Let’s start at the very beginning… A very good place to start. - Maria von Trapp
Wise words, Maria!
So here you are, a project manager. What does that exactly mean? What are your responsibilities? And what do you need to deliver to your stakeholders?
I’ve found myself answering these questions in two very different ways.
On one hand, you are responsible for everything!
You help define the goal of the project with its sponsors, you get the right people involved at the start, you set up the project plan, you manage meetings and action items, you follow up with team members to make sure they are able to deliver on their tasks, and you make sure everyone is aware of what is happening and how it affects them. You do all of this work with input from your team and project stakeholders, asking a lot of questions to make sure you get the right level of information to make smart project decisions.
On the other hand, you are responsible for nothing!
You typically are not a subject matter expert on the project details or outcomes, you do not drive the content or design of the major deliverables, and you have no control over whether your team members are actually productive, including when and how they get things done. You facilitate a lot of discussions, decisions, and planning sessions — keeping all of those details organized — but you do not do the “meaty” work yourself.
While these two answers sound completely different, they actually complement each other quite well. It makes sense that you are not responsible for deep subject matter expertise, as that would distract you from being a really effective project manager. There is likely more than enough work to go around, so identifying team members who have the right expertise to deliver on the project goals is critical, and you will be there along the way to guide them.
Your responsibilities are to your project sponsor, leader, team members, and stakeholders — making sure they get things done, helping to keep them on track, and figuring out how to remove any obstacles that arise. You need to ask questions, solve problems, and cheer people on when the going gets tough. You are the glue that holds everything together, and in the end, you can confidently say that you played a huge role in the project outcomes.
One of the best things you can do at the beginning of a project is to define roles — not only your role as the project manager, but also the roles of all project stakeholders. That way, all parties involved know what they are responsible for and how to best utilize you as their project manager. Additionally, you are getting the project off to an honest and open start. The more you communicate with your stakeholders at the beginning to set expectations, the better off the team and the project will be at the end.
So when it comes to the role of a project manager, is it all or is it nothing? I hope you agree that it is a little bit of both.