This post was originally published on August 9, 2019, and updated most recently on April 15, 2021.
The project manager is the driving force behind every project. They define the parameters and manage every detail, including budgets, schedules, and resources. This also means that the success or failure of a project rests firmly on their shoulders. They take the heat if things go wrong and bask in the glory when things go well. But this isn’t the only discipline in the project management ecosystem; if the job or organization is particularly large or complex, the PM may need a little help. Enter the project coordinator, the PM’s secret weapon and all-around right-hand man (or woman).
Project coordinator vs. project manager: What’s the difference?
Two similar-sounding roles. Two similar sets of responsibilities. So what’s the difference? It all boils down to a matter of scale.
The project manager is responsible for defining budgets, deadlines, goals, resources, and procurement. The project coordinator is responsible for organizing the details of these things and reporting back to management.
To put it another way, the project coordinator is responsible for overseeing the different stages of the project, whereas the project manager is responsible for overseeing the project as a whole. To use a metaphor: The project manager is the engine, and the project coordinator is the wheels.
What does a project coordinator do?
The project coordinator tracks each stage of a project’s lifecycle while ensuring the relevant people share all the key information. The bottom line? It’s their job to make sure everything is running smoothly. Some of their key responsibilities include:
- Coordinating the schedule and budget
- Organizing meetings
- Tracking and managing messages and paperwork
- Keeping detailed project records
- Assessing any issues or risks and reporting back to the project manager
- Communicating with people all across the organization
- Organizing logistics
What makes a good project coordinator?
The project coordinator’s job involves lots of moving parts, so they need to be organized and able to keep their cool in a stressful environment. In addition to having solid time management skills and an unflappable nature, they should be:
A strong communicator: They need to make sure everyone’s on the same page, which involves communicating with different types of people at all levels. From passing important messages on to upper management to translating assignments and speaking to suppliers, it’s the project coordinator’s job to deliver their message clearly to their intended audience at the right time.
Dependable: The project coordinator is the glue that holds everything together (in addition to the wheels that keep things moving). The project manager depends on them to independently take care of a lot of moving parts. And to always follows tasks through to completion.
Detail-oriented: When dealing with budgets and logistics, it’s important to pay attention to the details. It’s the project coordinator’s job to look after the minutiae so the PM can focus on the bigger picture.
A problem-solver: Projects rarely go entirely as planned, so the coordinator needs to understand the contingency plan behind every project. This means that if a problem does arise, they’re already ready to circumnavigate any issues while ensuring minimum impact on the project’s budget and schedule. And they need to deal with the situation calmly and efficiently.
A good budgeter: Project coordinators need to know how to efficiently allocate resources to accomplish their goals on time and to budget.
How to succeed at being a project coordinator
As you’ve probably already figured out, a project coordinator’s job is one of the most involved roles of the organization. They communicate across all different departments, both internally and externally. They’re responsible for keeping track of a multitude of different project elements while making sure tasks are followed through to completion.
In short, successful project coordinators are always on and always attentive. Not to be overly dramatic, but missing an important update or failing to pass on a crucial piece of information could spell disaster! (Or, at the very least, a few grumpy emails.)
Aside from having the aforementioned qualities, there are a few things you can do to make sure you’re the best coordinator you can be.
Firstly, brushing up on your communication skills – either through studying online via learning sites such as Lynda or Ted Talks or via a specialist training course – will help you deliver those all-important messages to different types of people effectively.
Prepare for change
You have to be the person on the team with a calm and cool head. You’re always ready for change and have (at least) one contingency plan ready at all times. Garner trust among your team members that you have it all under control and are ready for whatever life throws at your project.
Project management tool
Investing in technology that automates the more mundane elements of your role will free you up to focus on the details. Project management software is the secret weapon in the coordinator’s arsenal. A PM tool can help both the coordinator and the wider team keep track of different workloads, deliver (and receive) notifications in real-time, and foster a more collaborative way of working. The right software will keep lines of communication open, so your team can work together to deliver the goods on time and to budget. When it comes to anything project-related, achieving that makes you a success in everyone’s books.