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What do project managers actually do?

Rebecca Elley

Australian Institute of Project Management
What do project managers actually do?

If you consider everything from new roads, restaurant openings to the launch of the latest software, there will have been a project manager behind the scenes steering the project from start to completion. 

Being a project manager involves everything from communicating with clients and team members to checking in with budgets and plans to ensure the project is on track. 

What does a project manager do on a daily basis? 

A large part of managing projects can be done from your computer. Each day as a project manager you will: 

  • Check your emails: It may be an update from a stakeholder that a deliverable for the project is running late or a team member may email you to let you know that a problem has arisen with an element of the project plan. So, keeping on top of your emails is a must for a project manager.
  • Take calls: It is important to be confident and a clear communicator, as you will be required to speak on the phone to all parties related to the project. You will be the go-to person for any problems, so keeping calm and being the voice of reason is an important part of the project manager role.
  • Use project management software: We have all heard technology is getting smarter. Now there are a range of PM tools and software available that helps you plan, budget and risk assess. As the project manager, you may have the option of selecting the online tools you use or the company you work for may have a subscription already in place.
  • Attend team meetings: You will be in charge of setting up and managing the team catchups. Team meetings provide an opportunity for your colleagues to provide an update on their responsibilities regarding the project and can provide a red flag if any part of the project is delayed or at risk.
  • Make on-site visits: Depending on the project that you’re managing, you may be required to visit the project in person, or even to work part of your day on site. This is specifically relevant for those working in Construction and Infrastructure industries.
  • Review the budget: Regularly reviewing how much money has been spent will also feed into your day. A large performance indicator for a project manager is whether they are able to keep the project on track and within budget. 

What skills do I need to become a project manager? 

As a project manager to ensure the success of a project you will require a range of skills under your belt.  

According to AIPM’s The Project Management Career Path guide, “When it comes to building your project management skills, you will need a combination of hard skills, such as planning and risk management to ensure the project goes to plan and soft skills, including communication and the ability to motivate, as team members and stakeholders will look to you for guidance.”

Hard skills: 

  • Project planning. This will outline all areas of the project, including the goals of the client, scope of the project, responsibilities of each team member, the timeline and budget. 
  • Risk management. Developing a risk management plan is essential, which covers the risks, what their impacts could be and how you will respond to the risks. 
  • Problem-solving. Throughout the project, issues are likely to come up and your knowledge and experience in project management will help you deliver a solution. 

Soft skills: 

  • Communication. You will be required to be in touch with all parties to the project from the client, to contractors through to your own team members and ensure they are all working together well to get the project done. 
  • Lead: Having the confidence to lead a team and mentor more junior members is another part of the role, as well as managing up to more senior members, providing them with updates on the progress of the job. 
  • Motivate: There may come times, especially on a project that is delayed or has a lengthy timeline, when people become demotivated. It is your job as the project manager to keep everyone motivated to hit their targets. 

Which industries are project manager jobs found in? 

While the role of a project manager is largely found in the Construction, Infrastructure, and Information Technology industries, we are seeing more and more roles pop up in Health, Finance and even Entertainment and Hospitality. The great thing about project management skills is they are transferrable, so once you gain the skills you can take some time to see which industry is right for you. 

How do I become a project manager? 

As the role of a project manager comes with a high level of responsibility, you will need to build up a good understanding of project management principles and have had considerable on the job experience. 

While landing the role of project manager won’t happen overnight, you can put yourself on the career trajectory by undertaking a relevant degree in project management and once you have completed that start off in a more junior role of project coordinator or project administrator. 

By completing studies and gaining experience working at a more junior level, you will develop the confidence to eventually take on the management of a project and become a project manager. 

If you’re interested in applying for junior project roles or gaining some internship experience, visit the AIPM Careers Directory.