PM4DEV Blog

Ideas, suggestions and general thoughts about project management for development.

The Roles of the Project Manager

Development organizations appoint a project manager for the depth of his or her technical skills. It is not unusual to find a good engineer being promoted to project manager just for his or her technical competence. While it is true that one must have a good understanding of the technical aspects of the project, project managers are also required to have good management skills such as communicating; planning, negotiating, coaching, decision-making, and leadership. These skills are often overlooked at the time of hiring or appointing a project manager.

The job descriptions for a project manager need to be more explicit in defining the managerial skills and competencies required for the job. Organizations usually assign a project manager with the idea that all that is required is expertise in a technical area and often forget the need to have a project manager with the skills to lead a project team, coordinate the use of resources, communicate with stakeholders and manage the project constraints, all at the same time.

Organizations need to build a better understanding of the role of a project manager and understand that this role is not the same as a technical manager. The project manager role is one of integrator, communicator and facilitator; this role is of equal or more importance than the role of a technical manager.

There are three critical roles of the project manager:

  • Integrator; ensures all the project activities, strategies and approaches are an integrated effort.
  • Communicator; most of the work is spent communicating with all stakeholders and building the right support and relationships.
  • Leader; motivating and inspiring a team to deliver the project work by providing a vision and direction.

A key responsibility of the project manager is to ensure the proper integration of the project management processes and coordinate the project phases through the project management cycle. This responsibility is to ensure that all areas of the project come together to deliver the project to a successful conclusion. This is the main role of the project manager; it is not related to the technical responsibilities of the project, which in most cases are managed by the project staff. The role of integrator involves three specific areas of responsibility:

  • Develop the project management plans, which consists of the development of all project planning documents into a consistent, coherent project plan document.
  • Implement the project plan, which involves the execution of the project plan and ensuring all activities are performed by all the people involved.
  • Monitor and control the plan, which involves measuring the initial results against the intended objectives and coordinating all changes to the plans.

As a communicator, the project manager ensures that all stakeholders receive the right information at the right time. This is an important role. The project manager has a holistic view of the project and is in the best position to know the why, when, what and how the project is doing and communicate progress, changes and risks to the parties involved. Studies confirm that the project manager spends about 80% of his/her time communicating. Project managers in the role of communicator assume three functions:

  • Gathering information from project staff and other people involved with the project.
  • Analyzing the information and make sense of its implications.
  • Distributing the information to the internal and external environments, such as the donor, beneficiaries, and the public to gain support for the project.

As leader, the project manager must ensure the team and project stakeholders have an understanding of the project vision. A leader inspire others to achieve the project objectives, the leader encourages full participation from the project team, promotes mutual understanding with the beneficiaries and cultivates shared responsibility among all project stakeholders.

The leadership role implies the skills to:

  • Facilitate: To ease and assist the project team to do their work.
  • Coordinate: To organize, direct and synchronize the efforts of all involved in the project.
  • Motivate: To inspire, stimulate and encourage the team to achieve the project objectives.

 These roles are integrated and cannot be treated as separate, and they are critical to the success of any project manager.

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The Project Kickoff Meeting

A good practice in project management is to hold a formal kickoff meeting to ensure all team members and key stakeholders have a good understanding of the purpose and objectives of the project. The kick-off meeting ensures that team members and stakeholders have the same levels of understanding about the purpose and status of the project. Just as a project should have a formal end-of-project meeting to signify that it is complete, it also makes sense to hold a formal kickoff meeting to start a project.

The purpose of the kickoff meeting is to formally notify all stakeholders that the project has begun and make sure everyone has a common understanding of the project and his or her role. The kickoff meeting is a time to get all the team members and stakeholders together and formally set the stage for the start of the project. Like all formal meetings, there should be an agenda.

A kick-off meeting has four basic functions:

  1. Officially state the start of the project
  2. Outline the project goals as well as the individual roles and responsibilities of team members; and stakeholders
  3. Clarify the expectations of all parties
  4. Build a commitment by all those who influence the project’s outcome.

There are a number of specific things to cover at this meeting:

  • Recap the information in the Project Charter, including:
  • The purpose of the project
  • Scope
  • Major deliverables
  • Risks
  • Assumptions
  • Estimated effort and budget
  • Deadline
  • Discuss the important roles and responsibilities of the project team and stakeholders.
  • Go over the general approach and timeline of the project. This gives people a sense of how the project will unfold. In particular to ensure that people understand what they need to be doing in the short-term to support the project.
  • Discuss and answer any outstanding questions. The purpose of the discussion is to allow people to voice specific questions or concerns they have as the project begins

The meeting can run anywhere from 2 hours to a full day depending on the size of the project and how much group time you want to spend on several project kickoff discussions and related deliverables. At the end of the kickoff meeting, the project team is ready to work with a common understanding of goals and a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities.

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