What is a Project Manager?
As we reviewed in Chapter 1, “Project Management Overview,” the project manager has many activities to perform, challenges to overcome, and responsibilities to uphold over the life of a project. Depending on your individual experiences, your industry background, and the manner in which project management has been implemented, that review might have been quite enlightening to you.
To ensure that we have a common understanding of what a project manager does, in this chapter I review the different roles a project manager plays over the life of a project and discuss the prerequisite skills that you need to perform those roles. Most importantly, I accelerate your learning curve by sharing the characteristics of successful project managers and the common mistakes made by many others.
One Title, Many Roles
You’ve likely heard many of the analogies before to describe the role of project manager—the “captain” of the ship, the “conductor” of the orchestra, the “coach” of the team, the “catalyst” of the engine, and so on. There’s truth and insight in each of the analogies, but each can be incomplete as well. To gain better understanding of what a project manager does, let’s briefly discuss each of the key roles played by the project manager:
Planner—Ensures that the project is defined properly and completely for success, all stakeholders are engaged, work effort approach is determined, required resources are available when needed, and processes are in place to properly execute and control the project.
Organizer—Using work breakdown, estimating, and scheduling techniques, determines the complete work effort for the project, the proper sequence of the work activities, when the work will be accomplished, who will do the work, and how much the work will cost.
Point Person—Serves as the central point of contact for all oral and written project communications.
Quartermaster—Ensures the project has the resources, materials, and facilities it needs when it needs it.
Facilitator—Ensures that stakeholders and team members who come from different perspectives understand each other and work together to accomplish the project goals.
Persuader—Gains agreement from the stakeholders on project definition, success criteria, and approach; manages stakeholder expectations throughout the project while managing the competing demands of time, cost, and quality; and gains agreement on resource decisions and issue resolution action steps.
Problem Solver—Utilizes root-cause analysis process experience, prior project experience, and technical knowledge to resolve unforeseen technical issues and take any necessary corrective actions.
Umbrella—Works to shield the project team from the politics and “noise” surrounding the project, so they can stay focused and productive.
Coach—Determines and communicates the role each team member plays and the importance of that role to the project’s success, finds ways to motivate each team member, looks for ways to improve the skills of each team member, and provides constructive and timely feedback on individual performances.
Bulldog—Performs the follow-up to ensure that commitments are maintained, issues are resolved, and action items are completed.
Librarian—Manages all information, communications, and documentation involved in the project.
Insurance Agent—Continuously works to identify risks and develop responses to those risk events in advance.
Police Officer—Consistently measures progress against the plan, develops corrective actions, and reviews the quality of both project processes and project deliverables.
Salesperson—An extension of the Persuader and Coach roles, focuses on “selling” the benefits of the project to the organization, serving as a “change agent,” and inspiring team members to meet project goals and overcome project challenges.