An overview of a typical project management hierarchy

Posted by Niall Sullivan

08-May-2017 08:00:00

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In life, there are some people that like structure and some that don’t. If you’re not a fan of structure, then project management probably isn’t for you.

In order for your project to run like clockwork, there needs to be a clear hierarchy in place in order for key tasks and responsibilities to be delegated correctly.

This blog post will look at the key figures in a project management hierarchy and explain why the different roles are crucial to the success of your project.

Why is a project management hierarchy important?

Before we look at the typical roles that make up a project team, it makes sense to first understand why hierarchies are put in place. This is because they provide:

  • An effective organisational structure
  • A sense of authority and unity
  • Accountability
  • A clear career path

A clear structure means that only a chosen few are in charge of the strategy and direction a project is going.

Of course there are advantages to a non-hierarchal structure, (like online insurer Simply Business in our recent blog post,) but generally there needs to be a management figure in place in order to make final decisions and also to be held accountable for those decisions.

It's hard to imagine a large project with dozens of stakeholders being successful, without anyone taking responsibility for important decisions. Too many cooks spoil the broth springs to mind!

Now to look at the key figures within a project management hierarchy.

The project owner

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Let’s start from the top. The project owner is the person who is in overall charge and is without doubt, the project’s key stakeholder.

In short, they:

  • Are responsible for the project’s business case
  • Convey a clear vision of the project
  • Hold the power of selecting, promoting and removing the other team members
  • Oversee the overall progress of the project

In order to be a successful project owner, effective communication skills are required. As 56% of money spent on a project is at risk due to ineffective communications it is clearly crucial that the owner is in regular contact with the project manager to ensure that the project is running smoothly.

The project sponsor

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I know what you’re thinking. The sponsor is simply in charge of securing the necessary funds for a project and making sure that it stays on budget.

This is true to a degree. But like many sponsors will probably tell you, there is a lot more to their role than just that.

For starters, they play an important part in getting buy-in from senior executives within an organisation. Without this level of support, your project probably wouldn’t get off the ground!

They also offer essential support to the project manager. When there are issues that are beyond the manager’s control, (such as competition for resources,) the sponsor can step in and act as a link between the project and other concerned parties.

Despite the clear importance of a project sponsor, it appears that the majority of companies don’t agree. According to a KPMG Project Management survey, 68% of companies do not always have an effective sponsor.

The project manager

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With the project owner and sponsor looking at the overall progress of a project, who is going to take charge of day-to-day activities?

The project manager of course! They are primarily responsible for the output of team members and will report back to senior management about their performance.

Obviously, there is a lot more to the role than that. Just some of the tasks that project managers are in charge of include:

  • Planning and defining scope
  • Managing risks and issues
  • Developing a budget
  • Working with vendors
  • Monitoring and reporting progress

With so much on their plate, this could seem overwhelming. But with the support of the project owner, project sponsor and by having the essential skills required, they are more likely to succeed in the role.

BONUS CONTENT - Download our 5 point tip sheet on how to avoid project failure

The team members

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This section might be self-explanatory, but it is still worth looking at how team members can contribute to a project.

They are allocated tasks by their project manager and are expected to report back to them with their progress and if any issues have arisen.

Team members are not necessarily from the same department as some projects require skillsets from different parts of an organisation.

Their individual job role will depend on the type of project. For example, on a construction project, the members of a consultant team could include an architect, cost consultant, services engineer and structural engineer.

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Topics: project management