Project Management Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for project managers. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top
  • What are the fundamental differences between a functional manager and a project manager
  • Is it possible to switch from a job as project manager to one as a functional manager? (provided I know about the specifics of the function of course)
share|improve this question
up vote 6 down vote accepted

Functional Manager will be dealing with:

  • Expertise of that specific function. If you are the Data Architect manager, you will know and strive for the best processes, technology, and management of all things related to data architecture.
  • Resource management. The needs of the data architects are not the same as the needs of the sales team.
  • Cost related to the function. Training to make sure skills are there. Conferences, corporation compliance with standards ISO, etc.
  • Load balancing. Making sure there is always a resource available for this function.

The PM will be dealing with almost the same things but for a specific goal, instead of a function.

I think is possible for a manager to switch to a project manager, and pm to switch to a manager. Both are very possible.

share|improve this answer

A Functional Manager is in charge of a specific business unit. Here are some examples of Functional Managers:

  • Development Team Manager
  • Sales Manager
  • Marketing Manager
  • Accounts Receivable Manager
  • Contact Center Manager
  • Customer Service Manager

Each one of these managers has a specific, technical skillset in their field, and this person is likely a manager partly based on their knowledge and experience in that area. For example, the Development Manager was likely a Software Developer at one point, and the Sales Manager was likely a Sales Associate at one point in time.

Project Managers, on the other hand, work with a project team toward a specific goal. The Project Manager may have expertise in a particular field, such as Software Development, but works with a cross-functional project team to meet a specific goal.

The Project Manager may work with developers, sales associates, call center managers, customer service managers, marketing associates, and other personnel that have an impact on the project. In some cases, a Project Manager may report to a functional manager, while in other cases, such as in a Matrix Organization, Project Managers work alongside Functional Managers.

A Functional Manager with good coordination and communication skills could move into a Project Management role. Having expertise in one area of the business is helpful, and a willingness to learn a little about everything is even more helpful.

A Project Manager with a strong talent and knowledge base in one area could move into a role as a Functional Manager. For instance, a Project Manager who was a Software Engineer could move into a role as a Development Manager, or a Project Manager with marketing experience could move into a Marketing Manager role.

However, the question one must ask is Are Functional Managers or Project Managers Better Candidates for Executive-Level Positions?

share|improve this answer
+1 for the matrix management reference and link. – Peter K. May 21 '11 at 15:54

Can you switch? Yes, the right skill set will always work both ways. But, the jobs are very different and require different application of the same skills. When you are a PM and you have a difficult team member, you usually only have to deal with that until the end of the project - temporary and specific behavior adjustment. When the same person reports to you on a day to day basis you need to deal with this behavior year after year.

share|improve this answer

I feel there is one and only one true difference between a functional manager and a project manager.

At the end of the year, the fucntional manager writes a job review.

There are three regularily accepted types of job power, Role, Expertise and Relationship. Ask around nearly any job industry and you'll get a general agreement that Role power is all but dead. A manager that uses his "Boss" power to rule his department is not going to last long. We even see the ability to hire and fire degraded for the traditional boss. To fire someone requires incredible amounts of paper work and acts of HR.

Relationship power is the primary power of getting things done. Expertise power helps to give your reltionships some firm ground to stand on.

To that end, both PMs and FMs must be good at managing people.

Here is an article describing The Three Types of Power at Work.

share|improve this answer
BC - Do you mind adding a link to a resource that defines your terms? Thanks. – jmort253 Mar 12 '11 at 3:16
Quickest one I could find was this:… . Strange site, but the content of this article is good. A lot of places try and break these down to 5 or 7, but I'm of the school that they all go back to these three. – Joel Bancroft-Connors Mar 13 '11 at 5:35
Thanks for the link. I feel like my organization relies more on Expert and Relationship power than the Role power. Role power is very rarely used by anyone. I feel that any organization that uses the Expert and Relationship power is an organization of true leaders. – jmort253 Mar 14 '11 at 8:59

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.