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  1. Blog
  2. Career Development

What Does a Project Manager Do?

“At the end of the day, we’re not dealing with numbers, we’re dealing with people”

Young woman in a bright room
Image courtesy of Fran

This article is part of InHerSight's What Do You Do? series. This series explores the working lives of women by job title. Readers can get a glimpse of what it's like to work as an account executive, software developer, restaurant manager, and more.

Job descriptions for project managers vary widely, but the core capabilities for this role are always the same: an incredible propensity for organization, communication, adaptability, and attention to detail.

You’ll find women working in project management across all industries, from consumer products, like cosmetics and mattresses, to software, supply chain, marketing, design, and beyond. The skills of a project manager are widely employable, so if you’re interested in exploring different industries in your career, working as a project manager can be a great way to do that.

To give you a better idea of what it's like to be a project manager and how to get a job like this, we talked to three women about their work in project management—what their days look like, who they work with, what they need to do their jobs well, and what’s maybe not so great about the role. 

Alexis Nicole White

Project manager at Peak-Ryzex, in project management for 10 years

What’s your background and how did you end up in this role? 

I graduated during the last recession in 2008. While it was an unfortunate time, I was able to gain an entry-level position within the telecommunications industry and built my interest in project management. Since then, I’ve fluctuated back and forth between information technology and telecommunications. 

What do you do for the business as a project manager?

A project manager builds relationships between internal and external stakeholders, resources, and customers while fostering an environment of trust, accuracy, and competency. Often viewed as a subject matter expert (SME) (even when I’m not—more on that below) to implement goods and services that the organization cultivates, I provide counsel, best practices, and recommendations that will ultimately lead to success. I organize, support, and collaborate with other team members to lead the project to success. 

What does a typical workday look like for you? 

Typically, I spend 50 percent of my time communicating with other team members, providing guidance, and overall project direction. The other portion of my time is planning and documenting the outcome of meetings, issues, and lessons learned. Additionally, I monitor the project health and integrity of ongoing projects. Confirming any variances is highly important as well. 

What skills do you need to be a project manager?

Organization, time management, emotional intelligence, empathy, and influencing skills are critical for a project manager. If you’re in a technical field, the aptitude to comprehend technical jargon and rhetoric is imperative. 

What’s the toughest part of being a project manager? 

The most challenging parts of being a project manager are operating within predefined constraints and delivering despite the unforeseen risks that occurred during the project. Occasionally, things just seem to go wrong, and there is no plan to account for the known-unknowns, resulting in a terminated project. 

What do you like about your job?

I enjoy actualizing the customer’s objectives into tangible products or services. I am often impressed by the implementations I have facilitated—like, Wow! We did that! 

What’s a common misconception about your job?

The most common misconception is that I am supposed to know everything, and this is not true. I am supposed to surround myself with people who are subject matter experts that know the depths of their sides of the business to facilitate a tangible outcome. Although I can lead a conversation, I am not the SME, and I know when to utilize others for their expertise. 

What would you say to someone who’s interested in being a project manager?

Project management can result in high stress. If you can’t handle stress, don’t do it. If you're disorganized, don’t do it. If you’re disengaged, don’t do it. Being a project manager is not a walk in the park. It requires you to be hands-on, a self-starter, diligent, persistent, and consistent. You must influence positive outcomes within adverse circumstances, all while remaining positive to lead your team towards success. Project management is not for the faint of heart. 

Read more: 8 Personality Tests That Can Tell You About Your Career Strengths & Weaknesses

Christian Ohonba

Project manager at Virgin Pulse, in project management for three years

What’s your background and how did you end up in this role? 

I worked in a variety of corporate training and coaching roles, then merged into a software consultant role, which provided me the opportunity to work with several client migrations, which opened the door to project management! 

What do you do for the business as a project manager? 

I work with new and existing clients who have purchased our services and guide them in the  implementation process. I work with both internal and external stakeholders, ensuring the process is as seamless as possible while also capturing the voice of the client.

