Firstly, what is a project manager?

The National Careers Service describes project managers as people who “plan and organise resources and people to make sure projects finish on time, stay within budget and meet the requirements of the business”.

Project managers can have roles within a range of different business types. From traditional and corporate multinationals to brand new startups. The role varies depending on the brand and the project that needs to be managed, but the skillset usually remains the same. Within the UK, the business industry is dominated by small businesses. Startups face ever tougher times in trying to get recognised. Project managers can play a big part in helping to do that, so let’s find out how.

What do project managers do?

Project managers may direct the launch of a product, or manage projects on behalf of the clients of a business. Although training can be undertaken for this role, many experienced project managers learn on the job.

When should project managers be employed?

Project managers may also be involved from the very beginning of a new business, or they might be invited to join an established team. Within startups, initial funds are often limited so a project manager may seem like an avoidable expense. A role that can be taken up by existing members of the team.

However, the earlier a skilled project manager can be employed, the smoother the roll-out of the startup’s venture will be. Having somebody to oversee and to organise, while managing staff, budgets, and timings can take the pressure off other members of staff who may want to focus on networking, ideas, marketing, and the tech side of their startup.

Outlay vs value for money

While there is an outlay associated with hiring a project manager for a startup this can, over time, be more than compensated for thanks to the efficiency associated with their role. Deadlines are less likely to be missed, which helps to build the brand’s credibility in the eyes of investors and partners. What’s more, the work of an efficient project manager can reduce the risk of penalty clauses within contracts being affected, as well as managing conflict within teams — resulting in higher productivity and efficiency.

What does it involve?

The work carried out by project managers will vary depending on the type of startup they are working in. It often involves juggling several different tasks at once. From finding and engaging manufacturers, to supervising back-end staff, and managing marketing campaigns. In the majority of startups, this will need to be carried out on a seriously limited budget. Project managers will need to keep a close eye on expenditure also plays an important role. A knowledge of lean startup methods is becoming increasingly essential, and it is important to be able to plan ahead to successfully lead a team to the completion of the project.

Project managers in startups

A good project manager needs to be agile. The ability to deal with changes in plans or expectations is also good. Impressive communication and mediation skills are essential. As is good levels of organisation if projects are to be run efficiently. Knowledge of relevant software, the ability to deal with interruptions and hurdles, and good time management are also incredibly useful skills for a project manager.

Why are these skills needed?

These characteristics are especially relevant in a startup, which may run an erratic course and deal mainly in short-term plans. Flexibility is key, and being able to cope with unpredictability in a controlled and efficient way will make somebody the obvious choice for a startup project manager role.

Project managers, even those within traditional corporate businesses, usually have a range of experience that equips them to manage change and smooth over difficulties, no matter what venture they are working on. These skills are transferable from one project to another as experience of the role, even in a very different environment, will help any project manager to carry out a good job.

Changes in project manager roles

The nature of startup culture has arguably brought a new frisson of excitement to the project manager role. A PM in a small, lean startup will need to be hands-on in a way that someone managing a new product launch for a multinational may not. Many project managers relish this as a challenge.

As a member of a smaller team, the project manager may also be more visible as they lead the project to completion. They manage fewer people than they would if they were in a huge company. However, there are often egos and increased levels of conflict in smaller startups that must be carefully managed.

What are the pros & cons?

A traditional corporate project manager may enjoy the benefits of managing large budgets and having huge teams of employees. This means the challenges associated with startups can seem a less attractive option to some. However, the degree of engagement that startup PMs must commit to are highly appealing to many. Especially those who enjoy hands-on work with close, invested teams.


An experienced and skilled project manager can bring a new perspective to any business’s projects. It is a role very often worth the investment. Potential savings when deadlines are met, and products and services are delivered in time are a good motivation. Choosing somebody who is an effective leader is a good place to start when recruiting for this role.