Operational Excellence

'What Do You Do?… Huh?? A Project Manager?' - Part 1

by Brad Egeland, March 31, 2014

You know how this goes. You are at a gathering – a party, church, a friend's wedding – and someone says, “What do you do?” How do you reply? “I’m a project manager” is just too broad these days. According to many job postings basically anything can be handled by a project manager.

So what do you tell these people? Do you say, “A little bit of everything”? That would be accurate. And it definitely is for me as a consultant who is also a Project Manager. But seriously…what do we do? You could say, “I  solve problems creatively….all the time!” You could say, “I make tough decisions every day,” or “I resolve conflicts,” or “I manage headache-causing customers.” Or, “Whatever my director tells me to do.” Or even, in some organizations, “Anything I want to because they just leave me alone to manage the project.” All of these would/could be correct.

It can be a tough question to answer. So let’s consider…what do we do?

Well – here are a few key responsibilities…some of which were touched on (maybe a bit sarcastically) above…

We manage conflict

It would be nice if this was never an issue…but that isn’t the real world. Conflict happens. Maybe not big, maybe not even in a very noticeable and open way on every project. But every now and then it rears its ugly head, and the project manager must be in the middle of the resolution. Ok, maybe not the middle…because sometimes you just have to let things run their course. But if it starts to affect the project, then the project manager must get involved.

The best and most professional way is to not just jump in and knock heads together…even though that is probably what you want to do so you can move forward with real work. The best thing to do is to meet with both sides separately, hear them out, then bring them together for a discussion and hopefully a resolution to, at the very least, “agree to disagree”, and then get them to refocus that passion (or whatever!) on the end goals of the project.

We manage meetings

Meetings. Everybody hates them to some degree, though there are those who love to conduct them and hold everyone hostage to listen to their self-gratifying reasons for leading the meeting. (But I digress!) Some are indeed productive. And as PMs, it is our responsibility to conduct productive, on time, effective, and concise project meetings. And conduct them…don’t cancel them, unless in the case of bleeding or dying. Because once you start canceling meetings, then your reputation turns into “that person who holds optional meetings.” You do not want that reputation.

We manage a project team

If you didn’t get this already from the conflict section, yes, we manage project teams. These are very skilled resources…and often very opinionated ones as well. Sometimes they even come with big egos. Maintaining control of the project over powerful team members can be quite a task on its own. But our team is our means by which we deliver a successful project. We need them and we don’t have the time and resources and budget to go around replacing them unless the situation is very dire. So we make it work. And we reward them and we cajole them and we encourage them and hopefully we deliver a stellar end product to the customer as a result.

In Part 2 of this discussion on what we actually do as project managers – so we can have something to tell friends at parties – we will look at three more areas of responsibilities.

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