Jamal's Musings:Who is a Project Manager and What are His Responsibilities?

Despite the fact that the role of project manager has been “institutionalized” by many respected international organizations including the Project Management Institute (PMI) and the International Project Management Association (IPMA) there are still a lot of confusion associated with this profession.

In my consulting career I have encountered the following perceptions about the role of the project manager:


Project manager is not really a profession. Every technical person working for our company should have the skills required to manage projects. I should have the freedom to point to an accountant (developer, marketing analyst, engineer, designer, etc.) and say, “Mary, I am assigning this project to you!”


Project manager is really an administrative worker, whose job is to collect project updates from various team members, send e-mails, take meeting notes and maintain the project schedule in the project management software.


Project manager is a very senior member of the executive team who is responsible for both tactical (i.e. delivery on time and on budget) and strategic (delivering value to the organization) success of the project.


Let us take a look at the real responsibilities of the project manager (see Table 1) and then try to refute the statements above.

Project manager is assigned at the initiation stage of the project. This is a point of time when the “go” decision on the project has already been made by the senior management, who deemed that the project in question was a good idea and would most likely deliver the proverbial value to the company. Therefore the project manager (unless she combines the role of the project champion and the project manager) is not expected to be responsible for the strategic success of the project. She may ask the questions about the project value if she has strategic knowledge about the domain and if she is very brave, but in general, the CEO of a large international bank should not expect the project manager to challenge him on the strategic value of the “Payments System Replacement” endeavor.

By the same token, the project manager of the Ibaraki Airport construction project could not be held responsible for the fact that both of the two major Japanese airlines expressly stated that they were not planning to use the facility even before the construction has started.

The PM is required to work together with the project champion and possibly other key stakeholders in order to write the Project Charter. After the document has been approved by all the relevant parties, the Planning stage of the project begins.

Here one of the first tasks the PM is responsible for is the creation of the Requirements Document, followed by the formation of the Project Plan that covers scope, time, cost, quality, human resources, communications, risk, procurement and stakeholder management aspects.



Table 1










Develop a charter with high-level scope definition

Develop a project management plan

Direct and manage execution

Monitor and control work and change control

Close project



Plan and define scope. Create WBS


Scope verification and control




Task duration estimation and development of a schedule


Schedule control




Cost estimation and budget creation


Cost control




Quality planning

Perform quality assurance

Quality control


Human Resources


Human resources planning

Acquire and develop a project team

Manage project team, resolve conflicts




Communications planning

Information distribution

Performance reporting and stakeholder management

Create a lessons learned document



Risk identification, analysis & response planning

Monitor risks

Risk control




Creation of outsourcing plans

Request vendor responses and select a vendor

Contract administration

Contract closure


During the Execution and Control stages that more or less run concurrently the job of the project manager is to acquire and build her project team, distribute all relevant project information (e.g. status reports and meeting minutes) as well as to control all the domains described in the first column of Table 1.

After the project product is delivered, the responsibilities of the PM include officially closing the project and the contract as well as the generation of the Lessons Learned document.

So, let us now get back to the original statements mentioned at the beginning of this article:

  • Is project manager a real profession? – Absolutely yes! Just like accountants, engineers, programmers and auto mechanics project managers need to be educated and certified. They also need to gain and fine-tune their experience by consistently taking on larger and more complex projects.
  • Is project manager just an admin worker? – Absolutely not! While a PM is responsible for conducting a lot of administrative work (e.g. taking meeting minutes, updating project schedule in the project management software, etc.) he is responsible for a lot more than that.
  • Is project manager responsible for the overall project value? – Probably not. Unless the project manager was an active participant in the project selection process (which rarely happens in real life) he can’t be held responsible for the commercial success of the project. This responsibility lies on the shoulders of the company executives who should have implemented a proper project portfolio management process.


About the Author

Jamal Moustafaev, MBA, PMP – president and founder of Thinktank Consulting is an internationally acclaimed expert and speaker in the areas of project/portfolio management, scope definition, process improvement and corporate training. Jamal Moustafaev has done work for private-sector companies and government organizations in Canada, US, Asia, Europe and Middle East.  Read Jamal’s Blog @ www.thinktankconsulting.ca

Jamal is an author of two very popular books: Delivering Exceptional Project Results: A Practical Guide to Project Selection, Scoping, Estimation and Management and Project Scope Management: A Practical Guide to Requirements for Engineering, Product, Construction, IT and Enterprise Projects.