Project Manager Job Description: Duties, Skills and Career Path
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Project Manager Job Description
A project manager (often abbreviated to PM) is the person tasked with successfully delivering a project within a specific deadline and budget.
The responsibilities of a project manager include planning and coordinating a project and monitoring progress towards its intended objectives. Project managers also act as a point of contact between the organization financing the project and the other parties involved in its delivery.
Project managers are employed in a very wide range of settings and industries, meaning there can be considerable differences between one job and the next.
Nevertheless, it is possible to distinguish a number of general characteristics and tasks that are common to all project management roles.
So, what does a project manager do?
The primary task of a project manager is to create a strategic plan designed to achieve a project’s intended objectives. The strategic plan is not only used as a path to follow during project realization, but also serves to demonstrate a project’s feasibility, allowing it to be “green-lighted” by management. In some cases, the project manager may also have developed the concept behind the project, while in others, a project manager is brought in to implement a concept that has been created by others.
The planning phase of a project involves defining the desired outputs and the resources required to achieve them (resource planning), estimating the time and cost of completing the work and establishing the methodologies that will be used to monitor and measure project progress. The outputs - i.e. the goals that drive a project - are also known as “deliverables” in project management. Deliverables may take a range of different forms. For instance, they may be a document, a physical object, a piece of software, or even a revenue target or a specific improvement in a physical, chemical, economic or social indicator.
To realize a project, project managers need human resources. Specifically, they need to put together a project team (of in-house and/or external personnel) that has the capabilities required to achieve the project’s objectives. Once the project team has been set up, project managers assign team members with tasks and deadlines, provide the tools needed to get the job done and seek to reduce to a bare minimum any outside interference that might hinder project progress. They also organize regular one-to-one and group meetings to monitor project progress, compile progress reports, reassign tasks and even make changes to the project team where necessary. Another key task of a project manager is liaising with external parties, such as suppliers, clients, investors and project stakeholders (i.e. individuals and organizations that are actively involved in the project or that have an interest in it).
The second key element of a project is the budget. A project manager needs to be able to accurately estimate the size of the investment needed to complete the project and then to deliver it within the agreed budget. Estimating the cost of the tools, equipment, machinery, systems, software, raw materials, logistics, personnel and advertising needed to complete a project is therefore a key step, in which every potential outlay needs to be taken into consideration. Once financing for a project has been received, the project manager is responsible for constantly verifying that actual spending is in line with or below the budgeted amount and - where this is not the case - for making changes to bring it back within the approved limits.
The third vital element of project management is time. Project Managers should be able to estimate as accurately as possible the time it will take to deliver the project, define the duration of each of the project phases and a establish a project schedule. During project execution, PMs constantly monitor progress to ensure that project delivery will occur within the agreed deadline.
Another important task performed by project managers is dealing with the risks and issues that all projects inevitably face. When problems arise, a PM’s job is to resolve them as rapidly and efficiently as possible, analyzing the situation and identifying a solution that will ensure that no time, money, or effort is wasted and that will prevent the project from deviating from its expected path. Project managers also carry out a constant analysis of project risks. This involves identifying the adverse scenarios that could potentially arise on a project and preparing an action plan (known as a risk management plan) for dealing with them.
Another vital element in project management is information. To prevent issues from arising and ensure that a project runs as smoothly as possible, project managers define a series of metrics called key performance indicators (KPI), which are used to evaluate project data and measure actual against scheduled progress. This allows a project manager to determine whether or not a project is proceeding in line with time and cost estimates and to make adjustments and modifications where necessary to bring it back on schedule or budget.
Another key task for a PM is creating and compiling the reports and other documentation that are used to communicate with the project team and the project stakeholders. Project teams need to receive detailed information and feedback on the work done, while stakeholders need to be kept informed of the progress being made so that they can be sure that the project outcomes will be in line with or better than expectations in terms of quality and provide them with an adequate return on their investment (ROI). In addition to producing documentation, project managers are also responsible for managing and conserving project documents and for maintaining a chronological log of all project phases.
