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The Importance of Project Roles and Responsibilities

As a project manager are you 100% clear on your teams’ roles and responsibilities? I hope most would say yes, but I know that there may be some opportunity for improvement. Have you ever considered that your team may see their role and responsibilities differently than you? Maybe individual team members are confused about what others are supposed to be doing. This could undoubtedly lead to conflict and tension in the workplace. This directly impacts productivity and is likely to create performance issues. On the project, is it sometimes unclear whom you should go to or include in a certain conversation? Do some people feel left out or confused as to another’s actions or motives? Do you feel as if someone is not performing their duties promptly? Maybe that person does not even know all of their expected duties.

As a project manager, it’s your responsibility to ensure there is harmony in the team. It is such a basic concept to get roles and responsibilities set up and aligned early in the project. Even so, I have mentioned in other blogs the fact that people will come and go over the course of a project. A person may mobilize from a different organization with the same job title, but with very different expected responsibilities on the new project. For example, the accounting department of one organization could process all the vendor invoices whereas the contracts team may handle this in another organization. In this specific case, it could not only create conflict between specific people but also create infighting between entire departments. The project manager must recognize this and quickly resolve it with empathy. Taking no action and allowing these types of issues to fester hurts collaboration, morale, and the ability of people to get things done.

The Project Management Institute`s body of knowledge (PMBOK) Seventh Edition notes the following:

“Clarity on roles and responsibilities can improve team cultures. Within project teams, specific tasks may be delegated to individuals or selected by project team members themselves. This includes the authority, accountability, and responsibility related to tasks:

  • Authority – The condition of having the right, within a given context, to make relevant decisions, establish or improve procedures, apply project resources, expend funds, or give approvals. Authority is conferred from one entity to another, whether done explicitly or implicitly

  • Accountability – The condition of being answerable for an outcome. Accountability is not shared

  • Responsibility – The condition of being obligated to do or fulfill something. Responsibility can be shared.

Regardless of who is accountable or responsible for specific project work, a collaborative project team takes collective ownership of the project outcomes.”

To some degree or another, companies typically have job descriptions that are used the recruit project team members. Often these are owned and managed by the human resources department. They can become obsolete based on lessons learned, insights, technologies, and industry trends. In many cases, specific project roles and responsibilities need to be more detailed and cater to a project’s specific needs. For complete transparency, every team member could have a distinct set of roles and responsibilities that would be made available to all team members so that other functions can see what a specific individual is responsible for on the team. This is even more meaningful in the case where there are (5) procurement team members each responsible for a different discipline of purchasing. All too often, a job description is pulled from a server with little or no changes made before posting a job.

I had worked with an organization for 5 years performing various project roles. After the successful completion of one project, it was time to mobilize to a new project. I was amazed that on the second day of the project, my new manager pulled me into the office for a one-on-one meeting to discuss my roles and responsibilities for the project. We went through the list by line item and the meeting ended with me signing off on them. At first, I didn’t understand why we were doing this but, in the end, it was a meaningful meeting. The lead was setting the expectations for the duties that I was expected to perform. This is especially important to do for managers and team members that have not worked with each other before. As a project manager, I feel that it is extremely important to set expectations with team members about their authority, accountability, and responsibility. It is also equally important for team members to understand the responsibilities of other team members. When gaps, errors, omissions, safety issues, cost overruns, schedule slippages, and quality problems occur, it won’t be acceptable to say “I thought John was responsible for that”. As a project manager, take some time to review and enhance the teams' roles and responsibilities.




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