What is a Project Manager?

01/10/2018 14:08

John Nocero, PhD, MBA

For this installment, we are going to the root to tease out exactly what is a project manager and which key characteristics does the successful project manager possess.

 It is fascinating to ask people in various industries and positions how they define a project manager (PM) and what makes a “good” one. For this article, we reached out to friends and colleagues to get their views on several questions regarding our topic. We had respondents that work as financial whizzes, insurance experts, organizational development gurus, and company presidents as a sampling. A recurring definition that we saw was that the project manager is “the glue that holds the project together.” And consistently saw that excellent communication skills were paramount to effective project management. In humorous terms, we have heard it said that project managers should be keen to herd cats because that is the reality of the role!

 When our respondents were asked, “What is the principal function of the project manager?” As expected, we got a myriad of responses from the complex to the succinct. Boiling them down to their basis, most described the role of the project manager as a facilitator responsible for the successful (on-time topping the list for definition of success) completion of project requirements. All respondents recognized that there are multiple tasks which the project manager must coordinate with a variety of team members and stakeholders. According to responses, another critical element which project managers are responsible for – managing expectations. This is critical to the overall feeling of a successful project – if the key stakeholders have their expectations understood and met even it means that it was a little later or over-budget then typically the project is deemed a success. However, the opposite is true if the project team and stakeholders are operating under a different set of expectations.

 Next, we asked, “What skills are most critical for a successful project manager?” Communication and risk mitigation abilities topped the list for criticality along with strong organizational capabilities. Interestingly, none of the respondents indicated that industry knowledge or technical skills were paramount for a project manager’s success though it was mentioned that the project manager should be able to synthesize large amounts of information from and for stakeholders and team members. This leads us to believe that a PM does not have to be an expert in every area but does need to have an understanding of each team’s contribution in order to explain it to others, create realistic timelines and budgets, or understand issues as they arise.

 Another question was in regard to the challenges team members faced when working with project managers – the key complaint related to a lack of project-related communication and a sense that the PM did not/does not listen to the functional leads. This is not a new or unfamiliar issue which means that it is one that needs to be addressed in more depth. We all agree that project managers are responsible to move a project through its life cycle; listening to functional leads and stakeholder suggestions or concerns seems a critical aspect to the project’s success, therefore, it begs the question what hinders this or creates the perception that PMs are not listening? In 2018, the KJRs will dive further into this specific topic related to project and project manager success.

 What are your thoughts on the project manager’s function and the chief characteristics that make a top-notch project manager?


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