Agency Management, Operational Excellence

'What Do You Do?... Huh?? A Project Manager?' - Part 2

by Brad Egeland, April 7, 2014

In Part 1 of this two part series on what to tell those inquisitive people that are curious about what it actually means to be a project manager, we began looking at the first three of six major functional areas that PMs deal with day in and day out. It isn’t always exciting, it isn’t always awe-inspiring, but it is usually fairly interesting. At least to me – and far more interesting…in my opinion…than most people imagine it to be.

And it is almost always different. No two projects are the same, issues and risks and decisions are always present and different, and teams and clients create an interesting – and challenging chemistry – that we must creatively manage and keep in check. And always…we must keep the project moving forward while keeping one eye on the end solution and one eye on the overall scope of the project to make sure we aren’t stepping out of bounds for what we have been tasked to accomplish.

Now let’s look at my final three of the six areas of responsibility and function…

We manage a client

Oh yes, the client. We manage that individual or group as well. They can be far less predictable than our project team, and many times far more annoying. They have the cash. Our company wants the cash. And we want the client to be happy. Satisfaction often = success. Satisfaction sometimes = more business and revenue. Satisfaction sometimes = increased pay for us.

Seriously though. Our clients are everything. We are working to hand them a successful and usable end solution. On time and on budget, if possible. To me, the client is everything. And that is why customer service is a big part of any project manager or consultant’s job.

We make important decisions

This is a given…it’s in the job description. PMs are expected to make good decisions with whatever information is available and take responsibility for the result of that decision. Often there isn’t quite enough information and often there isn’t enough time to go up the ladder of command and get a superior’s input or opinion. When that happens, the project manager has to go on instinct and – if they want to be seen as a confident leader – they need to stand by their decision. Wavering really isn’t allowed.

We report status

Finally…we report status. This one is probably at the very core of project management responsibilities and duties. We figure out what our project needs, what our client wants, and what our senior leadership demands and we report that status on a weekly basis. Along with that – and part of that – we manage a detailed project schedule that tells everyone who is doing what when. And we manage budgets and resource plans. But in the end, that kind of all rolls up into “status.”


That last one is probably the most mundane and static thing we do. And we better be doing that on a weekly basis. But everything else is fairly diverse, ever changing, different from team to team and client to client, and actually rarely boring…unless project management isn’t for you. And I realize that it isn’t for everyone. Otherwise, the job postings would be right and everyone truly COULD be a project manager. And we don’t want that.

Alternatively, instead of saying that you make important decisions, or you manage clients, or you report status, you could indeed say 'I'm an undercover agent for the IRS'. That usually gets people to change the subject quickly!

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