What is a project manager?

Successful project management is essential to achieving business goals and differentiating from the competition. At the heart of this are the project managers who play a crucial role in the project. They need to have a mix of technical expertise, organisational skills and good communication skills to make the project a success.
A man sits at a planning board.


Definition of a project manager

A project manager plans, coordinates and supervises a project, which is a one-off undertaking with specific parameters and requirements to achieve a given goal. 
Depending on the size of the project and the project manager's experience and knowledge, they may work alone or with sub-project managers. In particular, if a project is too complex and the workload too heavy for a single project manager, there may be sub-project managers, each leading their own team.
If the project is, for example, to redesign a small playground, one project manager can do it alone. But if the project is to build a new tunnel for cars that will be used by pedestrians, trams and cyclists at the same time, much more planning is required because the project is very complex. In this case, several sub-project managers are needed.
The role of project manager is usually found in traditionally planned projects.
Digression: Traditional Project

A traditional project is one in which the tasks are linear and sequential and the phases are clearly delineated. This means that one phase cannot begin until the previous one has been completed. It is important to stick to the predefined project plan and to deviate from it as little as possible, which means that this approach is very planning-oriented. 
For example, at the start of a playground project, there was a fixed sequence in which the grass was laid first, followed by the play equipment and then the parents' seating area. The first phase, the laying of the grass, must be completed before the play equipment and seating can be built.

Project manager compared to other roles

There are many roles in a project, each with their own tasks to contribute to the success of the project. Compared to the project manager, who manages the project as a whole, these roles have specific responsibilities:
Client: the client initiates, funds and ultimately signs off the project. This differs from the role of the project manager, who is responsible for the operational implementation and coordination of the project. The client should be consulted on important decisions during the project and provide support in case of problems and crises.
Sub-project managers: They take responsibility for specific parts of the project, which is different from the project manager's role of overseeing the whole project. The project manager needs to be consulted on decisions that are beyond their competence.
Project support: Unlike the project manager, who has overall responsibility for the project, the project support focuses on ensuring that the commercial aspects of the project are carried out economically, on time and in accordance with the contract.
Steering committee: Unlike the project manager, who is operationally involved in the project, the steering committee has an advisory, decision-making and approval function. As the steering committee must be neutral, the project manager is not a member.
Project staff: This role differs from that of the project manager in that project members contribute their expertise to specific work packages and report to the project manager.
Document manager: Document managers are responsible for managing documents relevant to the project, including decisions about how they are stored and administered, and who has access to them.

Skills and qualities of a successful project manager

Every project manager starts small and over time develops skills and qualities that make them more successful. 
But even if you are just starting out, there are some things that will help you become a good project manager. These include leadership and assertiveness, but certainly technical competence. Technical, business and contractual knowledge are just as important as methodological, social and organisational skills. This includes, for example, the ability to keep an eye on costs, deadlines and performance.
A project manager should also have excellent communication and teamwork skills, be empathetic and able to deal with conflict, and be fair and open with all stakeholders. As management positions involve a high level of responsibility and pressure, a high level of resilience and effective stress management is an advantage.
This is an extensive list that forms the basis of successful project management. Initially, these skills may vary as each project and situation has different requirements. Over time, however, you will grow with your responsibilities, constantly learning and developing your basic skills.

Main tasks of a project manager

The main tasks of a project manager are to plan, monitor and control the project as defined in the project plan. This is the overall plan for the project and includes the planning of services to be provided, expected costs and deadlines.
As soon as the client places an order, the project objective must be defined. This should be as precise, clear and positive as possible. It must be solution-neutral, so that if problems arise, possible solutions are not ruled out from the outset. The individual requirements are summarised in a document and should be accepted by all participants. 
Since the project manager cannot bring the project to success alone, it is important to build a team that takes on different roles and tasks depending on the scope of the assignment.
Now that the number of team members required is known, the budget can be set or allocated. If no budget is available from the client, a quotation can be prepared with the expected costs, or the given budget can be managed. In this context, it is also important to calculate the risks. Projects are subject to unforeseeable problems that can have a negative impact on the project and therefore on the budget. Risk management protects the project because risks can be prevented, avoided, mitigated or reduced in order to steer the project in a positive direction. If risk is taken into account in budget planning from the outset, budget overruns can be avoided. 
It is also important to define concrete deliverables or milestones. The milestones can be used to measure the progress of the project, while a delivered service leads to a result. In addition, the time frame and deadlines for achieving the project goal need to be defined. However, since it is difficult to predict the duration of an overall project, the project team can divide the large project into individual work packages with subtasks to better estimate and plan the time. 
One thing that must not be forgotten in all this planning, is communication. Whether with team members or with stakeholders. Both should always be well informed about important steps, changes, tasks, etc. to create a positive working atmosphere in which the project can progress well.

How to become a project manager?

There are several ways to become a project manager, each with its own advantages. One way is to go to university, where you can choose a degree in business, engineering, computer science or even social sciences with a project management component. During your studies, you will acquire theoretical knowledge that you can apply in your professional practice. Different skills are required depending on your chosen career, so there is no one-size-fits-all course. Another way to gain practical experience is through a sandwich course.
A lateral entry into project management is also possible from within the profession. Additional training or certifications offer the opportunity to further your education and learn the basic methods and techniques of project management. The IAPM offers various certifications that certify both agile and traditional knowledge and are valid for life, so there is no need to re-certify.
The typical entry point into a project management career is often as a project staff member. By continually building on the skills and attributes listed above and gaining certifications, you can become more and more qualified and eventually reach the position of a project manager. There are many ways to achieve this exciting role.


As in any profession, it is necessary to gain experience, further your education and obtain certifications. But you need to develop personally as well as professionally. Professional knowledge is important to get ahead, but so are personal skills such as communication and conflict management, or simply the soft skills. With continuous training, you can make the leap from project worker to project manager.
Being a project manager is therefore a varied job that will constantly challenge and encourage you.

What is a project manager - the IAPM logo
Author: IAPM internal
Keywords: Project management

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For better readability, we usually only use the generic masculine form in our texts. Nevertheless, the expressions refer to members of all genders.