Originally published February, 2017)
That answer is easy. Produce great schedules!
Don’t be too shocked please. This is not what I really think but that is what many people think – especially when they are new to our business or looking at our business from the outside. Others often see project managers as schedule builders.
As project managers, we all know that is not the case. So, what is the answer? What is the most important role of a project manager?
I always like this answer: “While it’s important for project managers to create a solid, achievable schedule, more importantly, their key role is to control the schedule. Track it, manage the changes throughout and continuously make sure that everyone is on track.”
Not bad but…
A student approached me after the first four days of our Master’s Certificate in Project Management program at Schulich Executive Education Center and it was like the lightbulb went off. He said “I get it now. It’s not the schedule and it’s not even controlling the schedule, but this word ‘integrator’ has been ringing in my ears since that last class.” He got it.
The most important role of a project manager is that of an integrator. Not only should we all get this, but we should know how to communicate this to others around us both inside our teams and outside. We are not just schedulers, cost managers, quality and risk managers. We are the orchestra leader. We are the integrator of all the moving parts in our projects. We are there to make sure that everyone does what they are supposed to do. To connect all these people and parts and moving objects and at the same time to make sure that a good communications process is in place so that everyone knows what they need to know, when they need to know it and in a format that they can easily consume.
If the violins go off on a tangent, the orchestra leader needs to deal with this change and make sure that the show goes on with everyone moving together. When a contractor doesn’t deliver on time, the project manager needs to make sure that all other parts of the puzzle are aware and can adjust. From major stakeholders to the people in the trenches doing the work, the project manager sees everyone and everything at all times and makes sure that with all the bumps and curves and problems, the project will get delivered as best we can, as promised.
The project manager’s most important role is that of an integrator, and our customers and stakeholders and team members need to hear that at the beginning of every project so that they clearly understand our role and appreciate what we are trying to do, day in day out.
That’s the most important role of a project manager.