What are the most important responsibilities of a project manager?

This post is part of the series “Project Management Problems”; make sure to read the introduction.

It is based on questions and in general discussions on project management regarding frequent project problems. The discussions here are not on theoretical matters, nor do they dwell on the self-evident or trivial. The focus here is on real problems encountered by project managers working in the trenches, trying to get their projects done in today’s stress-filled environment. The discussion begins with some qualifications describing what the response depends on and includes factors to consider in dealing with the issue at hand. The responses are based on what tends to work, at least most of the time, for those of us who lead actual projects.

Depends on:

  • Role: Project coordinator, Project leader, Project manager, Program manager
  • Organizational requirements and structure

Overall Responsibilities

The job of a project manager includes three broad areas:

  1. Assuming responsibility for the project as a whole
  2. Employing relevant project management processes
  3. Leading the team

Precisely what these areas entail varies across the spectrum of roles. Regardless of any additional responsibilities, though, the following three areas are required: understanding your project, establishing required processes, and leading your team.

Understanding Your Project

In most cases, regardless of your role description, you own the project that has your name on it.

The project size and the consequences of not succeeding will vary, but overall the buck stops with you.

It is up to you to validate the project objective and to document the requirements.

As part of this, develop a clear idea of what ”done” looks like, and document the evaluation and completion criteria that will be used for project closure. In general it’s essential that you reach out to your sponsor, customer, and other stakeholders and gain agreement on this—and write it down.

You also have primary responsibility for developing and using a realistic plan to track the work through to completion, and for acceptably achieving all requirements in a timely way.

Establishing Required Processes

Key processes for your project include communications, planning, and execution.

For communications, determine how and when you will meet and how often you will collect and send project information and reports. Also determine where and how you will set up your project management information system or archiving project information.

For planning, establish processes for thorough and realistic project analysis, including how you will involve your team members.

Executing and controlling processes are also essential, but none is more important than how you propose to analyze and manage project changes.

Setting up processes and getting buy-in for them is necessary, but it is never sufficient. You must also educate the members of your team and relevant stakeholders to ensure that everyone understands the processes they have committed to. Also establish appropriate metrics for process control and use them diligently to monitor work throughout your project.

Leading Your Team

The third significant responsibility is leading the team.

Leadership rests on a foundation of trust and solid relationships. Effective project managers spend enough time with each team member to establish strong bonds. This is particularly difficult with distributed teams, but if you invest in frequent informal communications and periodic face-to-face interactions you can establish a connection even with distant contributors.

Projects don’t succeed because they are easy. Projects succeed because people care about them.

Leadership also entails getting all project contributors to buy in to a vision of the work that matters to them personally. You must find some connection between what the project strives to do and something that each team member cares about. Uncovering the ”what’s in it for me?” factor for everyone on the team is fundamental to your successful leadership.

About the Author

Dany Hoyek
I am a Computer and Communication Engineer and Consultant. I have been leading, developing and managing millions of dollars worth of software development projects.