What is a Project Manager and What Do They Do?

What is a project manager and what do they do?
We’ve updated this popular article by adding a fun slideshow that looks at a day in the life of a project manager and answers “What is a project manager and what do they do?”  Use it and share it with your colleagues! Click below to view the full Haiku Deck with notes.A Day in the Life of a Project Manager

To fully answer the question – What is a project manager and what do they do? – let’s look at a day in the life of a project manager. To do this we’ll step through each phase of the project life-cycle: Define – Plan – Implement – Close.

The project manager’s job is to deliver the project within the various limits that have been agreed.

By grouping project activities into phases, the project manager can efficiently plan and organise resources for each activity, and also measure achievement of goals and make decisions on how to move forward and take corrective action when necessary. Paying close attention to such details is the difference between merely doing things well and excelling as project managers.


In the define phase the project manager’s main tasks are:

  • Setting project goals. What are the high level goals for the project?  What must be achieved?  What are the critical success factors? To help define these goals the project manager is involved in stakeholder mapping.
  • Stakeholder Mapping involves identifying and analysing stakeholders to ensure their needs will be met.
  • Starting to assemble the project team. Sometimes project managers have autonomy over this, sometimes not. For instance in a functional organisation the project manager will need to work with department managers to secure the project team members.
  • Developing the project charter, which is the formal authorisation for the project to proceed.


The next phase is planning. What does the project manager do during this phase?

Their main task is to lead the preparation of the project plan. The Project Plan is the roadmap for how those high level goals (scope) identified in the define phase will be achieved. The Project Plan includes:

  • Developing a work breakdown structure, which identifies each project task.
  • Preparing a project work schedule which takes all the tasks from the work breakdown structure and arranges them in time sequence so that we know how long the project will take.
  • Defining resource requirements. All projects cost money, take time and require resources. The project manager should have a realistic estimate of the project’s cost before project implementation. It is also a key responsibility of the project manager to ensure that the project is on schedule. One of the most important roles of project managers is to establish realistic expectations and to balance the project constraints of scope, time and cost.
  • Writing a risk plan to identify, rank and manage risk. This helps project managers to mitigate risks and uncover opportunities.
  • Preparing a quality plan, which describes how quality will be managed throughout the life-cycle of the project to ensure the quality of the both the project and its deliverables.
  • Writing a Communications Management Plan which builds on the earlier stakeholder mapping and sets out a Plan for engaging and communicating with all stakeholders.

The key to successful project management is in the planning. Often planning is ignored in preference to getting on with the project work. However, successful Project managers understand the value of a project plan in saving time, money and problems down the line.


The implementation phase is where the project plan is put to work as the project manager monitors, executes and controls its implementation.

During this phase the project manager interfaces with management as required, delegates responsibilities within the framework of the project, organises resources, and communicates with all stakeholders to ensure timely and successful completion of the project. This is when the project manager uses their interpersonal skills of influencing, negotiating and communicating to resolve challenges. The project manager takes charge of:

  • Project team management and development
  • Keeping stakeholders informed and managing their expectations
  • Measuring and reporting on performance and progress
  • Monitoring and controlling cost, time and scope.
  • Monitoring risk and quality, and
  • Taking corrective action as required.


The final phase is the closure phase. This is when the project manager delivers the finished project to the owner, acknowledges contributions made to the project and documents the work. Reflecting on lessons learned ensures that this experience is passed on to assist other project managers with new projects.

This sums up “What is a project manager and what do they do?”. If you want to add any insights from your own experience, feel free to add comments using the input box below. Find out more about our project management online courses and how they can help you become a better project manager.

About the Author

Vivian’s career in professional engineering spanned 35 years of technical, business, management and governance experience. She draws on her industry experience to write articles that are practical and relevant to a wide range of readers. Her aim is to get you thinking and help you meet your continuing professional development requirements.


  1. ecommey says:

    i have really enjoyed this particular article, as am planning to read a course on that.
    thanks for such.

  2. ray says:

    how are project managers graded using the paterson grading methodology?

    • Hello Ray,

      The Paterson Grading Method has a number of variations, but is based on the principles that:
      – The value of any job depends on its level of responsibility.
      – Responsibility is measured by the decision making requirements of the job.
      – Decision making is a fair basis on which to evaluate and compare jobs within an organization.

      The level of decision making is evaluated using six Decision Bands (A to F)
      A: Defined decision (Unskilled workers)
      B: Automatic decision (Semi skilled workers) – eg. foreman, head clerks.
      C: Routine decision (Skilled workers) – eg. supervisory personnel, senior technical specialists.
      D: Interpretive decision (Middle management) – carry out programs developed at Band E
      E: Programming decision (Senior management) – eg. General Manager
      F: Policy making decision (Top management) – eg. Board, Council or CEO

      Each band is then divided into grades. The number of grades vary, but typically:
      – Higher for those jobs which co-ordinate or supervise other jobs or are self-co-ordinating
      – Lower for those jobs which do not co-ordinate.

      So in the Programming Band E: Higher would apply to jobs which co-ordinate programming decisions, Lower would apply to jobs which make programming decisions. There can also be a number of sub-grades within the grades.

      This job survey by PWC shows that depending on their level of seniority, project managers typically ranged from D Lower to E Lower.

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