Defining Roles and Responsibilities in Project Management

Project management is often misunderstood. This is because in many ways it can be seen as a multidisciplinary field, because it seeks to manage and bring together various departments, skills, systems and people from within an organisation. As such it is incredibly important to all projects that roles and responsibilities are defined from the outset, as normal hierarchies often don’t apply.

In this article, I want to look at what these roles and responsibilities are and how they are defined by the project manager.

The Central Role of the Project Manager

Early on in any project, the project manager will agree the responsibilities for each role. This is a necessary piece of work because it lays down the rules for who can sign off the various outputs and stages of the project, and who needs to take responsibility for specific aspects of governance, such as budget management.

It’s tempting to overlook this task or to skimp on the time it needs, because it’s a process that needs to take place at the very beginning of the project during start-up and initiation, and this is one of the busiest periods for the project team and the project manager.

The PRINCE2 Project Management Methodology

A fully functioning project management methodology such as PRINCE2, has fully developed definitions of the various project roles and their responsibilities. This can be extremely helpful because it means that the project manager does not have to develop roles from first principles – a very time-consuming task on a big project with multiple roles.

Because scalability is one of PRINCE2’s features, a small project can take advantage of the role definitions but confine itself to the key aspects of the major roles. It’s always worth remembering that the PRINCE2 definitions refer to roles rather than jobs or posts. Because of this, roles can be combined if the project isn’t large enough to justify separate roles for individuals.

The Four Levels of Project Management Organisation

PRINCE2 helps project managers to design a streamlined but efficient project structure because it describe the roles and responsibilities in four different layers or levels. The levels are:

  • The corporate or programme management level: the top level of any project hierarchy refers to the project’s corporate sponsors, whose involvement will be in defining the project’s goals and tolerances, as well as ensuring that the project will deliver value for money.
  • The project board level: The project board is the major decision-making body for the project. One of the board’s major responsibilities is to constantly assess that there are sufficient resources to carry out the project mandate. The board must inform the project sponsors if this is not the case. It’s also vital that the board includes a user, customer and business representative.
  • Project manager level:The one role that cannot be combined with any of the other roles in the project is that of project manager. The PM has their own layer in the hierarchy because uniquely, they represent that vital link between the board and the project team. A PM is responsible for making sure that budget, progress and tolerances are monitored and managed.
    Project managers also produce exception reports when project tolerances are breached. Good PMs will try to make sure that they do this before any breach happens, so that the board has advance notice. The PM also routinely prepares highlight reports for the board meetings which summarise progress, risks, outputs and describe where in the stage, the project currently is.
  • Team level: Project teams are often made up of people who are brought together with the sole aim of delivering the project’s goals. These may include contractors and consultants who are not permanent employees of the organisation. This makes role definition even more important because, in their absence, turf wars can break out due to lack of clear perceptions of each role’s boundary. Similarly, responsibility and accountability gaps may emerge where roles don’t fit together properly to cover the project governance requirements.

    At the project team level, there are often specialists, such as subject matter experts (SMEs), whose job is to produce the project deliverables or outputs at the quality level that is required. There are also generalists, who may be responsible for project administration, including areas such as supplier liaison, document management and so on.

These levels enable the project manager to design a structure in which responsibilities naturally fall into a hierarchy. PRINCE2’s use of a hierarchy surprises some people who are expecting a very flat project structure, but the hierarchical view is just one way of looking at the project – the definition of the roles and responsibilities enables people to map lines of responsibility, both upwards and downwards.


In many projects, there is another group that sits outside the main responsibility structure, but it is still vital in ensuring project acceptance, particularly where change and transformation projects are concerned. These are the stakeholders. In some organisations, the stakeholders are staff representatives, and in others, they may be business partners, sponsors, suppliers or users.

Stakeholders should be able to make a contribution to the project team because they will be able to advise on practical questions. However, their input should also be welcome at board level, because it will ensure that decisions taken by the board reflect the pragmatic concerns of the organisation, its suppliers and its users.

Even the smallest projects are invariably complex and present significant challenges in bringing different people together from across a business in order to deliver a single unified goal. As such, defining roles and responsibilities according to a tried and tested model, such as that laid out by PRINCE2, is an absolute necessity. 

About the Author: David Baker has over a decade’s worth of experience leading project teams in global projects for infrastructure and internal IT projects. He now works within the training industry for PRINCE2 Training, who provide courses and certification in PRINCE2, Agile, Lean Six Sigma, ITIL, PMP, and Scrum project management methodologies. You can connect with David and PRINCE2 Training on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.


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