Leading a project team requires strong project management skills, but project managers have responsibilities beyond planning and executing initiatives. Not only are they expected to orchestrate and monitor the full scope of a project’s activities, they also have critical leadership responsibilities vying for their time.
Understanding all the roles a project manager needs to fulfill can help overstretched organizations plan an effective strategy to make better use of their project leaders’ time. With the right expertise working alongside project managers, it’s possible to offload select initiative-related workflows such as planning and monitoring—either to other team members or to supporting partners such as an experienced project management consultancy. This type of strategic approach enables senior-level managers to apply their skills more effectively and focus on building and leading high-performance teams while delivering good outcomes from every project.
So what do project managers do when they aren’t managing projects?
1 – Review, update, and optimize internal processes
Continuous improvement initiatives require project managers’ attention to ensure the organization can identify and leverage opportunities to elevate project results. Project managers often work alongside the team to holistically assess outcomes and identify improvement opportunities. Evaluating performance and reshaping processes, however, typically requires action at the leadership level.
2 – Partner with HR on hiring and staff development
Attracting the right talent is key to building and sustaining a high-performing project team. As the organization matures, the addition of niche expertise and experience can help the business successfully execute more complex projects. Leadership involvement in assessing applicants and sourcing strong candidates through professional network contacts is an important element in a successful hiring program.
3 – Work with the finance team on project budget issues
Project budgets aren’t static, and leadership involvement extends beyond budget development and approvals. Project managers may be asked to investigate and address deviations in the approved budget or to explain the nature of and reason for actual expenditures if there questions from the executives. In addition, it’s not uncommon for project managers to take the lead on negotiating for additional funds or to request that finance release earmarked funds earlier than planned.
4 – Coach and mentor project team members
Career development is a vitally important part of a project manager’s role. Ensuring the organization has a robust talent pipeline and that the project group’s knowledgebase evolves to include emerging areas of expertise and risk requires careful attention. Project managers must objectively evaluate performance and understand each team member’s strengths and weaknesses. They’re also responsible for connecting mentors with junior-level team members and helping employees develop paths for advancement that align with their career growth goals.
5 – Network with stakeholders to build commitment and support
Actions tied to stakeholder engagement are often distributed across the project team as a component of each initiative, but maintaining good working rapport over the long term requires a different kind of effort. Project managers need to understand how to nurture and leverage executive-level support for strategic projects that are still far in the future while also generating enthusiasm for project proposals that are nearing the end of the review and approval process.
6 – Respond to senior staff inquiries and requests
In addition to delivering routine presentations and initiative updates to the executives and other senior staff, project managers may also be expected to participate in high-level discussions. They need to quickly understand and explain how shifts in strategy—from a change in the company’s organizational structure to the loss of a key contract—is likely to affect active projects. Project managers must have the perspective to examine significant challenges and determine how (and if) to move forward.