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Role of the Project Manager

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Project management tasks

A project manager’s role involves carrying out a number of tasks.

Guide projects

First, they guide projects from start to finish. This involves determining scope, assigning tasks, and setting deadlines. Indeed, it includes everything involved in setting up projects for execution.

Project managers also ensure that everyone has what they need to get their work done. And if people don’t have what they need, it’s the project manager’s job to figure out what’s required to get them what they need and remove any obstacles.

Facilitate communication

Project managers facilitate communication between stakeholders and team members. They get stakeholder buy-in at the start of the project, and update stakeholders as the project progresses. Also, they make sure everyone has all the information they need, and ensure team members are communicating clearly with one another. This can even mean implementing systems such as Slack, Trello, Asana, and so on to ensure communication is fluid.

The communication skills that project managers need often rely on natural abilities rather than learned knowledge. However, simply understanding what these skills are can enable project managers to carry out their role to the best of their abilities.

As well as facilitating communication between others, project managers need to be able to communicate effectively themselves with all involved. This is where excellent interpersonal skills come into play. If you’re leading a project, you’ll need to be able to communicate with everyone involved, both verbally and in writing. Of course, good communication is something that should come naturally to many marketers anyway. As a project manager, however, you need to constantly monitor your communication skills and think about how you can communicate most effectively.

Remember that it’s not all about shop talk! You’re a pivotal team player and it’s important that people like and respect you. On the one hand, you must be firm on your deadlines and deal assertively with people who are not performing as expected. But, on the other hand, take time to make small talk, and get to know the people around you. Use emotional intelligence to understand how people are feeling. And make sure that people feel comfortable approaching you with any questions or issues. Motivate your team and try to ensure that they are happy to work with you.

Manage conflict

Unfortunately, wherever there is a project, there’s likely to be some conflict along the way. All the planning in the world cannot prevent the unexpected. And when the unexpected happens, people get agitated. As a project manager, your goal is to manage conflict when it arises. And this is where you’ll need excellent negotiating skills.

You’ll face immovable problems, no-win arguments, and catch-22 situations. Suppose your project is likely to miss a key deadline. You might have to become the arbiter between a designer who doesn’t want to stay late and an account manager who doesn’t want to jeopardize their carefully nurtured client relationship. While you must always have one eye on the agreed project deliverables, you also need to be creative with compromise. Being able to offer people concessions in other ways to get what you need is crucial.

Be realistic. In any project team, you’re not going to be able to get everyone to agree on everything all the time. Disagreements and conflicts are inevitable. So, when conflicts do arise, it’ll be your job to resolve them in order to keep the project moving forward. You have to become the leader when everyone else is squabbling. Set an example, by being fair but decisive. Never point fingers or get personal. Always keep it about what the project needs, and what’s best for the project.

Manage time

With projects come deadlines! So knowing how to manage your time, and your team members’ time, is a crucial skill. Everyone on the project will need to know how to manage their time effectively! Of course, it can become tricky when you have to raise time management issues with a team member. It’s not easy to do it without making people feel judged. Always address the time management issue without attacking the person.

The best approach is to lead by example and have your own time management tools and techniques in plain view. One useful technique is the Pomodoro method. This is a time management system that encourages people to work effectively with the time they have. Using this method, you break your workday into 25-minute chunks separated by 5-minute breaks. These intervals are referred to as pomodoros. Using timers can ensure that you work in bursts of ‘deep work’. And remember to start the day with a clear set of objectives to plan those bursts.

Demonstrate leadership skills

It might sound obvious, but project managers need to have excellent leadership skills. After all, they are responsible for leading the project! If you didn’t consider yourself a leader before, it’s time to change that. Even if you’re not a team lead, there will be times where you need to spearhead a project and inspire others into action.

