What does a project manager do?

Explore the role of project managers: from planning, resource allocation, to team motivation and project delivery in this comprehensive guide.

“Being a project manager is like being an artist, you have the different colored process streams combining into a work of art.” ~ Greg Cimmarrusti, Project management professional

This quote rings true, but if you don’t have a project manager with the right skills and know-how, you may end up with a splattered mess instead. 

So, what makes for a successful project manager, and how do you ensure you’re using the resources and people you have available to create an organizational work of art? 

Let’s take a deep dive into the role of a project manager and see what it takes for today’s project managers to maintain success across different types of projects.

Key responsibilities of a project manager

Project management plays a central role in lots of different industries. But while the methodologies and output might vary, the project manager role itself stays pretty consistent.

That’s because whether you’re a construction project manager or a project manager in software development, you ultimately have the same responsibilities: to plan, oversee, and deliver a project.

Regardless of the project's deliverable — whether it’s a new building or a new feature release — you still want that project done successfully and efficiently, from beginning to end.

We’ve broken down those project manager accountabilities at each stage of the project management process to better understand what project managers do — and why it matters.

From the outset, the project manager is responsible for defining the scope of the project and aligning with stakeholders to set expectations.

This is the part where the project manager ensures that the project links to a bigger strategic goal, defines what “success” will look like, and gets buy-in from all stakeholders.

In addition to all of these strategic elements, it’s also where the “nuts and bolts” planning comes into play. The project manager will outline the plan for the project based on the agreed-upon scope and deliverables, including project budget, resource requirements, and timeline.

All of this planning at the beginning of the project is crucial to ensure it runs smoothly — and that everyone on the project knows what “running smoothly” is supposed to look like.

Once the project manager has the plan in place, they need to make provisions for getting it done. For that, you need time, money, and people power. 

In other words: resources.

According to the PMI’s Pulse of the Profession Report, “resource dependency” was a primary cause of project failure in 26% of failed projects, with “limited or taxed resources” (21%) and “inadequate resource forecasting” (18%) following close behind.

So there’s a lot riding on resource management. And it’s especially tricky because resources are always going to be limited — as a PM, you’re never going to have quite as much at your disposal as you would like.

With that in mind, the project manager’s responsibility is to allocate the limited resources they do have in the cleverest, most efficient way possible.

A project management platform is especially useful for this because it enables project managers to have full visibility over everyone’s workloads, track all of their available resources (and see what’s still available to use), and quickly identify where they’re at risk of going over capacity to prevent burnout before it happens.

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No matter how expertly planned and beautifully managed your project is, life, uh, finds a way.

That is to say, things will probably deviate from your lovely project plan at one stage or another.

But great project managers know to expect the unexpected. They’ve done their due diligence in the form of risk assessment, so they know what to look out for. 

They’re tracking their timelines and resources so they can spot potential bottlenecks before they become issues. And they’re level-headed enough to flexibly respond to changes in the moment and as needed.

They’re the ones who keep the ship sailing in the right direction, even if they have to take an alternative route or patch up a sail to get there.

When you think of project manager responsibilities, you probably think of the classic three. The ones we’ve been coming back to again and again: timelines, budgets, and resources.

Those are, of course, super important. But a great project manager isn’t just organized and adaptable — they’re also emotionally intelligent.

Emotional intelligence is what allows the best PMs to understand what motivates each team member, enables them to navigate conflict, and helps them to keep everyone on the project team feeling happy and valued.

And since happier employees are 13% more productive, it’s one of the most important aspects of the project management job description.

One of the most obvious project manager accountabilities? Actually delivering the project.

It sounds straightforward, but as we’ve seen above, delivering a successful project is dependent on lots of other moving parts working together — beautifully.

So it’s the project manager's responsibility to ensure that all of the above — the planning, the resourcing, the managing, the motivating — results in the expected deliverable at the right time and within the right budget.

Good project managers know that the project’s not over just because you’ve “Done The Thing.”

In order to maximize your chances of success, you need to factor in time for a proper project post-mortem meeting.

By setting aside a dedicated time for the team to review and report on the project while it’s still fresh in everyone’s minds, you can ensure that all learnings can be documented and used to optimize your processes for next time, so you can continuously improve and scale your project management best practices.

And as any project manager knows, the right project management tool is an invaluable asset for these post-mortem meetings. Since your project management software has been the one central place for all project-related info throughout the project’s lifecycle, the project manager can quickly report on the existing data to get the insights they need.

Armed with that knowledge, the PM can see how the project measured up against other previous projects, recognize where the team excelled, and identify where there’s still room for improvement going forward — all of which helps them to make data-driven decisions that help propel the business forward.

Skills required for effective project management

The skills and know-how of the project manager can be a major factor when it comes to reaching project goals and achieving project success. Here are some of the most important project management skills required for the job.

Project managers are team leaders, responsible for guiding and motivating the rest of the project team. So, it’s no surprise that strong leadership skills are the foundation for success as a project manager.

Being able to solve problems swiftly, delegate tasks efficiently, and bring out the best in team members are powerful tools for project managers to wield. 

When issues inevitably arise, project teams need strong leaders who can find solutions and organize everyone toward fixing the problem. 

Project managers also set the tone for the rest of the team. If the project manager is motivated, engaged, and working hard, then the rest of the team is more likely to follow suit.  

