Project management is one of the most stressful jobs out there. It involves juggling a variety of ever-changing tasks, meeting multiple daily deadlines, and utilizing expert-level communication skills, team management, and financial expertise. Despite the stress, many project managers are drawn to the role by the challenge and the satisfaction of successfully managing all the complex pieces of a project to the end result of a job well done.
It’s a complex role, and one that appears across virtually every industry, including engineering and information technology. For this reason, there is really no typical day in the life of a project manager. But, however each day is structured, it will likely include the following tasks:
- Working with stakeholders to define priorities, requirements, deliverables, and timeframes;
- Creating project plans;
- Communicating project plans, updates, and milestones to stakeholders;
- Working with and motivating your team towards success;
- Planning and managing resources and finances; and
- Adhering to your project plan while being proactive to mitigate issues.
According to the Project Management Institute, it’s anticipated that approximately 2.2 million new project-oriented roles will be created and need to be filled each year until 2027. The project management role clearly holds much potential for job seekers.
What Is A Project Manager?
Project managers oversee one or more projects that a company is working on. Their goal is to ensure that the projects are completed on time and within budget. Project managers are commonly hired in the construction, energy, engineering, IT, software development, healthcare, and marketing sectors but can be found in most industries.
The position requires a strong and diverse skill set. While a project manager should have some knowledge of the industry in which they work, in order to effectively communicate with all team members, clients, and stakeholders, their soft skills are critical, particularly their communication, leadership, and ability to manage shifting priorities and unexpected issues.
As part of their role, a project manager needs to:
- Plan and allocate resources;
- Prepare budgets and handle finances;
- Keep their team motivated and on task;
- Communicate with their team, management, clients, and other stakeholders;
- Monitor progress and report on milestones;
- Manage conflict and resolve issues; and
- Organize business documents.
While the tasks are highly varied, the project manager role is largely people-facing. Meetings with the project management team, senior management, clients, suppliers, and other stakeholders comprise a large part of a project manager’s day. As well, encouraging and motivating team members to complete milestones and the ultimate project goal on time and on budget is a critical part of the job.
Qualifications For The Project Manager Role
Common qualifications for the role include a degree in business, management, or computer science. As well, project managers typically learn the required specialized knowledge and skills inherent in the role through hands-on work experience, often as a junior team member. For that reason, a job posting may stipulate several years of experience with increasing responsibility.
Critical Hard Skills
Hard skills can be taught and learned through education, training, and/or professional development. They are measurable and, since they allow people to perform technical tasks, they have a direct impact on productivity and efficiency. An effective project manager should be able to demonstrate the following hard skills:
- Technical skills relevant to the industry they are working in;
- Negotiation skills;
- Project planning;
- Prioritization and goal setting;
- Organizational skills;
- Written communication;
- Delegation skills; and
- Budget management.
Critical Soft Skills
Soft skills are those that impact how you interact and work with other people. They are characteristics that aren’t easily taught or learned. Since the project manager role is people-facing, it’s essential for those in the position to have strong soft skills, including:
- Effective communication;
- Leadership and motivation;
- Conflict resolution;
- Adaptability and resourcefulness;
- Responsibility for all team members and work under their direction; and
- Influence, or the ability to encourage a diverse group of people to work together towards a common goal.
While it’s not always a job requirement, many project managers choose to become certified as a way to demonstrate their expertise in the field and garner an edge in the job market. Touted as “the world’s leading project management certification,” the credentials offered by the Project Management Institute (PMI) are highly regarded. While the PMI offers a number of different certifications, the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification is considered the gold standard. The PMP can be granted to those who complete one of the following tracks:
- A four-year degree; and
- 36 months leading projects; and
- 35 hours of project management education/training or the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) designation offered through the PMI.
— OR —
- A high school diploma or an associate’s degree; and
- 60 months leading projects; and
- 35 hours of project management education/training or the CAPM certification.
Once a candidate meets the requirements for the PMP, they must pass an online exam to achieve certification and pursue on-going professional development as a way to maintain their certificate.
A Day In The Life Of A Project Manager
Each day’s work schedule will vary for a project manager depending on the scope of the projects they’re responsible for, the number of projects they’re overseeing, the sector that they’re working in, issues that arise, and the effectiveness of their team. That said, as a blog post at Teodesk very adeptly explains, a project manager can expect to spend chunks of their day involved in certain activities, including:
- “Eating the frog” for 10% of the day;
- Group meetings for 20% of the day;
- Managing people and their work on projects for 40% of the day;
- Relaxing (learning and networking) for 10% of the day; and
- Managing the momentum of projects for 20% of the day.
Eating The Frog
Eat the frog is a productivity technique where you identify one important or difficult task that needs to be done that day and you complete it first. For many people, this means working through their email inbox. Spencer Hobbs, an ambassador for the Association of Project Management, says that he usually tackles email during his commute so that he can hit the ground running when he gets to the office.
Knocking a big task off your to-do list first thing in the morning has several advantages including:
- Promoting a deep work habit by focussing on one task to completion;
- Creating and setting a daily agenda, which is particularly apt with Spencer’s example of eating the frog, since allocating a set time for emails can help manage the distraction of notifications throughout the day;
- Progress of any kind promotes motivation;
- It takes advantage of your early energy and willpower; and
- It’s an incredibly simple yet flexible technique.
Daily meetings are a way of life for most project managers. There are multiple internal and external stakeholders that need to be briefed on the progress of the project and encouraged to strive towards completion of the project on time and on budget.
As the project manager, you are typically in charge of the meetings. As Spencer Hobbs points out, it’s critical for project managers to exhibit strong leadership and people skills during meetings, to encourage teamwork:
… it’s important to have a clear agenda, so everyone understands the purpose of the meeting. And to show leadership skills; to know when to direct the meeting, and when to get input for those who don’t naturally speak up. Emotional intelligence is critical, and you can positively affect the whole dynamic of a meeting.
Creating and supporting an effective team is critical to being a successful project manager. The role includes some human resource management, as project managers are often involved in the hiring process.
Outside of meetings, project managers continue to work with team members and/or stakeholders to keep everyone engaged and motivated in the project. Project managers will often have to call on their soft skills of conflict resolution and diplomacy in order to influence everyone to work together.
Learning and Networking
Although the Teodesk blog refers to this part of the day as relaxing, the blog makes clear that it’s a time to downshift from daily tasks and instead connect with others and further your professional development. Whether reading relevant articles, connecting with other project managers on social media, or working on completing a course or certification, at least a small part of your day should be spent on furthering your knowledge as a project manager.
Managing the Momentum of Projects
A critical part of a project manager’s role is to ensure that projects are being completed according to schedule and on budget. Part of your day should be spent reviewing the momentum of your projects and addressing anything that might be throwing them off track. For instance, you may need to meet with senior management and stakeholders to ask them to escalate issues that you can’t resolve on your own. Or, you might need to gather your team around to find a solution to an unexpected problem.
In addition to meetings, you may need to visit the project site to check on its progress and to ensure that quality work is being done with all safety checks in place. And finally, of course, your budgets should be reviewed and, if necessary, financial matters addressed.
The role of project manager includes diverse tasks and requires a specialized skill set, but it can be a terrific fit for individuals who thrive on teamwork, goal setting, and satisfaction in a job well done.