Using a Project Manager to Improve Your Team

A project manager is someone who helps move a project forward by clarifying goals, establishing and managing a clear timeline for activities and facilitating task ownership and communication on a team.

We have found that project managers play an important role on Bass Connections teams. Serving in this role also provides a valuable professional development opportunity for the project manager. We strongly encourage teams to assign this role to someone on their team. Typically, a graduate student or postdoc will serve in this role, although sometimes this might be an advanced undergraduate, a staff member or a faculty member.

Important Caveat

The project manager’s role is to facilitate team success and support team leaders. Assigning this role to someone should complement, not replace strong faculty leadership for the overall direction of the project and mentorship of students. Team leaders are still expected to set the vision for the project, regularly attend team meetings, and mentor and grade students.

For the success of the team, and the well-being of the project manager, it is important to clearly define what is expected of this individual, how much work the role requires and how they will be compensated. To that end, we highly recommend that teams develop a job description for the project manager and meet to review this description before the project begins. We have provided a project manager job description template for teams to modify.

Benefits of Using a Project Manager

  • Helps keep the team organized and on track
  • Reduces the time burden on faculty
  • Gives students a direct point of contact for questions and administrative matters
  • Provides a valuable developmental opportunity for graduate students or postdocs

Common Tasks of a Project Manager

  • Work with the team to set milestones and a timeline for the project
  • Track progress towards milestones
  • Set up and manage a shared infrastructure for team communications and document sharing
  • Schedule meetings
  • Capture important notes from meetings, such as action items and next steps
  • Communicate with the team between meetings to ensure progress
  • Identify problems in the team’s operations and filter those up accordingly
  • Plan site visits and travel
  • Correspond with external partners/clients
  • Respond to requests for information from Bass Connections and other campus administrators
  • Organize team-building activities
  • Capture project outcomes and identify opportunities to share the team’s work

Identifying a Project Manager

Data from past years indicate that staff, faculty, graduate students, postdocs and even advanced undergraduate students have served in the role of project manager. Where possible, we encourage teams to recruit graduate students for this role as we have received positive feedback that this is mutually beneficial for all parties. Faculty have found that graduate students are generally up to the task; undergraduates value the opportunity to get to know more advanced students and learn through their mentorship; and graduate students find that this opportunity provides a valuable and enjoyable developmental opportunity.

Ideas for recruiting a project manager include:

  • Post your job description on Duke List
  • Let Bass Connections know that you are seeking a project manager and we will help publicize the opportunity
  • Contact relevant DGSs and ask them to share information about your project with their students and/or ask for student recommendations (to find contact information for the DGSs, click here, and then navigate by department)
  • Advertise the project through listservs and student groups in the master’s programs and professional schools
  • Encourage graduate students who have participated in Bass Connections to recommend the program to their friends
  • Consult with your theme leaders/administrators for suggestions

Ensuring Developmental Opportunities for the Project Manager

Putting a little time into making this a valuable experience for the project manager can go a long way:

  • Meet with the project manager at the beginning of the project to set clear expectations and goals for his/her role on the team
  • Ask what his/her developmental goals are
  • Provide advice on mentoring students
  • Identify opportunities for the project manager to present or write on the team’s work
  • Provide regular feedback to the project manager
  • Create opportunities for the project manager to lead parts of team meetings or client/external interactions