What Exactly is a Project Manager?

There are a lot of people out there who claim to be project managers. Some of them have business cards that they can produce to prove they are a project manager. Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t – but how do you know? The profession of project management is relatively young and by there are no countries yet which recognize it and protect it with legislation as a full profession, and as such there are a lot of ad-hoc project managers out there. So,  let’s start by defining exactly what a project manager is.

There are many types of professionals working in the field of project management, all with different levels of responsibility and authority. There are project directors, project managers, contract managers, project administrators, project coordinators, project facilitators, and project expeditors. How do you know which one you are and which one you should be? You don’t need to be a project manager to manage small projects, but you couldn’t run a complex project as a project facilitator.

The easiest way to understand what a project manager is and does, is to change the job title to general manager of a project. Just as a general manager of an organisation takes responsibility for running all aspects of the organisation, a project manager takes responsibility for running all aspects of a project. Along with taking responsibility for the project, a true project manager’s level of authority is as high as his or her level of responsibility.

Here is a description of each of the different roles:

Description of Project Management Job Titles

Project Manager

 

The project manager has full responsibility and authority for all aspects of the project. He or she is the general manager of the project and has chosen project management as a full time career.
Project Coordinator The project coordinator reports progress to senior management and has responsibility for carrying out mid-level project management tasks and has some limited authority. Typically he or she is a technical expert doing project work part time.
Project Expeditor The project expeditor has no authority but often does have low levels of responsibility particularly around reporting.
Project Administrator The project administrator provides administrative support on a project and can take responsibility for small parts of projects. Has very little authority. Often an entry-level position for people wishing to become project managers.

 

If you have high levels of responsibility and authority, you are probably a genuine project manager. If you have low levels of responsibility and authority then you are probably a project administrator. If you have high levels of responsibility but low levels of authority then you are just plain stupid – you are setting yourself up for failure and becoming a scapegoat with  no way to change it, never allow yourself to be in this situation  no matter what your job title.

So next time you meet someone who introduces themselves as a project manager, question them a little and see if you can figure out what the actually are.