What does a project manager actually do?

From time to time, people ask us the age-old question “What does a Project Manager actually do?” You would think that the answer to this question has been clearly defined so far, but it is obviously not so. In fact, we know very well what PM is responsible for, such as planning, organizing, monitoring and control, ie. “Management”. But none of these things define what that person actually does – every day and all day long

A few years ago, we had a boss who insisted that project managers have to “delegate,” which means you don’t have to look around like crazy all day. If you have enough skills, you should be able to relieve yourself of all responsibilities and be able to sit at your desk and lift all four. We have been trying to make this dream come true for years. But the problem with this scenario is that in reality your boss still expects you to do something, it doesn’t really matter what, just while you’re doing something. People who have been in the military know about this style. Wherever you go, it is important to carry a file or any other official-looking document with you.
At one time, the popular motto was “manage by walking around”. Actually a very awkward thing, though very good if you want to know what’s really going on. But not applicable to the project. If the vision is precise and everyone is informed about it and adequately motivated for work, then the last thing team members want is to see a busy manager sniffing around and interfering with their work. So what does a good project manager do all day? The best we can think of is the following: “Creative thinking and effective communication”, where effective communication can be formal or informal. But no matter what form of communication it is, it actually means talking to people with a good dose of listening to what they are telling you. In fact, it is very funny that this concept so rarely appears in serious texts about project management! And what exactly is creative thinking, you ask? Remember that every project is unique and that nothing identical has ever been said, so someone, a project manager, must think carefully about all the alternative activities of the project plan and ensure that everything works as intended and that all potential problem and obstacles minimized or avoided. Some people call this risk management. In any case, there are unique problems that need to be solved, and the Project Manager is the person in the right position to solve these problems.

And what exactly is effective communication? Obtaining information from the people who have it, synthesizing and interpreting it, and passing it on to the people who need it, and convincing those same people to act in accordance with that information. We believe that this is happening on a higher level. First of all in the realization of each process, PM is a communication link with the project sponsor, client or user or anyone else who controls the money.
This connection involves things like discovering the client’s right requirements, directing and enabling collaboration with the client and redistributing project responsibilities, carefully monitoring any changes in priorities or desired directions, and controlling changes in project scope. In other words, managing client expectations and defending against inappropriate external influences and unrelated, unwanted and unbudgetary work. And also, communicating with suppliers, subcontractors and others and negotiating with the goal of setting as many priorities as possible on your project in their lists of activities.

There is also the role of “People Manager”. Timely detection of potential conflicts and their neutralization. Persuading organizational units that provide support to really take on some of the work instead of putting all the responsibilities back on your people. Or, convincing people to get involved in the business when needed, and ensuring that they are motivated enough and have everything they need – but also to leave the project when they are no longer needed, which is probably the most difficult of all. In addition to all this, there is of course project team management, meeting management, communication, project progress reporting and preparation for the next big project. And on the other side of all these activities is the approval of products realized by team members. Because, a lot of explanation is needed in case your team does not deliver what was originally asked of you.

And finally, there is the role of the Supplier of the project results. It is a role you accept when you need to inform a project sponsor, client or user about the results of a project. This is not a simple activity, and also, in our opinion, it is very neglected in the professional literature. It includes numerous activities of verification and validation of all aspects of the product, e.g. functionality, quality, etc. This is the moment when you really see what you have done.
But at the end of the day, if your project has been a success, remember that that success is the result of the heroic and tireless efforts of your project team – for which they must be justly rewarded. On the other hand, if the project turns out to be a failure, then it is entirely your fault. It then has nothing to do with the incompetence, incompetence, incompetence, inertia, lethargy, laziness, stubbornness and antipathetic attitude of your people. Nor, speaking of which, does failure have anything to do with negative influences and incompetence, incompetence, etc. your managers.

I wish you a successful career as a Project Manager!

Author: Max Wideman