26 Jan 2015 by Kerryn North
What is a project manager?

Every time you go to a dinner party or a networking event, one of the first things people ask you is, “What do you do for a living?” It’s how we get to know someone and get them comfortable enough to start talking about themselves. But what if you have one of those jobs that’s hard to explain in one canned statement?

Project managers work in all types of industries such as IT, engineering, construction and finance. Their roles can vary depending on the size of the company or the complexity of the projects. Even still, it sometimes seems as though it’s this mysterious position that many people don’t understand. I’ve had people imply they think I’m everything from the office assistant to the person in charge of running the company.

After working here for a year, you would think the question of, “What do you do?” would be an easy thing to answer. I walked into this position with an open mind of what to expect. I came with a marketing and events background and had never worked in the tech world before. There was a lot for me to learn about the job, the industry and the office culture. And I was open to all of it. Here are a few of the things I’ve learned so far about what’s involved in being a project manager.

You need to know how to build relationships. It’s important to have an authentic relationship with each person on the team and know how to connect and communicate with them. They need to be comfortable coming to me with updates on a project, concerns about scheduling or anything else that may come up. Having a healthy relationship builds a stronger team.

You are the go-to-person for information. I need to know what’s going on with everyone at all times. Sort of like the central hub of communications. If a new project comes in or a deadline changes, I need to know how that will affect people’s schedules. Paying attention to what’s happening with every project involves a lot of listening and asking questions.

Doing several things at once. Because you are the go-to person in the office, it’s quite common to be involved in several conversations at once. There will often be in-person, instant message and email conversations all happening at the same time. Some people call it multi-tasking, some call it polychronicity, I just call it a Monday. You’re part of team and people will rely on you to respond quickly with the information they need.

Being prepared means being flexible. This role requires you to walk the line between planning and adaptability. As much as this position relies on being highly organized, it also relies on being able to go with the flow. Every day is different from the next. Each day a different project will take priority or a different task will be needed to complete a project. As prepared and organized as you are, something will always change. You need to embrace change and go with it.

Someone once said to me that being a project manager isn’t a job, it’s a lifestyle. Now that I’ve been doing it for a while, I can fully appreciate that sentiment. It’s the type of job where you need to rely on your soft skills as much as anything else. Your personal development is a big part of what will help you succeed. So I have to agree that yes, it is a lifestyle.


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