Coordinator Vs. Project Manager

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When a project begins, the logistics are spearheaded by a project manager and the project coordinator. While both are indispensable, understanding the project manager vs. the coordinator can seem like semantics, but the differences are considerable and so is the pay gap. A variety of responsibilities and tasks separate the two roles, but both, however, sit under the project director’s guidance.

What Is a Project Director?

When a project begins, there’s a project director at the helm. It’s his baby, and he's the one to whom others report. He’ll appoint the project manager to run the project, and the director’s concerns are everything that happens outside the operational realm, including the budget, contracts, terms, progress and more.

He’ll oversee things like the scope of work and related project processes, staying abreast of reports from the project manager on the day to day. He’ll revise the budget as needed, keeping stakeholders informed and obtaining new funds when required. The director is the point person who deals with the company vice president, CEO or other senior-level manager. It’s not uncommon for a project director to be leading a couple projects at once, as a good project director tends to excel in implementing plans, but it’s “program” managers who tend to manage groups of projects.

According to salary.com, a typical American project director can expect to earn between $138,705 and $173,806, with an average base salary of $156,294.

Understanding the Project Manager vs. Coordinator

The project manager and most of her team are hand picked by the director. The manager has the big picture of what’s going on, and it’s her job to create the road map to achieve the director’s vision for where things are heading. She does this by breaking down the project into manageable tasks and producing GANTT charts and other visuals to create a clear picture of what needs to happen to meet success.

The manager will assign tasks to team members and set goals for individuals and for milestones. She will oversee the immediate budget and will report frequently to the project director about progress, finances and expectations. It’s the manager’s job to see down the road, anticipating any issues, shortfalls or failures before they happen and adjusting the workload or personnel before anything serious can derail progress.

The salary for project managers varies tremendously depending on the field in which they work. It can range between $72,851 all the way up to $136,999 for project management roles in IT and construction, and other industries have their own variations in managerial pay scales. An average wage is approximately $90,000 per year.

What Is a Project Coordinator?

The project coordinator is essentially an administrative role for the project. They focus on many of the same areas as the manager – deadlines, accomplishments, budget – but they’re involved in the day to day and are responsible for communicating with team members to keep them all on track. They’re in charge of information flow between team members and both reporting to and from the manager so that everyone knows what’s going on with the project and what their tasks might be. The coordinator stays on top of the paperwork and figures out the staff and task scheduling so that everything runs smoothly.

The big project manager and coordinator difference comes down to responsibility. If a project succeeds or fails, it’s on the manager’s hands. Key skills needed for being a successful project coordinator include time management, communication, budgeting and problem solving.

It would seem to be a job that is upwardly mobile, but the average pay varies little and suggests that advancement isn’t a given. It’s a promising role for the future, though, as the Department of Labor suggests an expected growth of 8 percent for project coordinator positions compared to the 7 percent average in other jobs, and it is 2 percent better than project managers. According to ziprecruiter.com, project coordinators can earn as little as $23,500 or as much as $78,500, with the median income being $47,862 annually.

Making the Jump: Coordinator to Manager

The trouble with being a coordinator is that it can feel somewhat thankless when the pay scale is so different from a manager and yet the job comes with many tasks that underpin the manager’s role. The manager is the one on whose hands the success or failure of the project is laid, so she is under much more scrutiny and holds more responsibilities. It’s the responsibility and the willingness to assume the blame or praise for the project’s outcome that makes the manager’s job that much more challenging.

Those looking to make the leap to the higher role of project manager will need to take stock of their company and its advancement options. Make it known to senior-level management that you’re interested in working toward the next level and see what they say is required. Most managers are expected to have a bachelor's degree at the very least, but MBAs are common.

Look around your region to see if there are Project Management Institute PMP programs offered for becoming a project management professional and getting certified in project management. These certifications are valued and can help you on your quest toward upward mobility in the project managing world. Talk to your employer to see if there are any kinds of educational credits that can help you pay for the program. If they’re on board, they can help you with scheduling work to fit around your continuing education, but they can also monitor your progress.

Is Project Managing for You?

If you think you’d like to manage and coordinate programs and individual projects, then maybe it’s the career for you. The Department of Labor puts the outlook for project management jobs at a growth rate of about 6 percent over the next few years, which would translate to just over 500,000 new job opportunities.

Most of these will require a bachelor’s degree. Getting the Project Management Professional certification is not something you can just enroll in – you must have previous experience (and a considerable amount of it) in managing or leading projects.

Project Management Skills

To be successful in project managing, here are the skills on which to focus:

  • Communication: Some say 90 percent of the job is communicating issues, vision, ideas and goals as well as delivering reports and presentations. Their skills must be in both speaking and writing.

  • Leadership: A good manager must motivate his team and compel them to be results oriented. As the saying goes, “If you can lead, you can deliver.”

  • Team management: You’ll have to be able to get the most out of everyone on your team. After all, “Leadership is inspiring others to walk with you; team management is making sure they have the right shoes.”

  • Organization: There’s a lot going on, and you have to be able to stay on top of it all.

  • Negotiation: Compromises will be necessary along the way, from team members to outside services, and a great manager needs to be able to lead people to “yes.”

  • Risk management: What can go wrong? You have to see it coming at you and know whether it’s something you can ride out or if it’s something you need to mitigate. Making that call can be tough, but a good manager is able to make it.

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About the Author

Steffani Cameron is a professional writer who has written for the Washington Post, Culture, Yahoo!, Canadian Traveller, and many other platforms. Some writing projects have included ghost-writing for CEOs and doing strategy white papers. She frequently writes for corporate clients representing Fortune 500 brands on subjects that include marketing, business, and social media trends.