Versatility is a must
The job of project manager demands a wide range of competencies. Management competence is just as important as sector know-how, negotiating skills and the ability to think along strategic lines. So the project manager needs a universal skill set. Specifically, the project manager has to ensure that time schedules, budgets and quality standards are complied with. That’s no easy task. The management of the project as a whole is also the project manager’s responsibility, and this is where the project assistant comes in.
Project management and organisation
In highly complex projects, project managers are often overworked and at risk of burnout syndrome and other ailments. Many of them get bogged down by day-to-day project administration tasks, which can lead to them losing track of the project structures and processes. That’s probably the worst thing of all that could happen to a project. The results are quality impairments, as well as budget and time schedule deviations, because some processes will take on a life of their own and run out of control. So it’s always worth engaging one or several project assistants in highly complex projects to take organisational tasks off the project manager's hands and free up his time so that he can focus on his main responsibility of running the project. The distribution of tasks between the project manager and assistant(s) must be clearly defined to prevent work overlapping or being performed twice.
Maintaining an overview
It is very important for the project assistant to be fully briefed on his responsibilities right from day one. These are always organisational responsibilities that support the project manager in his work. Close liaison between the project manager and his assistant is therefore necessary. A diagram showing areas of responsibility can be useful, especially in large-scale projects. This diagram can be structured like a corporate organisation chart and should be regularly reviewed. The project assistant is responsible for reviewing the diagram and distributing tasks. He is also responsible for providing team members with information about who to contact in connection with specific issues and activities. The project assistant can take care of holiday planning and other organisational tasks within the project team.
These days, project organisation is largely performed with the assistance of IT. The first time IT is used it takes a while to set up the infrastructure and connect all the users. The project assistant has to coordinate the IT activities in a project and ensure that everyone involved in the project has the necessary codes, passwords and hardware. So the project assistant also liaises with the IT team to set up a project-specific interface for the project team. The project manager can also transfer communication tasks, such as setting up communication channels or platforms and archiving correspondence, to the project assistant.
Cost and HR planning
Although the project manager keeps an eye on the budget and resources himself, the project assistant can help him out by managing the human resources and preparing the holiday and work schedules. When external specialists or experts have to be engaged the project assistant can prepare a shortlist of possible specialists/experts, contact them, request quotations and assist the project manager in the decision process. The project assistant can also perform a similar cost control role, for example by monitoring the costs of external personnel and monthly costs.
Communication in the project
Ideally, the project team members will use pre-defined channels to communicate with each other. Although e-mails are very important as a means of communication, many complex projects also have online platforms where all project-relevant information is stored. Communication in the project team and with external personnel can be one of the project assistant’s main tasks. It can sometimes involve filtering the information before passing it on to the project management team. This makes sense, for example, if there are several versions of a report or plan in circulation. If the project assistant always ensures that the project manager has the latest version of a plan for his meetings it simplifies his work and ensures that he always makes a professional and competent impression.
Project assistant as manager
The project assistant is the first point of contact for many project participants and, in this respect, he also performs a management function to some extent. The decisions ultimately have to be passed on to the project manager and implemented. Like the project manager, the project assistant has to be diplomatic, build trust and convey authority to ensure that the project team delivers on time. Many project assistants are interested in a project management career and use the project assistant position as a means of gaining initial project management experience.
Project assistants are the project manager’s right hand and they perform a variety of tasks depending on what the project is. The main task is to take on some of the project manager’s work burden, so project assistants are very useful in complex and large-scale projects.
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