Does project management mean managing people? So far, from my understanding, managing people is somehow part of project management. But I don't have any formal training in this direction and I can't form a very educated opinion.


11 Answers 11


Yes and no.

Typically when we think about managing people we think about superior-subordinate relation in terms of hierarchy. So we have a manager who has a team to manage.

Project managers however rarely have such relation with project teams. Usually there is at least one manager (sometimes called functional manager or line manager) who leads the team and has formal power over people and project manager is somewhere on the side.

Having said that project manager's everyday duties usually cover a lot of telling people what to do (on different levels), which means it's kind of similar area. However with no direct power it is more about influencing or leading people than simply managing them.

Example: there's a project team led by functional manager and project manager. On everyday basis it is PM who deals tasks among people and checks whether everything is going OK. However when there's some issue with one of team members which has to be dealt by their superior, for example some hasn't shown up to work and hadn't let anyone know, it's an issue to solve by the functional manager. PM role here may be only making the functional manager aware of the problem.


The short answer is - yes, project management is about managing people. Or rather, it's about influencing people to help you get done what needs to be done. That aspect of it is actually the most important part of project management.

You can find stories everywhere about PM's that are technically brilliant, but no one wants to work with them. And there are PM's with poor skills that still manage to succeed and are raved about. It's this interaction with the people that's usually the difference.

When we talk about projects, what we're really talking about is producing a result. And to the best of my knowledge, unless you're the only person working to produce that result, you're going to have a team involved helping you. That's the people management side of it. If there are people involved, and it's your responsibility to produce that result, then your job is to influence the team in the right way to achieve that result. You can't do that if you have poor people management skills.


Management is, ultimately, always about people. Projects are about people work together.

There are two main approaches that can be used:

  1. Design a process (system and environment) that is most effective for people working together.
  2. Utilize soft skills effectively to manage people and create a work environment conducive to people working together.

The best project managers are aware of and use both.

FURTHER INFORMATION (Based on Mihai's request) Agile and related methodologies are a good example of no. 1. They are based on concepts from the Theory of Constraints and nearly a century of data on industrial engineering (see Deming). From these perspective, the data shows that people can accomplish specific tasks better under certain environments versus others. You can improve people's performance by changing process elements of the work environment.

Speaking towards no. 2, good communication skills can create an environment where people are happy and productive, often despite the process elements. That is, even if the factory stinks, there can be a relatively happy and productive work environment with a good manager. To learn more, read about leadership and communication.

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    Would it be too much to ask for small illustrations of the two approaches? I am guessing you have some specific personal experience in mind. Or maybe you could point me towards some relevant reading? thanks May 18, 2011 at 19:49

My understanding for what the project manager is doing is finding real solutions of real problems, however I believe - yes, you can tell that part of the job is managing people on a day to day basis (already mentioned by Pawel).

Being a project manager, you need a set of different skills and it depends on the company policy -- what duties and responsibilities you have, but managing people is a must, otherwise this position is not a project manager.


Being a PM means you manage all your resources, human and otherwise. The concept of a matrixed organization does not remove the command and control authority of the PM; it weakens it. The PM has absolute authority over the team role and the individual who occupies it. The issue of a weak matrixed organization is caused by conflicting or competing requirements of an employee wearing multiple hats. The PM, who is a temporary boss, typically loses in that conflict.


Unless you are doing all the work on the Project yourself (!) then it is inevitable that you have to manage people in some way or another, maybe not in the traditional sense of line management, but a matrix management arrangement is very common these days. This, in my experience, can be even more challenging because you have all the responsibility for the work that people are doing but less of the power to affect change if things aren't happening as you would like.


PMBOK Guide, v4, page 6 (not literally):

Project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to the project requirements. [...] Managing a project typically includes: identifying requirements; addressing the various needs of the stakeholders; balancing the competing project constraints, incl. scope, quality, schedule, budget, resources and risk.

The only thing where project management is concerned about people is where we see "resources" in the sentence above. Managing people is just 5-10% of project management.


Does project management mean managing people? Not necessarily.

The PMBOK describes three major organizational structures: the functional organization (where staff report to functional managers); the projectized organization (where staff report to project managers) and the matrix organization, where staff report to functional managers but have project managers directing their work. The third form is quite common, and in an organization like that, you would not have staff as a project manager.


Yes, it does. You manage people to a timeline for a deliverable. You can't manage tasks, you can manage the people doing the tasks.


The answer to this is both yes and no. When we think of people management, we usually conceive of superior-subordinate relationships in terms of hierarchy. So we have a manager in charge of a team.

Project managers, on the other hand, rarely have this type of relationship with project teams. Typically, at least one manager (also known as a functional manager or line manager) leads the team and has official authority over the personnel, while the project manager is off to the side.

Having said that, a project manager's daily responsibilities normally include a lot of instructing others what to do (on various levels), so it's a comparable field. With no direct power, however, influencing or leading people is more important than simply managing them.


Project management is about risk, specifically managing risk.

One is the largest risk being a failure to deliver a project to budget and within the agreed timeframe.

Many times I’ve explained to junior project managers that it is better to focus on project risk, rather than activities or resources in a Gantt chart. Isolating risks in a project ensures you address the cause of your project issues, not the symptoms.

So how do we deliver a project to budget and within the agreed timeframe?

Managing people is a large part of this process and how well a person does this is simply another skill in their “toolbox” (so to speak). A PM who cannot effectively and peacefully manage and influence his stakeholders, clients, consultants, is lacking an essential skill.

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