Project Coordinator vs Project Manager: Key Differences

10 min read
Bitrix24 Team
February 27, 2023
Last updated: January 17, 2024
Project Coordinator vs Project Manager: Key Differences

Table of Contents


Project management is a critical function in any organization, and having the right personnel in place to lead and execute projects is a valuable ticket to success. As a complex and multifaceted concept, organizations often look critically at project coordinators vs project managers and leverage both profiles to achieve their goals. While these two roles may seem similar, there are key differences between them that can have a significant impact on the success of a project.

Project coordinator vs project manager: At a glance

As an overview, a project coordinator is responsible for administrative and operational support to a project manager and a team. They ensure that projects are running smoothly and efficiently, and that each individual has the resources they need to be successful. More focused on the micro level than the macro, coordinators play a crucial role in maintaining project documentation, scheduling, and communication, and work hard to meet project deliverables.

In contrast, a project manager holds ultimate responsibility for leading and directing the project team. They make executive decisions related to project scope, budget, schedule, and risk management and have the final say on strategy. Project managers are responsible for ensuring that projects are delivered on time, within budget, and to the satisfaction of stakeholders. They are also responsible for leading and motivating the project team, and for developing and maintaining relationships with key stakeholders.

In this article, we will explore the key differences between coordinators and managers, and delve into the unique skills and responsibilities that each role brings to the table. By understanding the differences between these two roles, organizations can make informed decisions about the personnel they need to execute their projects successfully. 

So whether you’re a project coordinator, project manager, or simply looking to understand the roles better, you’ll get a full understanding of the key differences between the two roles and how they work together for the success of a project.

Roles and responsibilities of a project coordinator

Provide support to the project manager

The primary role of a project coordinator (PC) is to support the project manager (PM). While the PM might have a lot of projects on the go at the same time, the PC is usually fully committed to a single project and is more involved on the ground level. 

A project coordinator helps ensure projects run smoothly and efficiently, freeing up the project manager to focus on high-level strategy and decision-making. The PC is often the first point of contact for team members, shareholders, and customers during the project and helps maintain positive relationships across the board. 

While a project manager makes the key decisions and is ultimately responsible for the success of a project, the project coordinator relays information between the project manager and the team. This means they need to be comfortable analyzing data and condensing it into easy, manageable reports, as well as motivating the team even when times get tough. 

This supporting role certainly doesn’t mean just anybody can become a PC. Coordinators need some serious problem-solving skills to succeed as the first responder to any crises that appear during a project. Similarly, they need to have a meticulous eye for planning and organization. This means they’re usually a pro in project management tools and know how to use them to make tasks more efficient and effective. 

Handle smaller administrative tasks

Whether it’s in support of the project manager or in communicating roles, responsibilities, and tasks to the team, a project coordinator sticks to the administrative side of things, rather than making executive decisions. Let’s look at two examples in context:

A project coordinator is responsible for scheduling and tracking project activities. Sure, a PC may not set deadlines for the project as a whole or for checkpoints along the way, but when it gets to the nitty gritty, the project coordinator will step in to set individual task deadlines, rearrange timetables, and ensure everything is on schedule. 

Any smart project coordinator will use automations to help them with this time-consuming task. For example, automatic notifications can alert them when a task is approaching its deadline, so they can step in and remove any blockers before it’s too late. 

A PC will also cover resource allocation. Whether it’s requests for annual leave, people off sick, or certain levels of budgeting, the project coordinator will take control. A project manager really doesn’t need to know about every little change unless it threatens the success of the project. The coordinator may reassign roles to ensure a sprint finishes on time, or shift budget from one department to another when it is practical.

Report and refer to the project manager

Intrinsic in the job role of a project coordinator is that they need to refer certain issues to the project manager when necessary. It’s a good idea for the two individuals to create a policy for what the coordinator can handle and what needs to be escalated. There is no replacement for experience in project management, so with less authority, coordinators can look to the PM to get them out of sticky situations.

That said, at the same time as referring to the project manager for executive decisions, a coordinator can rely on a project manager to be a mentor throughout the process. As a coordinator gains more experience, they are likely to be afforded more authority. This may start off on a small scale, deploying pre-approved budgets among each department. But after successfully completing several projects, a manager may transfer full budgeting responsibility to the coordinator.

The crucial experience gained through a coordination role can make earning a project management certification much easier. With the real-world experience and a qualification on their resume, a coordinator can work toward making the transition to a project manager role and assuming that extra responsibility. 

Assume limited responsibility for the success of a project

With a reduced level of authority comes less responsibility for overall outcomes. While the coordinator plays a more hands-on role in the day-to-day progress project, the buck stops with the PM. 

Responsibility is perhaps the biggest project coordinator vs project manager difference as it is what causes their salaries to be different. Due to the respective levels of responsibilities, coordinators should expect to earn around $50,000 on average in the USA. By contrast, project managers can look more in the region of $80,000 per year. 

Therefore, project coordinators are not expected to have as much experience in decision-making or motivation of the team. While the job is hard work and requires a high level of organization, motivation, and communication skills, the PC doesn’t necessarily need to rival their manager in terms of ability and experience. 

