What a Project Manager Isn't

Project management as a discipline is fairly new to the creative world, and in fact, a lot of the skills I've learned come from PMs in software development (thanks again, nerds). There are a lot of misconceptions about what project managers do and what we bring to a team. To clear up some of the confusion associated with defining the role,  here are some things I, as a project manager, am not.

    • Account Manager: This is probably the most commonly confused role with PM so I want to address it first. While many of the tasks I perform as a PM are similar to those of an account manager, many are not. An oversimplification (and one that I'll contradict shortly) is that account managers are externally focused (i.e., the client) and project managers are internally focused (i.e., the company's project team).

      A pessimistic person might say that an AM's primary goal is to keep the client happy and a PM's primary goal is to keep the team sane. We all know that these things can feel at odds, and in actuality, a PM's job is to facilitate a successful project (notice the lack of sides).

      A few AM skills that PMs must possess as well include communicating regularly and reassuringly with a client (though I might contend that PMs have a tendency to be more honest and less bullshit-prone), providing a client voice/perspective during internal reviews of work, helping ensure client feedback/requirements are addressed by the project team, and looking for sales opportunities.


    • Task Manager: This relates to thing I'm not number one. I don't work in a production shop and that's not my career aspiration. I work with smart people who can solve problems, not just push pixels. That means my job is not to create the world's greatest to-do list and bug everyone until everything is done. That's a) boring b) bad karma c) a poor use of everyone's time.

      Yes, my job includes identifying deliverables and the work required to produce those items. But I work in a service business, not a factory. My job is to look for, identify, and remove roadblocks for project progress. My job is to help a client recognize the expertise my team provides in solving their problems. My job is to make sure everyone feels listened to and respected. And what's more, if I don't do all of these things well, we cannot hit project deadlines and milestones (you know, those dates your task lists are all driving toward?).


    • Your Mother: Again, this relates to the previous point: I do not want to micromanage.Let me repeat that: I do not want to micromanage.

      Project managers shouldn't be telling their team members how to do their jobs. While they should make sure a client understands input deadlines and the impact of missing those deadlines, they shouldn't be responsible for reading over a client's shoulder to make sure they've done their homework.

      This comes down to a very simple point: project success depends on everyone doing their job well.


  • Secretary: I set up meetings, take notes, write up travel itineraries  and anyone who's worked with me knows I'd make (and deliver) the coffee for anyone on my team. I am not above these things. These tasks, however, are not my primary or even secondary focus. I do them because someone needs to, and hell, I'm just a nice person. Also I want coffee.

    Don't get me wrong—I have tremendous respect for administrative assistants because they're usually the most helpful people in any given office. But if all I'm doing is coordinating schedules, I'm not providing the full value of a PM.

It's not always easy to realize that somewhere I've gone wrong when I find myself playing one of the above roles. Whether it's an internal team or an external client, it's ultimately my responsibility to help define my role in any given project. I can only hope that other bright-eyed PMs feel the same, and together, we can make this a more PM-friendly world.

I don't know that there's really any other way to end except to offer this: