Project Manager vs. Coordinator vs. Director: Every Difference to Know

October 27, 2022
8 minute read

Project Management is a complex field in which leaders coordinate multiple tasks and often juggle multiple projects at any given time; however, it might surprise some readers to learn that Project Managers are not always alone in delivering a project to stakeholders. In addition to Project Managers, projects often also include Project Coordinator (sometimes called a Project Assistant) and Project Director (more commonly known as a Program Director) roles as well - but where do these sit within a Project Management team, and what do they do? 

In this article, we will explain the differences, overlapping responsibilities, and how these roles work together to deliver a project on-time and on-budget.

Project Coordinator vs Manager vs. Director: Who is in Charge? 

Project management structures vary by project and by institution - meaning that the differences between the three project management roles may also vary. In some cases, an organization might advertise for a Project Director - in the hopes of attracting a slightly more senior resource, even though the role and responsibilities are essentially in-line with Project Manager duties. In other situations, different people might use these terms interchangeably - unaware of the practical nuances between them.

Nevertheless, for our purposes, we will identify tangible differences between the roles as well as other key aspects, such as essential skills, expected salaries, and daily responsibilities. 

For many, these are distinct roles - even if they work closely together and operate at different levels within a project - and, as such, require unique training and/or experience to succeed. That said, before we dig into specifics, broadly speaking, the difference is this:

  • Project Directors are the most senior of the three and are in charge of long-term strategic strategies as well as the delivery of multiple (often coordinated) projects. In certain organizations, this role may also be synonymous with a Project Executive role.
  • Project Managers might report to a Project Director but are still considered senior level resources. They are tasked with tactical problem-solving and overall delivery of a project. Depending on the size of the organization and project, they might oversee multiple projects.
  • Project Coordinators report to Project Managers and are the least-senior of the three roles. They are responsible for ensuring project tasks and personnel are delivering as expected; though, they have no decision-making authority. 

Take for example a creative marketing agency, Project Directors would be tasked with developing new teams and initiatives that will help streamline and expand the agency’s creative asset pipeline, whereas a project manager would be responsible for ensuring the current pipeline produces a set of creative assets on-time and on-budget for a current client. Meanwhile, a project coordinator would support the project manager by ensuring that any delays in delivery of the creative assets were identified ahead of time and solutions were proposed, so their PM has all the information they need to restructure the project and confirm a new plan of action - such as reprioritizing additional creative resources or delaying delivery of the assets, as examples. 

As mentioned, there might be overlap or different applications of these roles when comparing different organizations and projects, i.e. a marketing startup with no Project Director or Project Executive that is attempting to develop long term project strategies. In a case like this, the project manager might become overwhelmed with bigger-picture tasks and rely on their project coordinator to make day-to-day decisions as-needed - whereas larger, more established, operations might stick to “traditional” roles for their project management team.


Main Differences Between Project Directors & Project Managers

While each role has unique components and skills, there are some key differences that, broadly, we can use to differentiate the two roles:

  • Scope: A project director is focused on how a series of projects will impact the business, where a project manager is primarily concerned with delivery on individual (or groups of) projects.
  • Perspective: A project director should prioritize strategic thinking and analysis, where a project manager should prioritize technical execution as well as delivery of projects and tasks.
  • Timeline: Project directors will plan and analyze the long-term and cumulative impact of multiple projects, where a project director will plan and oversee the comparatively short-term delivery of a project and the individual tasks within. Short-term here is relative to the long-term work of a project director - as a project manager could still oversee a task that takes months to complete.

Main Differences Between Project Managers & Project Coordinators

Project managers and project coordinators share a lot of similar responsibilities but, at the most basic level, you can understand the difference this way: project coordinators are junior to project managers.

  • Scope: A project manager is primarily concerned with delivery on individual (or groups of) projects, where a project coordinator will focus on the day-to-day delivery of a project’s various tasks.
  • Perspective: A project manager is in charge of the project - meaning they are accountable for the outcome and decisions along the way. A project coordinator is tasked with supporting that strategy but does not, in most cases, have actual decision-making authority.
  • Timeline: Project managers are problem solvers who, despite a sometimes lengthy delivery process, are looking at a project in short term chunks. Project coordinators are even more granular - meaning they should be well aware of how tasks are coming along and be prepared to raise a flag to the project manager before a task gets too far off track. 

What is a Project Director & What Do They Do?

Project Directors, aka Program Directors (and sometimes Project Executive depending on the organization), are high-level resources that often liaise with the executive team in long term visioning and strategic thinking. They might also be members of the executive team and/or have a larger role within the organization. At the most basic level, a Project Director will be focused on big-picture planning of multiple projects and initiatives - and unlikely to be involved in day-to-day project oversight.


Project Director Skills & Responsibilities

The key responsibilities of a Project Director may include the following:

  • Planning of overall execution of their program and projects. 
  • Proactively anticipating challenges and hurdles to long term program success.
  • Adjusting program deliverables or timelines as needed.
  • Creating and maintaining budgets for projects, departments, and initiatives they oversee.
  • Cross-project coordination and resource management.
  • Identifying and troubleshooting current operational problems.
  • Developing ways of working and documenting processes.
  • Ensuring transparency and open communication with all stakeholders. 

Essential skills of a Project Director may include the following:

  • Highly analytical with exceptional organization.
  • Outside of the box problem solving. 
  • Proactive management style.
  • Effective in tracking ROI and proving value.
  • Constructive team management and mentoring.
  • Exceptional conflict resolution.
  • Able to plan and communicate an effective vision.

How Much Does a Project Director Earn in Salary?

As with any job, salary varies by location, responsibilities, and position within an organization. Still, Project Directors can expect to earn anywhere from $75,000 to $200,000 per year or more.


