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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 they have on the company’s performance? In this part, we will examine the different organisational models where project managers can find themselves within the company's structure.

Generally speaking, a project manager oversees the success of the project. A project manager ensures that the project's objectives are met by using their skills and knowledge, as well as the tools and techniques acquired through project management training and real-world experience. Likewise, a project manager ensures that the requirements for the project's successful completion are distinctly identified, the communication among team members is clear and coordinated, and the team has everything it needs to succeed.

Company Project Organization

The company's organisational model largely defines a project manager's roles and responsibilities. There are two models that an enterprise can adhere to: a functional organisation or a matrix organisation.

If the company follows the functional organisation model, it has practically no project management structure at all. Their functionality defines the individual departments, so there will likely be a finance, marketing, operations, and IT department. Within the individual departments, the managers oversee the projects or parts of the projects. 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 project manager, then the company is referred to as a matrix organisation. In this model, the role of a project manager, including their power and control of the given project, is clearly defined. There are three possible types here:

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

The weak, balanced, and strong organisational models refer to the position and power of the project manager as opposed to that of a functional manager. In a weak matrix, the functional manager controls the project. It may still have a project manager or a project coordinator who helps maintain the project's schedule and assists the functional manager throughout the execution of the project. They do not, however, 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 with their 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, oversees the project's schedule, and manages the budget.

In a strong matrix, the functional manager is present, but the project manager carries a greater load of authority and responsibility. There are some cases in which the company does not have a functional manager at all. In these organisations, the project manager holds all the decision-making processes and responsibilities. They also manage the team, budget, and scope of the project. The project manager decides 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 models is ideal. It all depends on the company's management style, the projects it runs, their frequency, and their characteristics. Rather than looking for the best model, the company should select the one that best suits its needs.

A functional organisation model suits a company that does not run many projects. If a company has only a handful throughout the year, having a project manager may not be necessary. Additionally, the types of projects that functional managers from different departments can handle are simple and without tight deadlines.

A matrix organisation 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 several of them as well. If no projects are running, team members can be assigned other work.

As for types of matrixes, a strong one is usually the best. However, this 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, a weak matrix, where the functional manager oversees the project and the project coordinator assists with simple tasks, may be preferable.

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

Lastly, for significant projects with tightly defined timelines, a projected organisation 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.