What Is a Project Manager? A Guide to This Career

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A project manager plans, orchestrates, and leads complex and often cross-functional projects. Project managers design project plans, monitor performance for risks and issues and resolve problems as they arise.

[Featured Image] Project manager working on a laptop computer

A project manager is responsible for managing people, tasks, schedules, and resources through the project lifecycle. Your responsibilities may include preparing plans and budgets, specifying software or tools, communicating with team members, advising stakeholders, and making sure the project work is executed smoothly.

In a perfect world, projects would run flawlessly, with all tasks executed on time and on budget. But the real world is a bit messier. The project manager role was invented to make the world just a tiny bit more orderly. If you've worked directly with anyone in this profession, hopefully, you've noticed they have an uncanny way of keeping everyone informed, pushing through obstacles, and getting the job done on time—even when problems arise. 

With this guide as your starting point, you'll learn what a project manager is, what they do, and a little about how they do what they do.

What is a project manager? 

Project managers are the backbone of most change projects and technological initiatives. They don’t just coordinate and supervise tasks; they’re committed to the success of a project from start to finish and beyond.

Whether running a marketing campaign, constructing a building, developing a computer system, or launching a new product, the project manager is responsible for the success or failure of the project. 

As a project management professional, you will use your people skills and technical skills to lead teams of professionals. This can mean working closely with UX designers, developers, account managers, testers, architects, business analysts, and many other stakeholders. The best project managers are always learning; they keep their finger on the pulse of new developments in their industry and work to build tight-knit teams.

What do project managers do?

A project manager oversees the entire lifecycle of a project, from establishing initial goals and objectives to closure of the project, regardless of size or complexity. What you will be doing in a project will be dependent on the type of work being done and the stage of the project. 

  • You’ll tend to be doing more research and analysis in the initiation stage. 

  • During planning you will be charting and evaluating resources and data. 

  • Execution will be about monitoring, controlling, motivating and reporting. 

  • Closing out a project will be about reflecting, reporting and presenting.

Here are some of the day to day tasks you will have to do as a project manager:

  • A project manager keeps everyone on track, on time, and on budget. 

  • Project managers oversee all aspects of a project—from idea to completion—and have a big-picture view of all the moving parts. 

  • Ensure that the project is on time and on budget

  • Organise resources and assign tasks

  • Communicate with stakeholders and team members

  • Set quality standards and procedures

  • Control risks and keep the process moving through ongoing troubleshooting

  • Documenting the progress of the project

A project manager is a catalyst. Projects require order; they need beginning and end, tasks defined, teams assembled, and budgets allocated. A skilled project manager provides the glue that helps make all this happen.

Project manager competencies

This list of competencies will help you understand the skill sets and personal attributes you’ll need to take on a project manager role.

Proactive: You act on your observations to prevent problems or improve areas before they even happen.

Communication and conflict management: The best project managers communicate clearly, listen attentively, and communicate using the right channels. They have the ability to speak with people of all levels and cultures and to build strong relationships. Dealing with conflict can be an integral part of a project manager's job responsibilities. 

Leadership: You’ll be tasked with leading a team to achieve a goal. Teamwork: A project manager needs to get the most out of individual team members.

Organisational skills: Project managers must have strong organisational skills—the ability to work seamlessly with other departments, to juggle deadlines, delegate tasks, and manage projects in a busy environment. These abilities will increase productivity and ensure the best possible outcomes for your business.

Critical thinking: An exceptional project manager will be able to analyse and evaluate a situation and make sound, risk-free decisions based on sound reasoning. They will use logic to challenge ideas and assumptions that are not supported by evidence.

Influence: PMs must possess the ability to convince others to support their proposed solution. This ability to influence others sometimes requires astute diplomacy and interpersonal skills.

Throughout your career, you’ll find yourself working with a variety of software and technology to help streamline the tasks at hand. The types of tools available will depend on the industry or project and can include tools to track time, create plans and reports, manage invoices, and share calendars among other aspects of project management.

Project management methodologies

Project management methodologies and approaches come with certifications that demonstrate your expertise as a project manager.