What is a Project Manager & What Do They Do?

A project management team can include any number of specialists, executives, and support staff but one key role is absolutely essential in nearly every version of the team: the Project Manager. Project Managers are exactly what their title might suggest: they manage all aspects of a project - from planning to delivery.

Project Manager Skills & Responsibilities

The key responsibilities of a Project Manager may include the following:

  • Identifying tasks that need to be completed, establishing deadlines, and assigning individuals for delivery.
  • Coordination of work between resources and ensuring clear communication. 
  • Assessing potential challenges as well as risks and developing plans to manage both.
  • Develop tracking processes to ensure a transparent understanding of task progress.
  • Quality control on all tasks - ensuring the work is completed on time and on-budget.
  • Management of the team (both internal and contract resources).
  • Mitigate issues within the team to ensure workers are happy and productive.
  • Adjusting timelines, allocated resources, and expectations up until delivery.
  • Deliver a completed project that satisfies stakeholder expectations. 

Essential skills of a Project Manager may include the following:

  • Highly analytical with exceptional organization.
  • Attention to detail (but with an eye on long-term and/or big-picture objectives)
  • Outside-of-the-box problem-solving. 
  • Constructive team management, tracking, and mentoring.
  • Proactive and solution-focused response to issues that arise.
  • Exceptional conflict resolution.
  • Superior multitasking and instinct for what to prioritize.

How Much Does a Project Manager Earn in Salary?

As a senior member of any company, with a core focus on delivering products, services, and other tools that aid in business growth, a Project Manager can expect to earn anywhere from $55,000 to $115,000 per year or more - depending on the industry.


What is a Project Coordinator & What Do They Do?

Project Coordinators vary in experience and scope. They could be entry-level business specialists looking to gain experience and develop into Project Managers or they could be veteran project management team members with hundreds of successful deliveries under their belt. Either way, they are essential project specialists who manage day-to-day execution - but defer to their Project Manager if deliverables are off-track. 


Project Coordinator Skills & Responsibilities

The key responsibilities of a Project Coordinator or Project Associate may include the following:

  • Primary focus on day-to-day deliverables, team members, and task progress.
  • Flag issues (budget, personnel, deadlines, etc) and report to Project Manager.
  • Propose solutions to Project Manager for approval and implementation.
  • Coordinate with task assignees, and provide feedback and support where needed.
  • Populate and maintain project dashboards and team documentation.
  • Assist senior management in improving and optimizing project workflows. 
  • Ensure awareness of all tasks and current status.
  • Provide open lines of communication between task assignees and project management team.


Essential skills of a Project Coordinator or Project Associate may include the following:

  • Exceptional organization.
  • Rigorous attention to detail.
  • Clear and effective communication. 
  • Constructive team management, tracking, and mentoring.
  • Proactive and collaborative response to issues that arise.
  • Superior multitasking and instinct for what to prioritize.
  • Interest in learning and development.

How Much Does a Project Coordinator Earn in Salary?

An intermediate-level position in the project management team, a project coordinator is still a well-paying job - and one with a clear development path to more senior positions. As such, project coordinators should expect to earn anywhere from $35,000 - $70,000 per year. 


How to Move from Project Coordinator to Project Manager to Project Director

There is no surefire way to move up the project management ladder; however, there are some common strategies that workers with an interest in project management can employ. As with many of the other points we’ve identified, strategies should be customized to the industry in which you operate - so use your best judgment as to how you can upskill yourself to be even more useful within a PM structure.

  • Improve Relevant & Core Skills
    • It’s important to understand which of your own skills need further development and which can truly help improve your effectiveness at the level above where you are now. What new skills or tools do you need to learn to be effective at that next rung of the ladder?  
  • Take Initiative or Request Additional Roles, Tasks, & Projects to Gain Experience
    • It might seem obvious but initiative is the most important thing anyone can do to create opportunities and room for advancement. Taking initiative shows you care and, in increasingly chaotic work environments, will expose you to new challenges that require you to find new solutions or complete additional training. Not to mention, initiative shows you’re a team player - and it never hurts to help reduce the stress of your coworkers and line managers.
  • Earn Project Management Certifications or Complete Post-Graduate Coursework
    • Project management can be learned on the job but, thanks to a handful of unique styles and processes, formal training and certifications are encouraged and may be required, depending on the company, before applying to a more senior Project Management position. 
  • Apply for Project Manager Roles (at Your Current Work and/or Other Companies)
    • The last thing is obvious: put yourself out there. If a job opens up at your current company, and you believe you’re qualified, apply for it - even if you don’t get it, you’ll gain a better understanding and potentially direct feedback from the hiring team on where you need to develop. Similarly, if you’ve hit the ceiling at your current role, or you’re not a fit for one of the PM team roles they’re advertising, look for opportunities with a new company where your current skill set might be a better fit.

How Project Management Software Helps Coordinators, Managers, & Directors

Regardless of what role you have within a Project Management org chart, you’ll find benefit in a robust project management software suite

At the top level, project management software such as Workamajig allows Program Directors to easily access all of an organization’s in-progress projects to ensure their project management team is aligned with long term strategic vision and objectives. Meanwhile, project managers can structure and plan project roadmaps and task schedules with relative ease - ensuring project coordinators have a clear cut framework to follow-on. 

Which project management software is right for any one team varies greatly; however, for creative teams, marketing professionals, and agencies who work with a lot of external resources, Workamajig has been custom-designed to be a centralized tool for all your project management needs. From WBS charts to budget tracking to third-party integrations to fully-automated accounting functions, Workamajig is sure to help your project succeed - regardless of your role! 

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