What does a typical workday look like for you? 

No one day is alike, but a general flow would be: Zoom calls with clients, collaboration sessions with my technical teams, and responding to clients via email.

What are the three most important parts of your job? 

Ensuring you’re keeping the client in mind in each decision, being hyper-collaborative, and having the ability to be creative with a solution-focused lens.

What skills do you need to be a project manager? 

Passion for the role, organizational skills, and the ability to see the big picture with some degree of detail. I would also add the ability to think on your feet, end-goal focus, and a sense of humor. 

What’s the toughest part of being a project manager? 

Something that I’ve dealt with throughout my entire professional career, no matter the title, is racial disparities. At times it makes my job harder, as I have encountered covert slights or small infractions being amplified. It can make things interesting, but I have kept my bearings. 

What do you like about your job? 

I enjoy being able to take a project from inception to execution with focus on making the end result reflect the client’s voice.

What’s a common misconception about your job?

A misconception about my role within my organization is that I have a huge team standing by for items. However, within my organization, much of the work that goes into creating a program for a client is done by me and then given to my technical team. 

What would you say to someone who’s interested in being a project manager?

Only go into this role after you’ve truly vetted a company and have vetted within yourself that you enjoy being with clients for a definite period of time. If you really enjoy making something from nothing, this can be a great role. 

Read more: How Do I Know if a Company Is Living Out Its Values?

Riya Shah

Project manager at L'Oréal, in project management for eight months

What’s your background and how did you end up in this role?

I’ve always worked in the fashion industry, either as a visual merchandiser or a marketer, but I wanted to explore the beauty industry. The only opportunity open at the time at L'Oréal was project management, so I thought, why not try? And here I am, about to step up into my new role as a display project lead in September.

What do you do for the business as a project manager? 

I facilitate the entire artwork process for Maybelline promotional displays that go into stores like CVS, Walmart, Ulta, Walgreens, Target, Kroger, Rite-Aid, etc. I work with cross-functional teams, align with everyone at every step of the artwork process, and help the team ensure the display is shipped out on time. 

What does a typical workday look like for you? 

My day-to day includes things like:

  • Issuing weekly promotional display reports and providing key updates and next steps on each program.

  • Keeping projects on track and on time, informing the team of any conflicts, delays, postponements, or any other unusual situations that may impede the flow of their assignments.

  • Working closely with display developers and designers to ensure products satisfy the project briefs.

  • Capturing and providing monthly metrics and promotional data reports across Maybelline to the VP of divisional operations.

What are the three most important parts of your job? 

Firstly, it’s all about communication. Sensing the tone of the team that you are dealing with, making sure they understand what I need from them, and making sure I listen to them and understand what they will need from me to complete the task at hand. 

Secondly, being accurate is very important when we are dealing with timelines and multiple teams. Before sending out any email or report, checking for accuracy is very important in order to avoid miscommunication.

Lastly, building relationships and maintaining them is very important in project management because at the end of the day, we’re not dealing with numbers, we’re dealing with people.

What’s the toughest part of being a project manager?

The toughest part of my job is when there’s a sudden change in the project but you’ve crossed the deadline—and still you have to make it work somehow. 

What do you like about your job?

This job has helped me grow as a person. It has built my presentation skills and given me so much confidence. This job taught me how to deal with all kinds of team members because everyone functions/responds differently. And most importantly, it brought the leadership side of me into the light, because without taking initiative and leading projects to completion, you can never find success in this role.

What’s a common misconception about your job?

The most common misconception that people have about project management is that you don’t really have to work, you just have to get other people to work. But in order to assign work to the team members, you have to be ready with your own homework and reports.

What would you say to someone who’s interested in being a project manager?

This role offers you opportunities to learn something new each day, develop your knowledge set, and apply that to the organization to achieve continuous success. 

Read more: What Does a Customer Success Manager Do?

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