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Project Coordinator, Project Leader or Project Manager?

“Project manager wanted for a challenging project” – the request sounds promising. Whoever accepts it may live to regret it, however.

A project can be coordinated, led, or managed.  So before accepting a job as a project coordinator, a project leader or a project manager, you should be aware of the different aspects of these activities. Depending on the specification different skills are required, and there is some significant divergence of opinions about the vacant role by both the customer and the project manager.

The following table gives a brief overview. It can be used as a checklist for project candidates to quickly assess the essence of the advertised task.

Project Coordinator Project Leader Project Manager
Budget responsibility none none to partial complete
Say in team building and team management none partial complete
Formal authority none medium high
Overview of the scheduling dependent on various supervising managers dependent on a few line managers (eg. head of department) full control of all activities
Focus of the team target agreement project neutral partially project, partially hierarchic project centered
Duration of appointment without a solid target usually with a time target with a time target
Profit sharing of the project manager never rarely subject to negotiation
Escalation paths project staff -> organization hierarchy various mixed forms project staff -> project manager ->  organization hierarchy
Most important skills Excel, Word, punctuality additionally: MS Project, adjusting and keeping schedules, joining the conversation with regard to contents additionally: resource management, leadership, expertise, various aspects of project management

However, there is no judging of the roles in this classification. It’s perfectly okay to take the job of a project coordinator rather than a project manager, and it’s as easy to find exciting projects in strong matrix organizations as it is to discover boring and frustrating projects in project-oriented organizations. It is just important that the candidate knows what he / she is getting involved in, so that surprises and frustrations can be avoided.

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About the Author

Roman MildnerRoman Mildner, Certified Project Manager (PMP) and member of the United Mentors Network (UMN), has worked in the IT industry since 1992 and an independent consultant and project manager since 1998. His professional offering includes IT strategy consulting, project management and process improvement. For more details, please visit his UMN page.

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