Do you know what the most important tool in any army’s arsenal is? It’s not a tank or a drone or a weapon of any sort — it’s a radio. That’s because effective communication can make or break the success of any operation, no matter what kind of resources and firepower you bring to the table.

As a project manager, it’s your job to lead team communication in every aspect. This means ensuring you effectively communicate information and expectations to project team members. But it also means ensuring that team members communicate effectively with you and each other.  

A culture of open communication can make projects go much more smoothly, and creating this team culture is largely the project manager's responsibility.  

Project managers are also responsible for heading up communication with project stakeholders. Keeping stakeholders updated on project progress and seeking their input throughout the project lifecycle is key if you want to make sure they’re happy with the final result.

A good project manager must be able to juggle all of these communication responsibilities — while tailoring their messaging and communication style to each recipient. But they also need to listen to what their team members and stakeholders have to say, as effective communication should always go both ways. 

Facilitating effective stakeholder and team communication is something that robust communication tools like Teamwork.com can help with. However, at the end of the day, excellent communication skills are still a vital quality for project managers — no matter what tools they use for assistance.

Project managers have to anticipate potential project risks ahead of time, then identify and mitigate them.

In project management, there’s nothing worse than being caught completely off guard by an unforeseen issue. Potential problems are sometimes unavoidable, but you’re going to be a whole lot better off if you are aware of them ahead of time.

This means that project managers need the ability to see the big picture and anticipate issues the project may encounter down the road. They can do this by brainstorming possible risks and creating a risk matrix to prioritize them. 

They may also perform qualitative and quantitative assessments to determine the likelihood and possible impact of each risk. 

In addition, project managers need problem-solving skills to manage these risks and produce potential solutions in case those hypothetical issues become a reality. However, there are tools that can help project managers identify and analyze potential project risks. 

Teamwork.com’s resource management and project visibility features, for example, help project managers avoid bottlenecks and identify big-picture issues early on. These tools, combined with a knack for finding both potential problems and proactive solutions, can serve a project manager well. 

Strong organizational skills can mean the ability to organize all of the responsibilities you have as the project manager. But it’s also the ability to structure the project, its deliverables, and its milestones in a well-organized, efficient way. Both are vital for keeping projects on track.

Thankfully, organizing people and projects is something that a good project management platform can help with. Even the best project managers can have difficulties managing all their responsibilities without a dedicated platform. 

That’s why using a project management platform like Teamwork.com can go a long way toward helping project managers make the most of their organizational skills. 

Tools and technologies used by project managers

Project managers need a lot of skills, but they also tend to rely on a lot of useful tools to help them along the way. Some of the most important tools and technologies used by project managers include things like:

Collaboration tools help facilitate effective team communication and keep everyone working together toward common goals. These tools enable real-time communication and provide a digital workspace for team members to collaborate. 

Some of the top collaboration tools used by project managers include: 

  • Slack

  • Google Teams

  • Google Drive

  • Miro

Task management tools allow project managers to assign tasks to team members and track their progress. 

When it comes to projects that include a lot of separate tasks (as most projects do), these tools are extremely helpful for keeping everyone on track and promoting project visibility.  

Here are some of the best task management tools for project managers and project coordinators:

  • Teamwork.com

  • Trello

  • Jira

  • Microsoft Planner

Agile methodologies, such as Scrum, Kanban, and Lean, are often helpful frameworks for structuring projects. These methodologies emphasize flexibility, continuous improvement, risk management, and transparency — all of which can be major factors in a project’s success. 

Some project managers specialize only in traditional project management, but adding Agile project management methodologies to your arsenal can be a big benefit. 

If your agency struggles to complete deliverables on time or remain flexible when project requirements change, Agile project management may be just the solution you need.


What do project managers do on a daily basis?

So we know the basic project manager job description (“they manage projects”) and some of the project manager accountabilities. But what does it all actually look like in real life?

It’s a fast-paced job, and no two days are the same. Depending on which phase each project is at, a project manager’s daily duties and responsibilities could include any of the following:

  • Meet with leadership to decide the scope of an upcoming project.

  • Pitch to the finance team to increase the budget.

  • Outline a project charter.

  • Create a risk assessment report.

  • Check in with the project team for a daily standup and progress report.

  • Update the calendar to reflect timeline shifts.

  • Manage and re-allocate tasks across the team to make sure no one’s over capacity.

  • Check in with a team member who’s struggling with their workload.

  • Moderate a post-mortem project meeting and gather feedback.

Now that you’re no longer wondering, “What does a project manager do?” and you have a clearer sense of what a PM does on a daily basis, you might be thinking, “Hey, that’s something I would be into!” So, if you want to do what a PM does, here’s what you need to know about this career path.

Become a better project manager with Teamwork.com

Agencies ask a lot of their project managers, and the role a good project manager plays in project success really cannot be overstated. That’s why making sure you’re using the best tools is an important first step if you want to be the best project manager you can be! With Teamwork.com’s project management platform — designed specifically for Agile teams — project managers get all the tools and features they need for success.

From complete visibility into resource utilization to task-tracking features to real-time communication tools, Teamwork offers everything project managers need to unleash their teams’ potential.

Ready to become a better project manager with just the click of a button? Sign up for Teamwork today!

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