"What do project managers do?" is a question that intrigues both those looking to hire and those wanting to become project managers themselves.

Project managers are the backbone of any project, guiding it from planning to completion. Everyone who has worked on projects knows the difference between an organized project and a chaotic one — and the project manager plays a key role in keeping things on the rails. The most effective PMs have good people skills, listen well to their teams, and conduct themselves with integrity.

You can find one answer in the typical job description of a project manager, but a deeper explanation reflects on what a project manager really does.

So what does a project manager really do?

A project manager manages a project across its full life cycle. From initiation to completion, a project manager's work includes:

  • Creating plans
  • Building teams 
  • Assigning and tracking work 
  • Setting scopes and budgets
  • Creating schedules 
  • Laying out workflows
  • Choosing the right tools and resources
  • Defining KPIs (for measuring both progress and success)
  • Reporting

Project managers facilitate successful project delivery. Their core duty is to ensure projects happen on time, on budget, and on spec.

Here are some scenarios to put their work into perspective. 

What does a PMO do?

In enterprise-sized organizations, a team of project specialists called a project management office (PMO) improves project management by standardizing processes and maintaining best practices. The PMO keeps documentation, offers guidance, and provides metrics for project execution, ensuring projects are delivered on time and on budget

PMOs are helpful for companies that run many cross-functional projects simultaneously. They help choose the right blend of projects for the organization, train employees on project management skills, manage project resources, and leverage project management tools to improve decision-making.

What does a project manager do in construction?

A project manager in the construction industry oversees construction projects from the pre-construction stage through the post-construction commissioning. This includes liaising with multiple stakeholders such as the head of construction, the site superintendent, consultants, and contractors to get the work done. 

Construction project managers also manage the soliciting and leveling of bids for the different parts of the project — preparing budgets and schedules for project phases and managing the permitting process by coordinating with the authorities.

What does a project manager do in software?

In the software and IT domain, a project manager ensures that a company's technical projects are executed successfully. Doing so involves defining a project's scope and goals and deliverables, communicating the functional requirements of the project to the design and development teams, and identifying the requirements and dependencies to deliver quality work. It also includes budgeting resources and setting schedules. 

Software and IT project managers also have to routinely manage the project expectations with the team members and other stakeholders, develop and execute testing and deployment plans, and create the relevant documentation, among other things.

What does a project manager do in an advertising agency?

A marketing project manager in an advertising agency designs and oversees the end-to-end process of marketing campaign creation and management for its clients. Collecting requirements from the clients, choosing the people to work on the campaigns, and setting schedules are the key focus areas for project managers in marketing.

Project managers in advertising agencies also work as the point of contact for the many clients an agency serves. They represent their agencies across the full project life cycle, from the initial discovery calls to collecting the requirements of the clients, seeking approvals, and sharing campaign performance reports.

What does an HR project manager do?

HR project managers work closely with an organization’s leadership to hire and maintain teams that help meet its business goals. Their day-to-day work includes communications around hiring, managing job codes, liaising with external recruiters/agencies, owning the company's HR tech stack, managing the different job boards it uses, and maintaining good employer branding.

Running annual employee surveys, implementing competency mapping exercises (and following them up with the needed upskilling/reskilling programs), and building a thriving talent pool are also a few focus areas for HR project managers. 

Additionally, HR project managers are expected to report on the key HR metrics and roll out corrective strategies (toward, say, lowering attrition or reducing the time-to-hire metric). 

A day in the life of a project manager

A project manager's daily routine is made up of various knowledge-work and admin activities. 

A common morning routine for project managers

A workday for a project manager almost always starts with reading incoming communications of project management importance. If working across time zones, updates may have come through outside regular working hours. These can include emails, messages, and updates from team members, clients, partners, and even customers. 

Project managers may also use a project management solution to manage updates, track progress, and assign tasks as needed. Individual actions may include logging feedback from a client or registering a team member's leave note.

Some of those messages turn into to-dos — like arranging a meeting with a team member or following up on emails, for instance.

What project managers do during a sizeable part of their daily work

Calls and meetings can take up a big part of a project manager's day. When done right, they can be very productive and move work forward. There are several types of meetings that project managers usually arrange and attend:

  • Routine meetings: Daily morning stand-up meetings bring all the project's team members on the same page and set the tone for the day.
  • Scheduled client/stakeholder meetings: These help communicate the project's status to those concerned and address any other issues that might have come up. 
  • Ad hoc meetings: These take care of any unexpected developments or roadblocks.

However, calls can sometimes be distracting and get in the way of work, so some project managers prefer to block time specifically for calls on their calendar. 

Meetings generally result in action items that need to be logged in their project management solution. This ensures discussions, action items, and any decisions are recorded and nothing slips through the cracks.

In addition to these meetings, several informal one-on-one discussions can also take up a project manager's time.

A daily wrap-up routine

At the end of a workday, you'll typically find project managers reviewing their day, rescheduling work that couldn't happen, and reviewing their next day's agenda.

What a week, month, and quarter look like for a project manager

If you zoom out a bit, you'll see that a project manager's weekly tasks are just as critical.

Typically, a project manager's weekly work includes:

  • Weekly check-ins
  • Weekly project status reporting
  • Weekly project documentation
  • Timesheet/invoice approvals
  • Weekly wrap-ups

Once per month, you'll also find project managers doing work that sets the agenda for the next month and measures the progress made in the last one:

  • Monthly check-ins
  • Monthly project status reporting
  • Monthly project documentation
  • Monthly wrap-ups

On a quarterly basis, project managers often do work that's geared toward optimization.

  • Documenting processes (so knowledge-sharing happens and areas of optimization can be spotted)
  • Collecting feedback
  • Updating processes to create better and more efficient ways of working

Want to become a project manager?

If project management is your true calling (or even if you're only considering it for its financial benefits), becoming a project manager is easier than ever with all the training available. Here are a few courses that will put you on a fast track to becoming a valuable project manager.  

Project manager courses that will set you up for success

Project Management: The Basics for Success: This eight-hour course teaches you all you need to know to become a great project manager who always delivers projects on time, spec, and budget. 

Introduction to Project Management: This free course teaches you all the principles of project management and shows you how to apply them to your work projects.

Fundamentals of Project Planning and Management: This course will empower you to run winning projects from initiation to scoring a ten on the holy project management trinity: scope, time, and budget.

How does Wrike help project managers?

Wrike helps project managers (and those wondering how to manage project managers) power their teams and handle the complexities of long-term planning. Wrike’s Dashboards, Reports, Calendars, and Gantt Charts enable project managers in any industry to work effectively and efficiently, while pre-made templates (like this contract work invoice template) take the hassle out of administrative tasks.

Sign up for a free trial and learn why 20,000+ teams worldwide choose Wrike for their work and project management needs.