Basic leadership skills include:

  • The ability to listen to others, and take on board their concerns, without seeming rushed or distracted by technology.
  • Decisiveness – the ability to choose the best course of action, explain in clear and concise terms why that is optimal, and then move ahead.
  • Honesty – the ability to be honest with yourself and others about failures as well as successes
  • Confidence in your best abilities inspires others to trust your judgment and decisions. When a project manager exudes uncertainty and hesitation, this undermines the morale of the whole team.
  • Communication skills – this means being able to calmly talk in a concise and authoritative manner about project management.

Develop subject matter expertise

When you’re leading a project, you need to understand what the project is about! This involves developing subject matter expertise. If you’re a marketer looking to build project management skills, you already have deep subject matter expertise both in marketing and perhaps your specific industry. But, if you’re a project manager by trade working with marketing teams, then you’ll need to brush up on your marketing skills.

Marketing and creative specialists won’t respond well to someone running their projects who doesn’t have a basic understanding of the discipline. This can lead to difficulty fostering the respect and leadership previously mentioned. Even if you’re not an expert, show a willingness to learn. The more you show respect for the project, the more team members will respect you as a project manager.

These skills can all be regarded as the ‘soft skills’ needed to be a project manager. But what about the day-to-day work? What practical competencies do you need in order to be an effective project manager in marketing?

Project management competencies

Here are some competencies that you should develop.

The first is the ability to allocate resources. No project has unlimited resources, so it’s your job to optimally allocate the resources you have. Any project will be subject to constraints on time, budget, or people to carry out the work. So learn to work with what you’ve got. Make the most of what you have within your team and find out how to source external specialists through agencies or your own research and recruitment.

You must be able to manage tasks, of course. Help your team members develop efficient workflows. And make sure they understand what needs to be done at each step in the project.

Time management is crucial, so you need to be able to plan timelines. On any given project, you’ll likely have multiple people working on different pieces of the bigger picture. Before work starts, you need to be able to give everyone their own timelines for delivery, and manage the often-complicated web of interdependencies. For example, the web developers might need approved designs for a website before they can start building it.

As well as planning timelines, you need to be able to set realistic deadlines. Your deadlines should stretch the team without breaking them. If the deadlines are too generous, complacency can creep into the team. But if the deadlines are too aggressive, this can lead to stress and burnout.

As well as simply setting deadlines, an experienced project manager will add in contingency time. Giving time buffers ahead of crucial delivery dates allows for the unexpected happening. And let’s face it, the unexpected usually does happen! Having buffer time will significantly raise your chances of shipping your project on time!

Finally, you need to be proficient in using project management tools. Indeed, much of your day as a project manager will be spent working with software that aids your efforts. These tools act as a central information repository for all the tasks, people, assets, deadlines, and so on. Today, most of these tools are online and offer all team members their own accounts with varying levels of access. Keeping this software updated and comprehensive, in terms of having as much project information in there as possible, can provide an invaluable ‘single source of truth’. It shows progress and reassures stakeholders that the project is well managed. Examples of such tools include Asana, Trello, and Jira.

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Will Francis

Will Francis is a recognised authority in digital and social media, who has worked with some of the world’s most loved brands. He is the host and technical producer of the DMI podcast, Ahead of the Game and a lecturer and subject matter expert with the DMI. He appears in the media and at conferences whilst offering his own expert-led digital marketing courses where he shares his experience gained working within a social network, a global ad agency, and more recently his own digital agency.

Connect with him on Twitter (X) or LinkedIn.

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    Project Planning
    Will Francis
    Skills Expert

    The ability to plan projects and tasks effectively – and to quickly take action when things go wrong – is an essential skill in today’s fast-moving workplace. It can help you to meet your goals, and can result in you exceeding your boss’s expectations and standing out among your peers.

    In this module, you will learn about the fundamentals of project management. You will find out what the role of project manager involves – and the benefits that project management can bring to an organization. You will also be introduced to a seven-step framework for managing projects that you can apply as needed in your own company.

    You will also be introduced to the principles of agile thinking. Being agile means being flexible and quick to adapt to change. You will learn how agile concepts, such as the ‘test and learn’ approach, can be applied to marketing. And you will discover the benefits that agile thinking can bring, from increased efficiency to a higher return on investment.