Defining roles and responsibilities in project management

Project management is a very much misunderstood profession that has often been equated to herding cats. Much of this confusion comes from the fact that project management isn’t a single discipline but rather the practice of bringing a set of disciplines together in order to achieve a common goal.

One of the big challenges in project management then is the definition and attribution of individual roles in projects that often require expertise and involvement from across an organisation. Today, I want to take a look at how these roles and responsibilities are defined and maintained and the importance in doing so.

The PRINCE2 methodology definition

Project management methodologies are frameworks and principles that underpin the planning, execution and success of projects across any given corporate structure, industry or deliverable. The definition of roles and responsibilities are core to all project management methodologies. If we look at the principles of the PRINCE2 methodology, which is the most widely practiced in the world today, we’ll see the importance of roles and responsibilities is described like thus. As Wikipedia notes:

“Roles are separated from individuals, who may take on multiple roles or share a role. Roles in PRINCE2 are structured in four levels (corporate or programme management, project board, project manager level and team level).”

PRINCE2 methodology stressed the importance of role definition and hierarchy but is also flexible to recognize that some pre-defined roles can be merged, while others can’t.

Broadly speaking, the stated hierarchy is defined by the level of involvement.

  • Corporate management level refers to the project’s sponsors, whose primary involvement will be defining the project’s mandate, defining project level tolerances and ensuring that the project delivers value for money.
  • The project board (sometimes referred to as a steering committee) can be seen as the executive and will comprise key decision-makers, including a business-oriented individual who is ultimately responsible for the project. It is the job of the board to provide the necessary resources and funding to the PM and his/her team.
  • The project manager is responsible for the day-to-day management of the project and is responsible for liaising and reporting back progress to the project board. Because this role is so pivotal, it cannot ever be merged with other roles and exists on a hierarchical level of its own.
  • The project team are responsible for executing and delivering the project within agreed time, cost and quality tolerances. Team member’s roles will vary depending on project scope and size. These could include various support roles with administrative and data compiling duties, as well as asset management.

The importance of hierarchy is largely an operational consideration in the execution of a project, in that it creates clear boundaries between roles. At a deeper level, PRINCE2 also has a clearly defined responsibilities tables with each product (outcome) broken down by where any given producer, approver or reviewer sits in the wider hierarchy.

Stakeholder roles

Another core aspect of role definition in project management methodology are the stakeholder roles. These stakeholder roles are defined by their interest in the project and its deliverables and are as follows:

  • Business sponsors: Individuals who make sure the project delivers value for money.
  • Users: The beneficiaries of the product that the project has been setup to deliver.
  • Suppliers: Those supplying the resources or skills in order for the project to deliver.

PRINCE2 methodology dictates that all stakeholder roles must be represented at both the project board and project team level. Individuals at all levels should be able to understand what is expected of them, what is expected of others and who the key decision makers are.

Specialists vs. generalists

In many projects, especially smaller projects, skills might need to overlap in order to fully utilize the individual skillsets available to you. The tension comes when there is a need for a specific specialism or technical skill set in order to complete a given task. In these cases, the more generalist skill sets of a project team may not be able to fill the gap.

It is the role of the project manager to balance a multi-skilled team with a more specialized one. This will involve thorough planning and the management of the project in stages (another PRINCE2 principle) so as to fully understand where and when specific skillsets will be required and what other stages will be dependent on this.

In some instances, it may be necessary to outsource or bring in external specialist help, but this presents its own set of challenges, not least in getting the budget signoff required.

Project management requires a structure and framework, but it also requires flexibility in order to adapt to any given environment and the unique challenges they pose. A key determinant of success, however, will always be the proper definition of roles and responsibilities. Getting this right from the outset will make for a smoother journey, where everyone involved is engaged and in the loop.


David Baker has worked within the training industry for many years with PRINCE2 Training. Working on courses such as PRINCE2, ITIL, PMP, Agile, Scrum and Lean Six Sigma. PRINCE2 Training delivers world-class accredited training solutions to thousands of organisations and individuals throughout the world.

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