Roles and responsibilities of a project manager

Lead the entire project team

A project manager is the top dog in project management and is consequently the focal point for the direction of all work:

  • Defining goals and objectives

  • Outlining what success looks like

  • Delegating responsibilities at a high level

  • Checking in for progress reports with all stakeholders

  • Leading by example and motivating the team

Managers are not necessarily present on the ground during a project, so it’s essential to find ways of leading by example online. Deep knowledge of cloud-based project management tools are therefore an integral part of the job. For example, converting all tasks into a Kanban board allows a manager to lay out all the project goals and keep them visible to all team members. 

While there’s no replacement for in-person meetings, many managers rely on video calls to speak to the team, discuss reports, and offer guidance to their project coordinator. Being a reliable, understanding, and respected figurehead is an important part of successful projects. As a result, these video catch ups can motivate teams by putting a face to senior leadership and showing how each task fits into the bigger picture. 

Focus on both administrative and strategic tasks

As the person ultimately in charge of a project’s success, a manager needs to cover a whole host of administrative and strategic tasks to meet their own goals. This can range from recruitment and allocation of resources to signing contracts and planning the project as a whole.

Even so, although they are needed for many administrative tasks, most project managers delegate a lot of the admin work to their project coordinator. This is because a manager will often be responsible for overseeing multiple projects simultaneously and can’t invest time going into the fine details of each one. 

One of the advantages of project management on the cloud is that a manager can easily access the progress of each project from their own office. By pulling out analytical performance data and receiving reports from their project coordinator, project managers can stay above the granular level, giving them the time and headspace to make important strategic decisions. 

Make high-level, executive decisions

As the head of a project, a manager makes all executive decisions, whether as part of the planning phase or as a reaction to a change in circumstances. At the beginning of a project, project managers should make it clear to their team that the strategy is not set in stone, and changes are possible. By setting expectations, PMs can avoid demotivating their staff when the times get tough. 

In learning how to become a project manager, decision-making is one of the most important elements. There is a fine line between not reacting to obvious changes that need to be made and diving in at every opportunity and disrupting the flow of things. 

A clear-cut example for when to intervene is when a project coordinator comes to the manager with an issue that is out of their control. With more experience, and usually a project management certification, a PM has the capabilities, experience, and confidence to make the right decision. 

However, project managers can’t allow themselves to dive into smaller details, such as the design of social media posts or the wording of a basic email to clients. This kind of micromanagement inevitably means a manager is avoiding their primary responsibilities, and almost certainly demotivates those on the receiving end.

Take overall responsibility for project outcomes

Project management is at its worst when there is no accountability and responsibility. Tasks get left unfinished, floating in the ether with nobody taking charge of them. 

This doesn’t mean a project manager should chase up every individual task. By hiring a trusted project coordinator, a PM can delegate responsibilities like this and free up time for themselves. However, if the delegation overloads or under-informs a coordinator, the manager is the one to blame.

Another key responsibility for a project manager is to be the company’s face when interacting with clients. This means they need up-to-date progress reports and a professional attitude they can switch on at a moment’s notice. On the other side of the coin, if they can’t deliver their goals on time and on budget, they will have to face the clients to explain. 


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What do project managers and project coordinators have in common?

As we’ve seen through this article, the attributes that both coordinators and managers need are quite similar. While organization, communication, people management, and analysis are crucial skills for both profiles, organizations separate the two by the level of seniority. 

But while the roles and responsibilities may differ, there is a lot of crossover between how project coordinators and project managers work. Nowhere is this more true than in the tools and software they need to achieve their goals. 

To coordinate work in the most efficient and fluid way possible, managers and coordinators share tools such as:

  • Project management software

  • Time trackers

  • Document collaboration

  • Communication platforms

  • Video conferencing

  • Calendars. 

Now, you could go searching for an individual tool for all of these purposes, before mashing them altogether with integrations, like a cloud-based Frankenstein’s monster. 

Alternatively, you could join Bitrix24 and get all of those tools in one easy-to-use and budget-friendly place. Forget about remembering a list of different passwords and opening up a new tab for every element of your tasks. Sign up for Bitrix24 today and start doing business the smart way.

FAQs

What is project coordination?

Project coordination is the process of organizing, scheduling, and overseeing all the activities involved in a project to ensure it is completed on time, within budget, and to the satisfaction of stakeholders.

What is a project coordinator?

A project coordinator is responsible for supporting the planning, execution, and tracking of a specific short-term project. They assist project managers in organizing team members, resources, and tasks to ensure project success.

What does a project coordinator do?

A project coordinator has the following responsibilities:

  • Managing project tasks
  • Organizing resources
  • Setting individual and team schedules
  • Budgeting different departments to ensure project goals are met

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Table of Content
Table of Contents Project coordinator vs project manager: At a glance Roles and responsibilities of a project coordinator Provide support to the project manager Handle smaller administrative tasks Report and refer to the project manager Assume limited responsibility for the success of a project Roles and responsibilities of a project manager Lead the entire project team Focus on both administrative and strategic tasks Make high-level, executive decisions Take overall responsibility for project outcomes What do project managers and project coordinators have in common? FAQs What is project coordination? What is a project coordinator? What does a project coordinator do?
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