Project Managers work with different skilled workers to meet a specific goal, while Functional Managers manage a specific business unit that may provide services to the project manager.

Based on the answers in the question, What are the fundamental differences between a functional manager and a project manager and is it possible to switch between the two?, the Project Manager may deal with several different business units, such as development, marketing, sales, business development, and many more.

On the other hand, a Functional Manager is responsible for the ongoing success of a specific business unit.

In terms of career growth, which position is more likely to help someone move into an executive-level position?

2 Answers 2


I think this is a great question. You'll find executives with all kinds of backgrounds. The key qualities for an executive position are about seeing the bigger picture and having a vision for the business beyond the short term project goals.

A project manager is responsible for the short term goals and vision of the project. That doesn't mean the PM doesn't have the longer term vision, it means they need to find a way to display the executive characteristics while still succeeding at the job. It's important to be seen as a good candidate as well as be a good candidate.

  • I chose this as the accepted answer. You don't need a title to be a leader. Just be seen as one, and be one. Great advice! The sky is the limit!
    – jmort253
    Commented Apr 2, 2011 at 3:10

Functional managers are more in-tune to the goals of an executive and operate in a similar environment.

Project managers in a corporation rarely have the appetite for risk and uncertainty to make it as executives. Nor do they operate in an environment that demands these kind of efforts. Project managers usually work off of a defined set of requirements and have the goal of delivering those set of requirements given specific constraints.

Executives generally operate in a world without requirements. The most successful executives see a way to increase profits and/or power and find a way to achieve that -even if it gets messy from a process/methodology or (sometimes) code-of-ethics perspective.

  • Hmm... if PMs are responsible for risk management (even if it's just a small project versus a company mission), then doesn't that imply that they may have an appetite for risk? And along that note, does it not also mean that they are capable of operating in an environment that has these variables?
    – JohnJ
    Commented Sep 14, 2012 at 18:39
  • Granted that I'm biased because I am a PM and interested in Exec management, but I'm positive that I'm not the only exception to your line of thinking :)
    – JohnJ
    Commented Sep 14, 2012 at 18:39

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