Very simply, a project manager is the person who takes responsibility for everything. This is not to say “the one who does everything”. It is not too likely that a project manager even has the skill sets that would make her capable of doing everything that need to be done for a project. She’s simply the place where the buck stops. Have you been watching The Apprentice? When a project fails, who is the person most likely to hear “You’re fired!” Unless she is exceptionally good a deflecting blame, it is the Project manager!
So what skill set does a successful project manager really need? One skill or art is the ability to be a good team leader. Among other things, a project manager requires an inquiring mind. You must be able to gather information from the right people and to assimilate this information quickly in order to make projections and wise decisions. All this is needed in order to plan and develop a project. Plan, plan, review and plan. If you are not good at planning and scheduling in detail, you might want to reconsider being a project manager. Often a project manager must also present and sell the plan to her manager and /or customer. Thus good presentation skills are also needed.
Once decisions are made, she must maintain vision while also maintaining an impartial view of progress and making proper adjustments all while keeping the team motivated, updated, focused and within budget and time restraints. Decisiveness does not mean stubbornly proceeding in a direction deemed to be ineffectual. Constant quality assurance and quality control is essential. Quality is a team process and should be part of the project plan and schedule. Good pre-planning with the team should eliminate or nearly eliminate ineffectual actions. The project manager is in charge of maintaining scope of the project, writing the plan and maintaining change forms. Within the plan she must define project objectives and steps for reaching those objectives, describe the deliverables, manage the processes and avoid scope creep. She and the team must identify risks, have a contingency plan and be able to execute the contingency plan if needed. Changes in scope made in conjunction with the client must be agreed upon, priced and documented.
In order to be a good leader, a project manager needs to be able to evaluate a team’s strengths…and weaknesses as well as the individual team member’s and use this information to get the best results out of the team. Diplomacy mixed with well timed assertiveness (not aggressiveness) serves a project manager well. A project manager must develop a clear line of communication with and within the team. Developing and maintaining a schedule is something that, while the responsibility of the manager, should include team members in order to have bought in to maintaining it.
Project Management Institute (PMI) was developed in 1969. Their premise was that a certain set of skills and actions were needed in any industry in order to be a successful project manager. As a result in 1981 the PMI Board of Directors authorized the development of standards and guidelines for project management. This became know as A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK). This is reviewed often and should be studied if one plans on pursuing project management as a career.
Michael Russell Your Independent guide to Project Management