By Marcia L Ingino, PMP, PMI-ACP, PMI-PBA, CBAP

I have probably been an “unofficial” project manager since I was about 10 years old while attending Girl Scout events. I was always the girl who was a quick learner and was probably a bit bossy. In high school, I found myself doing more projects as a programming “nerd.” These interests lead me to attend college and study computer engineering, so that I could “lead technical people.” Obtaining my engineering degree and working as a programmer lead to many more “projects.” I moved to Colorado after graduation, yet another project, and found myself working as a test engineer and wanted to do more than just being a contributing member of a project team.

At this point, I discovered there was a “real” job title of project manager. I was hooked, very excited, and worked hard to learn how to become a project manager. After some project management courses and mentoring by a wonderful boss, I was promoted and was finally a REAL project manager. I soon realized that it took more than technical knowledge to be an excellent project manager.

I was often asked, “What exactly does a project manager do?”

“Manage projects,” I would answer without much thought.

After many confused looks and blank stares, I decided that I needed to come up with a better answer.

As I put more thought into the question, I came up with “lead people to get things finished” and “solve problems.” These simple answers still didn’t seem to work very well, and I knew people still didn’t understand even when I gave a long detailed answer. So, I kept thinking and brainstormed a list of what project managers do —

  • Manage and control
  • Lead and direct
  • Communicate and coordinate
  • Decide and take action
  • Motivate and reward
  • Give and take
  • Negotiate and obtain agreement
  • Take risks and develop opportunities
  • Schedule and monitor
  • Budget and spend
  • Check and validate

I knew I could not say all that, so it was back to the drawing board.  I experimented with a variety of answers, and nobody, including my own mother, really understood what I did as a project manager. Even people who worked for project managers didn’t seem to know what project managers do!

Over the years, I have used these humorous answers to explain what a project manager does:

I am a project integration expert!

A project manager herds cats.

I develop people through hard work.

A project manager does the impossible!

I make it difficult for other people to get their work done.

A project manager turns worrying into planning!

I create dreams from deadlines.

Today, when someone asks me what a project manager does, I give one of these answers and chuckle to myself. If they only knew, what project managers really do!

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