Project managers are employed by small and medium-sized enterprises, multinationals and public and private sector companies in practically all industries, including electronics, ICT, marketing, construction, architecture, energy, health, engineering, automotive, mass market retail and supermarkets. Job opportunities are widespread and continuing to grow, while the competitive salaries on offer typically reflect the complexity of a project and the skills required to ensure its successful delivery.
The working hours of a project manager may vary widely depending on the sector and the type of project, although overtime tends to be common as deadlines approach. With stress levels tending to peak during such periods, project managers need to be cope well with pressure and take difficult decisions under challenging conditions.
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Project Manager Responsibilities and Tasks
The tasks of a project manager typically include:
- Planning, implementing and managing projects
- Developing detailed project plans (e.g. showing human resources, time and cost requirements)
- Coordinating internal and external personnel to realize projects
- Constantly monitoring project progress against schedule
- Measuring project performance using appropriate systems, indicators, instruments and techniques
- Implementing and managing project changes to achieve desired outcomes
- Completing project deliverables on time and within budget
- Analyzing project risks and proposing solutions to issues encountered
- Communicating with stakeholders, clients and suppliers
- Creating and filing all project documentation
How to Become a Project Manager - Education, Training and Requirements
The training required to become a project manager can vary widely depending on the industry. Given the importance of strong financial management skills in ensuring successful project delivery, the most sought-after degrees tend to be economics, management and finance, although project managers looking for work in a specific technical sector, such as engineering or IT, may require a degree in a relevant field.
Qualifications alone are not the only hiring criteria, however and in fact, project managers are often hired specifically on the strength of their prior experience and/or industry expertise.
Aspiring project managers can also give their CV a boost by attending one of the many project management courses run by universities, professional institutes and training centres or by gaining official certification as a project management professional (the most widely-recognised internationally are PMP - Project Management Professional - and Prince2).
Finally, an essential requirement for all project managers - and particularly for those working in technology-related fields - are strong IT skills.
Project Manager Skills and Qualifications
Project managers require the following skills:
- Project management skills
- Strategic planning, risk management and change management skills
- Knowledge of project management software
- Critical thinking and problem-solving skills
- Leadership and decision-making skills
- Organizational skills
- Written and verbal communication skills
- Attention to detail
- Negotiation and conflict resolution skills
- Ability to handle stress
Project Manager Career Path
There are a number of different paths to a position as a project manager. Some people move into project management after a career in a specific industry, bringing with them both an in-depth knowledge of the sector and the skills needed to coordinate and deliver projects effectively. Others focus on a career in project management from the outset and - having done all the training and got the right qualifications - start out in an entry-level position as a junior project manager, handling smaller-scale projects with limited budgets and responsibilities.
Regardless of the route taken, project managers are judged on their management capabilities and, as their skills and knowledge grow, will be handed increasingly complex and challenging assignments. Eventually, talented project managers can expect to progress to a role as senior project manager, with responsibility for coordinating strategic projects involving substantial budgets.
The logical career progression for a project manager is to become a program manager. Program managers are responsible for coordinating a set of interconnected projects, which complement and build off one another to achieve a larger, long-term business objective. However, project management skills are easily transferable to a wide range of other management and coordination roles and positions and there is absolutely no reason why a project manager should not become a production manager, product manager, IT manager or quality manager.
Top Reasons to Work as a Project Manager
Now, here's the question:
Why should you consider working as a project manager?
Project managers enjoy access to a large and ever-expanding pool of potential employment opportunities, with openings in a wide range of fields, both domestically and internationally. Salaries may vary based on sector, experience and location, but in general are competitive.
A major attraction of project management work is the variety. No two projects are the same, with individual team members varying and each project presenting its own challenges and opportunities. Adding new skills to their repertoire is thus a day-to-day occurrence for project managers. And while it may be true that the job calls for a good degree of flexibility, the management skills and leadership capabilities that are the hallmark of any good project manager can open doors to careers in any number of other fields.