We’ve written a lot on this blog about project management: how to plan and deliver a project, tips and tricks on how to execute it successfully, we’ve even recommended resources that would be perfect for project teams (Zenkit, of course). What we haven’t spoken about, however, are the people who are in charge of it all, the head honcho, the Beyoncé, the ones who are held accountable for the success or failure of the group — the project manager.
In this article, we’ll discuss what a project manager’s job actually entails, what it takes to become one, and the common challenges they face.
What is a project manager’s job?
In a nutshell, project managers manage projects. They’re the individuals in charge of the tasks, not the ones who carry them out (that’s the project team members). It’s their job to deliver business objectives through the planning, procurement, and execution of a project.
On top of facilitating the project, they must also mentor and guide the project management team so that they complete their tasks according to the business’s objectives and the project’s goal.
Project manager description:
According to Glassdoor, a project manager’s job description is “to take on the responsibility of helping teams plan and execute projects to achieve business goals. Depending upon the organization and industry that could mean everything from orchestrating a multi-year construction project to helping teams build the next unmanned spacecraft or hot new software product.”
Project manager responsibilities
The list of responsibilities of a project manager is as long as a piece of string really. Depending on the business you are working for and the kind of project you’re in charge of, your list of responsibilities will vary. Things such as industry, company size, and culture will influence the list. For instance, a project manager responsible for a small office move will have a list of responsibilities that looks a little different to one who is at the helm of a nation-wide construction project on public railway lines. There are, however, common responsibilities that every project manager will find themselves liable for.
Common project manager responsibilities:
- Leading a team
- Applying relevant processes
- Creating project plans
- Creating the schedule
- Designing and applying project management method
- Managing project tasks including allocating, delegation, and progress tracking
- Planning and monitoring the project
- Mitigating project risks
- Resource allocation
- Budget and cost management of the project
- Facilitating the project team, ensuring they understand their roles and responsibilities
- Managing conflicts
- Stakeholder point of contact
- Quality control
What does it take to become a project manager?
Project management happens in almost every industry you can think of. Businesses are requiring faster, cheaper, and more innovative solutions to keep up and ahead of competitors, and project managers can help make that happen.
While it’s a career option that doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon, it’s not a job that everyone can do. It takes a certain type of person to succeed in the role. Someone who is comfortable with authority, delegation, organization, and implementing effective team management. The role requires major people skills and a good knowledge of processes, and knowing a thing or two about financial management wouldn’t hurt either.
There is some debate surrounding whether or not a project manager needs prior knowledge in the subject or industry where the project is being carried out. While this depends on what the industry is exactly — engineering or IT companies, for example, will require you to know a thing or two about the subject — it’s always beneficial to have some level of knowledge. Not only will it make delivering instructions and communication easier, but it will also give you a better understanding on how to manage the project team members and how they can best do their jobs.
To be certified, or not to be certified? That is the question
Project management is a profession where you don’t necessarily need formal qualifications to rise to the top. It is not uncommon to find yourself in a project leadership role without having completed a degree, diploma or other type of training course, however, being formally qualified does have its advantages.
Being certified can give you a head start. In a competitive job market, having qualifications to your name will favor you over applicants who don’t. It may even get you a higher salary. What formal qualification demonstrates is that you have a particular knowledge about the subject, which in hindsight should give you an edge over those who aren’t certified. It also shows that you care enough about your career to seek further training to expand on your skill and expertise, as well as to fork out the costs of getting certified in some cases.
What being certified doesn’t indicate is whether or not you are actually good at the job. Qualification doesn’t necessarily equal capability, nor does it tell a hiring manager that you know how to handle conflict and keep your customers happy.
Whether or not you need to be certified to become a project manager, or to advance your career, varies for every person. If you were looking for a possible head start when entering the industry, a potentially higher salary, or a more knowledgeable approach to the subject, then perhaps getting certified may be the right move for you. The decision can also be influenced by where you want to work. Some companies require qualifications, and some don’t.
While being qualified could prove to be advantageous, what’s more important is having the skills and characteristics required for being a project manager. It is these things that will determine whether or not you are fit for the job (and not a piece of paper).
7 essential skills for project managers
A project manager will spend a huge chunk of their job communicating, whether it’s conveying ideas and instructions to the project team, speaking to stakeholders and clients, or leading meetings and presentations. Excellent communication skills are a must, and that includes being able to adjust to every level of authority and public speaking.
An unavoidable aspect of the role is discussing things such as budgets, schedules, and strategies and coming to an agreement on what will work best for the project without compromising the business’s objectives. Knowing how to negotiate can aid greatly with this.
A project manager is expected to perfect the art of binding teams closer together so that project goals are achieved as efficiently as possible. Strengthening the bonds between the individuals in your team can have beneficial results for all involved as creating a comfortable working environment can make for more productive workers.
Organization skills is pretty much a given when it comes to being a project manager. Monitoring the progress of all the various tasks going on, while keeping an eye on deadlines and important dates is just the surface of the kind of things a project manager has to coordinate. There’s also the ‘people part’ where you have to ensure that the team members are on track and that the stakeholders are kept happy.
