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Successful Project Manager I: Defining One's Role in A Company

14 Jan 2021
Successful Project Manager I: Defining One's Role in A Company

In this series, we will take a closer look at the role and responsibilities of the project manager. Where exactly does a project manager fit in a company, and what impact can one's role make on the company’s performance? In this part, we will look at different organizational models a project manager can find oneself within the company's structure.

Generally speaking, a project manager oversees the success of the project. Using one's skills and knowledge and combining them with tools and techniques acquired both during one's project management training and by experience, a project manager ensures that the objectives of the projects are met. Likewise, one ensures that the requirements for the successful completion of the project are clearly identified. The communication among team members is clear and coordinated, and the team has everything it needs to succeed.

Company project organization

A project manager's exact role and responsibilities are largely defined by the organizational model a company follows. There are two models that an enterprise can adhere to a functional organization or a matrix organization.

If the company follows the functional model of organization, it practically does not have any project management structures at all. Their functionality defines the individual departments, so there will most likely be the finance, marketing, operations, and IT department. Within the individual departments, the managers oversee their projects or parts of the project. In addition to the managers, a coordinator may be employed to ensure proper communication between the departments.

On the other hand, if a company has a designated position of a project manager, then the company is referred to as a matrix organization. In such an organization, the role of a project manager is clearly defined concerning one's power and control of the given project. There are three possible models here:

  • A weak matrix
  • A balanced matrix
  • A strong matrix

The weak, balanced and strong organizational model refers to the position and power of the project manager as opposed to that of a functional manager. In a weak matrix, it is the functional manager that controls the project. While in charge, one may have a project manager or a project coordinator who helps with maintaining the project's schedule and assists the functional manager throughout the execution of the project. The project coordinator, however, does not have any responsibility concerning the decision-making process.

If a company adheres to a balanced matrix, both a project manager and a functional manager are present, each assigned with one's own responsibilities. The decision-making process is likewise divided between the two managers. While a functional manager generally decides how the work should be accomplished, the project manager takes care of the team’s needs. One also oversees the schedule and the budget of the project.

The third possibility is to have a strong matrix. In such a matrix, the functional manager’s role is present, yet the project manager carries a larger load of authority and responsibility. There are cases in which the company does not have a functional manager at all. In such a projected organization, the project management holds all the decision-making process and responsibilities, one manages the team and the budget and scope of the project. One decides both on who will work on the project and how the project will be done.

Finding a suitable company model

There is no straightforward answer as to which of the described model is the ideal one. It all depends on the company's management style, the projects it runs, their frequency, and characteristics. Rather than looking for the best model in a general sense of the word, the company should select the model that will suit its needs the best.

A functional organization model is suitable for a company that does not run many projects. If a company has only a handful of projects throughout a year, it would not be helpful to have a project manager. Also, the types of projects that the functional managers of different departments can handle are simple and without a tight deadline. In this case, a functional model is sufficient.

A matrix organization can be successfully employed in a company with multiple projects. In such a case, the team members can work on different projects simultaneously, and the project manager will manage a number of them as well. At the same time, in case of no running projects, the team members can be assigned other work.

As to the type of matrix, we may assume that a strong one is always the best. However, this, again, largely depends on the character of the company and the projects it runs. In some cases, the functional manager may have more expertise than a project manager. Therefore it is deemed better when one oversees the project, with a project coordinator to help with more simple tasks.

On the other hand, a balanced or strong matrix can be useful in project-oriented companies. In such a case, the project manager can be assigned to a few projects throughout the year, with clearly defined responsibilities. A functional manager then shares an equal load of decision making. If necessary, a strong matrix can be employed, giving more authority to the project manager.

Lastly, for significant projects with a tightly defined timeline, a projected organization is the right model. In such a company, the team members must focus solely on one effort as it requires all their attention. A project manager then takes over all the decision-making processes and responsibilities without the involvement of a functional manager.


PMBOK© Guide: A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge. 7th Edition. Project Management Institute, 2021.