case', 'project charter', 'project brief', 'problem statement' or 'project rationale'.
If your project is for an external client, the project rationale could be in the form of an invitation to bid, which could include some or all of the required scope elements.
What is a project plan?
Project planning consists of two main components:
- What are the policies for project delivery?
- In terms of delivery – what needs to be done, how should it be done, when will it be done, who should do it (and where), and how much will it cost?
The project plan is vital as it results in a framework around which budgeting, scheduling, resource allocation, and delegation of work can take place.
When projects follow a linear life cycle, the idea is that all work is defined, estimated, risked, resourced, and costed at this stage. A baseline is established from this planning, which is used to track whether the project is progressing as it should be.
When using iterative life cycles, on the other hand, a baseline plan is still created, although change is expected, and flexibility and agility are built in.
The project management methodologies you need to know
There are a growing number of project management methodologies in today’s rapidly changing working world, so it’s no surprise if you feel overwhelmed with the number of choices on offer.
Let take a look at some of the methodologies and frameworks available and consider the situations in which they might be beneficial for your team.
It’s important to note that a number of these frameworks fit within an Agile approach. Where traditional methodologies establish a detailed plan at the beginning of the project, Agile methodologies begin with a rough idea of what is required, and learn over time, clarifying requirements as the project develops.
1. Waterfall – Waterfall is a popular, traditional framework, also known as the software development life cycle (SDLC). Using a Waterfall approach, tasks are linked by dependencies, and a task must be completed before its dependency is begun.
2. Scrum is an Agile framework intended to deliver high-quality products to users quickly and continuously, placing value on individuals over processes. Each project within the Scrum framework is broken down into manageable tasks, which are organised into Sprints. These have a duration of one to four weeks. Scrum employs an iterative approach to control risk.
3. Kanban is a workflow management system focused on the visualisation of the team workflow. As with Scrum, Kanban seeks to pursue evolutionary, continuous improvement, whereby the requirements and wishes of the users are prioritised. Within this framework, teams establish Kanban boards, which are populated with Kanban cards (containing user stories from the Product Backlog), which are then progressed through the workflow.
4. Lean - The lean project management methodology aims to eliminate waste in order to maximise efficiency. This methodology initially related to the waste of a physical product, but it has now come to refer to wasteful practices in general.
5. PRINCE2 - Known as PRojects IN Controlled Environments, PRINCE2 incorporates the waterfall methodology to establish specific stages within a project, with the goal of defining roles.
There are seven main principles of PRINCE2, which include:
1. Starting a project
2. Directing a project
3. Initiating a project
4. Controlling a project
5. Managing product delivery
6. Managing a stage boundary
7. Closing a project
What are the main tools for project management?
There are a number of tools that can help you in your project management journey, whether you’re starting project 1 or 100. These tools often come in the form of software that helps things run more smoothly, and are suited to a variety of projects and team sizes.
Let’s begin by considering the key features and uses of project management tools:
- Project estimation
For your project to succeed, it’s vital that you keep track of your progress and estimate the impact of limitations or blockers on your performance and development. Project estimation can come in the form of budget forecast, earned value management (EVM) which integrates schedule, costs, and scope to measure project performance, and baselines (a defined starting point for your project plan against which to evaluate your progress).
Manage cost to ensure you remain within your planned budget. Budgeting allows you to track expenses, invoices, and employee pay, evaluating planned vs. actual costs, and ensuring you can plan ahead in terms of the financial health of your project.
- Resource allocation
Ensure tasks are assigned to the right people. Tools such as resource utilisation charts can be used to ensure an appropriate amount of work is allocated to each member of the team.
Virtual collaboration tools are vital, providing tools to chat, meet, and discuss, to ensure that all stakeholders are engaged and in the loop with project developments.
- Risk management
Respond to and manage risk and uncertainty of task duration, organising individual tasks to correspond with deadlines.
Track and assess productivity and growth through resource management and reporting.
Examples of project management tools
- Gantt Charts
Gantt charts allow you to visualise your project timelines and provide clear representations of the dependencies between various pieces of work, helping projects stay on schedule and within budget.
- Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)
The WBS breaks down your project goal into individual work items to be actioned. The overall project goal is divided into stages, then further sub-divided if needs be. It provides clarity on the resources needed for each stage.
- Project Baseline
A project baseline represents your project progress in a graphical format, comparing your expected baseline against your actual performance. Your baseline allows you to monitor real-time progress and avoid scope creep by monitoring any unplanned work.
- Team building activities
Team building allows you to boost morale, team cohesion, and productivity. Depending on the activity, these sessions can also foster creativity and a safe, supportive environment, which is never a bad thing in your projects! It’s crucial to ensure your working environment is a good one, so although you may not immediately see how team building is a PM tool, strong team relationships and relationships with stakeholders are vital to project success.
- Communications management plan
A project communications plan is a tool to establish regular, efficient delivery of information between the project team, clients, and other stakeholders. This plan details the how information should be communicated, how regularly, and to whom. Keeping everyone in the loop with relevant updates is crucial to the cohesion and efficiency of your project, and a communications management plan will help you deal with whatever risks may arise during your project.
What is a risk in project management?
Due to their unique and uncertain nature, all projects contain an element of risk that may result in a positive (opportunity) or negative (threat) impact on one or more project objectives. Effective risk descriptions are comprised of three key elements:
The trigger or source of the risk.
The area where the uncertainty lies.
The impact that the risk may have on the project. Note that the risk may have a different degree of impact on one or more of the project's objectives.
What are dependencies in project management?
A dependency is a task that relies on the completion of a different task. For one task to begin, another must first be completed. Dependencies can have serious impacts on project management, so it’s vital to have a good overview of potential blockers, and be active in managing dependencies within your projects.