The reality of project management is that things go wrong all the time, and being familiar with problem solving techniques is what will make an effective project manager. Whether it’s a technical issue, or something involving the project team or stakeholders, it’s imperative for a project manager to know how to identify, acknowledge, and resolve the problem.
Project managers who have a knack for knowing how to resolve issues before they arise have a higher chance of delivering their project successfully. Planning for unexpected moments and knowing how to handle potential risks can help you rectify problems as quickly as possible, reducing the chances of affecting the project outcome.
Project manager software knowledge
Working on different projects regularly may require you to work with several software programs, so a basic knowledge is always a plus. Project managers will find themselves working with some sort of project management software with their job as it can help streamline the experience. Using one like Zenkit centralizes all the information so that it’s easier to track a project’s progress and to collaborate with the team.
Biggest challenges faced by project managers
Project manager salaries are what they are for a reason, the job isn’t a cruisy ride. In fact, in some industries, 75% of executives anticipate that their projects will fail. There are many reasons for this, from not having clearly defined goals, to ineffective team management, to a lack of communication with team members. We’ve listed six of the biggest challenges faced by project managers and how possible solutions to overcome them:
1. Unrealistic deadlines
Struggling to meet an unrealistic deadline is not an uncommon thing for a project manager to experience. Due to high competition, targets are set in what can seem like an unachievable time frame, and it’s the project manager’s job to ensure that everything gets done within that time frame.
Solution: Understand the reason behind the set deadline, there may be factors for it that you weren’t aware of, and knowing them can help provide motivation for trying to meet it. If a deadline extension is out of reach, then discuss whether the scope can be reduced or the cost increased so that meeting the deadline can become more feasible.
Poor communication amongst project team members, stakeholders, and customers is perhaps one of the most common challenges project managers are likely to face. Trying to ensure everyone involved in the project is one the same page will take more than giving out instructions.
Solution: Think about the language you use when articulating the goals and objectives and how the instructions are presented — is it done in a comprehensible way so that everyone can understand? Remember, some terminology that stakeholders know may be foreign to web developers and designers. Also, using project manager apps, like Zenkit, that are available on various platforms will keep everybody in loop and updated on changes within the project scope.
3. Undefined goals
Many issues could arise from not having concrete project goals at the very beginning. Starting a project without any clear direction is like going anywhere without direction — you may eventually get there, but it’s going to take much longer and with more resources than if the way was paved at the start. The same applies to project management. Without defined goals, how can you lead your team in the right direction?
Solution: Conduct a kick off meeting before the project begins. This meeting gives you the opportunity to ensure everyone understands what is expected of the project, and of them. Make sure everyone involved in this project in is attendance.
4. Scope creep
Scope creep is something many project managers fear, and it refers to features, functions, and requests added that was not authorized in the initial project scope. Unpredictable changes and additions can make a project progress into a way that was never intended.
Solution: Changes and additions are usually made when stakeholders aren’t involved or aware of what’s going on with the project’s progress, therefore, adding their two cents whenever they see fit. Make sure that everyone that needs to have a say in the project is involved from the very start. As well as the project’s vision and goal, establish boundaries so that unpredictable changes can be kept to a minimum.
A project manager is the leader of a project, meaning they have the highest authority when it comes to anything to do with the project. There may be some individuals who don’t recognize this authority (whether by choice or not) or have a hard time acknowledging it. For instance, let’s say there are individuals who are older than you in your project team, they may find it difficult answering to someone younger than them.
Solution: Establish leadership from the very beginning and make sure everyone understands that you are in charge. Also, act like you’re in charge (because you are). Stay professional, of course, and action any issues surrounding authority immediately so that it doesn’t affect the outcome of the project.
6. Team issues
Managing the different personalities that make up not only your project team but also the stakeholders and customers can be one of the biggest challenges that project managers have to face. Without a harmonized group of people on board, it could affect the project’s progress and overall result.
Solution: Different people may require different ways of being managed so adjusting your approach to suit each individual is your best bet. Some may thrive with set KPIs, while others may feel this as an added pressure. Also, while it’s always a good idea to hold meetings so that everyone is in the know, be mindful of how often and how long they are — you don’t want to waste people’s time and energy on something that could have been articulated through an email.
Being a project manager can be a fulfilling job, but there’s a lot to managing projects than meets the eye. Not only do you have to have a keen eye for organizing, scheduling, allocating, and tracking tasks, but you also have to have superhuman people skills. Managing people and personalities is just as imperative, if not more, than the project’s tasks. You have to balance the needs and wants, and the abilities and shortcomings of individuals from various levels of authority — while getting the job done, mind you.
If this sounds like your kind of gig, or it’s something you’re already involved in, continued learning is the next step to take (as with any job really). There is absolutely no harm in engaging yourself with more articles, lessons, and best practices on how to be a successful project manager. Knowledge is power after all.
As for the project managers reading this, we’d love for you to share your tips — there’s no better knowledge than insider knowledge.
Dinnie and the Zenkit team