So you've decided you're interested in the field of project management, but you don't know where to start. There are a number of entry- and mid-level positions you may pursue, many of which don't include "project manager" specifically in the job title. How can you tell what jobs are a good fit for your interests, skills, and career goals? Here we take a look at the responsibilities and skill sets that differentiate two common positions in the field: project manager vs. project coordinator.
Project Management Job Description
Project managers plan, initiate, and oversee execution of a project, often working with multiple internal teams, contractors, and clients. Project managers are often involved in early discussions with the client and upper management to ensure they have a clear understanding of the client's desired goals and outcomes. They then determine what resources, processes, and other materials will be necessary to complete the project in the desired timeline, drawing up plans for every phase of execution. This often involves delegating tasks or significant portions of the project to coordinators or teams of employees in order to be able to maintain a broad overall view of the entire project throughout.
The project manager is the one ultimately responsible for the final quality of a project, ensuring that it's delivered on time and to the client's satisfaction. For this reason, project management is more of a leadership role, one that frequently involves trusting others with completion of specific parts or stages of a plan or process.
Project Management Responsibilities
A project manager is primarily responsible for the planning that occurs before a project is started. This includes identifying and breaking down the main parts of a process in order to organize the project into stages with realistic timelines, as well as accurately estimating the work hours and other resources each major project stage will require. Since the final project plan must account for the company's time and financial requirements in addition to the client's quality expectations, project managers must be capable of performing the complex calculations necessary for risk assessments, resource allocation, and budgeting.
Once a project is underway, project managers must be able to maintain a clear and accurate picture of all simultaneous and overlapping parts of the process. This may involve regularly checking in with multiple teams and departments as well as reviewing work following the completion of each stage.
Because they must be able to oversee many parts of complex processes at once, some essential project management skills include:1,2
- Long-Term Planning
- Visualize Complex Processes
- Communication (between upper management, the client, and project teams)
- Financial Planning
- Resource Management
Project Coordinator Job Description
Project coordinators typically work under the direction of a project manager to help with administrative tasks on a specific project. They essentially help ensure that all team members and departments have what they need to meet the deadlines and milestones set by the project manager.1 In order to do this, they must also be familiar with every aspect of the project, including all short and long-term goals, the entire project calendar, and budgeting details.
Whereas project managers oversee the whole process from planning to completion, the project coordinator role is more focused on executing specific stages of a plan. The project coordinator's goal is to help enable the project manager to focus on broader issues and any problems that may arise by managing the day-to-day minutiae of a project. Sometimes coordinators may eventually expand their responsibilities to include multiple projects, or move into project management roles with more oversight.
Project Coordinator Responsibilities
Once all stages and timelines of a project have been outlined and approved, the project coordinator helps keep all parts of the process organized and running according to plan. This may involve communicating between the client and various teams internally, setting times and dates for meetings in order to keep on schedule, and relaying any issues with timelines or budgets to the project manager.
Because a project coordinator's job revolves around the heavily administrative work required to keep all stages of a project moving forward, responsibilities frequently include lots of work with spreadsheets and reporting, as well as regularly maintaining and filing paperwork.
While project coordinators utilize some of the same skills as project managers, the qualities necessary for this position more often include:3
- Interpersonal Communication (particularly via phone and email)
- Problem Solving
- Time Management
- Technical Skills and Data-Entry
Ready to learn more? Explore online project management degrees at AIU.
1. LinkedIn, Vivek Sivasubramani, "Project Coordinator Vs. Project Manager," on the Internet at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/project-coordinator-vs-manager-vivek-sivasubramani (visited on January 12, 2016).
2. Project Crunch, "Project Coordinator, Project Leader or Project Manager?" on the Internet at http://www.projectcrunch.com/project-coordinator-project-leader-or-project-manager (visited on January 12, 2016).
3. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, "Career Outlook: Project Coordinator" on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2015/youre-a-what/project-coordinator.htm (visited on January 12, 2016).