Agile is a powerful project methodology that emphasises teamwork and frequent deliveries to demonstrate progress. In an Agile process, requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration among self-organising cross-functional teams. 


Lean and Six Sigma (Lean Six Sigma) is a process improvement methodology. It was originally developed in the manufacturing industry. Lean relies on numerous techniques and business tools to achieve reduction of waste and expanded productivity. The Lean transformation is often drastic, requiring a change in culture throughout an organisation.


Scrum provides a set of processes, rules, and roles that allow small teams to be more result-oriented and productive. In an organisation using Scrum, team members—the Scrum team—work together to reach a common goal faster. 

The Scrum team organises work into sprints (time-boxed iterations), lets the work emerge from the team, measures progress based on evidence, not people's opinions, synchronises the activities of all players involved in the project, and delivers products frequently in order to get feedback early and often.


Kanban (pronounced <kahn-ban>) is a visual workplace management process that creates flow and more timely delivery by establishing visual control of workflow. Kanban was developed by the renowned Toyota Production System. The Kanban board uses cards you can see to manage focused tasks to avoid multitasking. By only doing one task at a time, instead of jumping back and forth between multiple tasks, it helps improve speed and quality of delivery.

eXtreme Programming (XP)

Extreme Programming is a software development methodology that relies on frequent releases in short development cycles to foster rapid learning and responsiveness to change. XP accomplishes this by rigorous definition of customer-centric requirements, paired with automated unit testing, incremental design, and immediate implementation of code. Developers then frequently release new code into the development environment where it can be tested.


Waterfall is a project management methodology used for software development, data systems development, and IT projects. Waterfall is highly structured and closely managed using extensive monitoring mechanisms. 

The methodology is part of an engineering or project management framework that defines the overall process to be completed according to predetermined objectives and deliverables, which have been accurately scoped. The intuitive Waterfall approach is a structured, top-down process for planning projects..


The PMBoK refers to the five process steps of project management—Initiating, Planning, Executing, Monitoring & Controlling, and Closing.

The PMI Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) is the global standard of project management. Created, maintained, and governed by the Project Management Institute (PMI), this internationally recognised framework provides a common language for companies and practitioners from around the world to communicate in a uniform way regarding project management practices.


Prince2 is a rigorous and disciplined set of methods that together create an integrated system for project success. Powerful and in-depth, Prince2 is a project management methodology that provides a comprehensive toolset for producing high-quality products and efficiently delivering them.

Project managers apply different methodologies based on their own needs, the kind of project they are working on, and the preferences of their bosses and customers.

Are you interested in exploring a career path as a project manager?

A career in project management is more than just juggling deadlines and budgets. It’s also an opportunity to grow as a leader, learn how to resolve problems and make decisions under pressure, strategise over a variety of projects and priorities, and to keep up with the latest software and technology. If you’re seeking a job that will keep you on your toes, look no further than project management.

Project management has become a hot career in recent years. As business becomes more competitive and the clock ticks faster, project managers are increasingly in demand to deliver projects to tight deadlines.

Project manager job outlook

The outlook for jobs for project managers is expected to be very good through the 2020s. Employment of project managers is projected to grow over 20 per cent over the next decade, about as fast as the average for all occupations. The need for organisation and coordination in large projects should help to spur demand for project managers. 

Project manager salaries

The biggest factor of how much a project manager makes is the size of the organisation they work for. Generally, project managers who are employed by large-scale companies will earn more than those who work for medium or small ones. In addition, project managers who have leadership roles and experience managing projects will also be more likely to earn more. 

In general, project managers working on smaller, less complex projects will earn less than those who have put in years of experience and who are overseeing extremely large and important projects that require a lot of oversight. 


*Data represents average salaries on job sites in London, UK (June 2022)

Degrees and master's degrees

It is not necessary to have a project management degree or master's degree to enter project management. However, the courses from universities provide a solid grounding in the theory of project management, and skill formation through practical work and placements, and are great on your CV. 

Getting started in project management

Project management isn’t just a career—it’s a calling. If you are looking to get a grounding in project management theory then the Google Certificate in Project Management may be a good place for you to start. The course provides a solid overview and introduction to diverse themes, approaches, methodologies, and competencies in project management.

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