Chapter 3 – Project Manager as a Leader

3.2. Roles of Project Manager

In this section we will talk about some general principles for successful project management.

In an article for MIT Sloan Management Review, Alexander Laufer, Hoffman, Russell, and Cameron show how successful project managers combine traditional management methods with newer, more flexible approaches to achieve better outcomes (Laufer et al., 2015). Their research shows that successful project managers adopt these four vital roles:

  1. Develop Collaboration Among Project Participants: “Most projects are characterized by an inherent incompatibility: the various parties to the project are loosely coupled, whereas, the tasks themselves are tightly coupled. When unexpected events affect one task, many other interdependent tasks are quickly affected. Yet the direct responsibility for these tasks is distributed among various loosely coupled parties, who are unable to coordinate their actions and provide a timely response. Project success, therefore, requires both interdependence and trust among the various parties” (Laufer et al., 2015, p. 46).
  2. Integrate Planning with Learning: “Project managers faced with unexpected events employ a ‘rolling wave’ approach to planning. Recognizing that firm commitments cannot be made on the basis of volatile information, they develop plans in waves as the project unfolds and information becomes more reliable. With their teams, they develop detailed short-term plans with firm commitments while also preparing tentative long-term plans with fewer details” (Laufer et al., 2015, p. 46).
  3. Prevent Major Disruptions: Successful project managers “never stop expecting surprises, even though they may effect major remedial changes only a few times during a project. They’re constantly anticipating disruptions and maintaining the flexibility to respond proactively…. When change is unavoidable, a successful project manager acts as early as possible, since it is easier to tackle a threat before it reaches a full-blown state” (Laufer et al., 2015, p. 47).
  4. Maintain Forward Momentum: “When unexpected events affect one task, many other interdependent tasks may also be quickly impacted. Thus, solving problems as soon as they emerge is vital for maintaining work progress” (Laufer et al., 2015, p. 48).

Adopting these four roles will set you on the road toward delivering more value in your projects, with less waste, which is also the goal of both Lean project management and Agile project management.

Human Resources as a Job Recruitment & Selection Resource

Human Resources would be vital to the role of designing the job descriptions and specifications for Project Managers.  HR Specialists would research project manager’s roles, build in the knowledge, skills, abilities (KSAs)s, write a job summary that includes the four above roles, outline the list of responsibilities, emphasis the duties in relation to the project goals, include qualifications, salary and benefits, and any specifications for the role.

The project manager may be an internal or external hire. For an internal hire, the position would be advertised internally. HR, along with others involved in the project, would select the best-suited candidates for interviews, complete the interview process, check references, and hire the person.  Also, they would be involved in replacement of the person hired as the project manager.  Since projects are temporary (with a beginning and an end), HR would be responsible to outline the contract’s specifications.  For an external hire, HR would design a suitable strategy for recruitment of candidates including scope of search, recruitment methods and the sequence of activities for the recruitment. Screening candidates would begin. Applicants would be screened against the job description. Interviews would be set up for the best candidates. A decision would be made who to hire. The same would apply as an internal hire. The successful candidate would be made aware the project is temporary (with a beginning and an end).  A contract would be set up by the HR department.

Human Resources as a Trainer

Training may be required for an external hire with an onboarding program.  The candidate would be briefed and trained on the job responsibilities of the position regardless if it is an internal or external hire. The onboarding program would include: a welcome package, new employee greeting, a mentor/coach, a schedule of critical meetings/events, technical requirements, and a workstation set-up for the employee.

Human Resources as a Team Builder 

The Project Manager would be briefed on the project and the need for team members.  The HR team will develop the team job descriptions and specifications.  The Project Manager would be involved in selecting the team, along with the HR representative, and others who may have a vested interest in the project.  Depending on the importance of the project to the organization, the project manager may be given carte blanche to hire who they wish for the team.  If the project is small and less significant, HR may recommend employees who would be assigned to the project. In other situations, the project manager may need to report to a functional manager who will control the project, and the project manager reports to the functional manager.


Think about a meeting you have attended in the past. Did the leader/facilitator guide the meeting well? If not, as an HR Specialist, how would you plan a meeting that members would enjoy?

Human Resources could be involved in the team coming together for a “kick-off” meeting.  This first meeting is critical to the early bonding of the team and to the project.  It sets the tone for how the team will work together, and with the project manager. The HR Specialist may be a participant, or facilitate the meeting.

Should the HR Specialist facilitate the meeting, important objectives are to provide an overview of the project with the support of the project manager, the schedule of the project,  and the procedures. Next, the HR Specialist would want to discuss the interpersonal dimensions of the team by asking:  Who are you?  What skills and talents do you bring to the team? What are your personal goals in the project, if any?  Next, the HR Specialist wants to instill or teach good communication skills, problem solving skills, decision making skills, and team building skills.  Finally, along with the Project Manager, the HR Specialist wants to establish good ground rules, how decisions will be made, and the reporting mechanisms.

The balance of the meeting, or a follow up meeting ought to be left to the Project Manager to help the team to define an identify, and developed a shared vision for the project.  The project sponsor may want to be involved in this process as the responsibility of the vision lies with the sponsor/stakeholders.