The conversation in project management today is all about the impact of change management. That’s where the value in the projects is: the whole point of delivering a project is to create a change that drives some kind of strategic or tactical benefit for the organization. Without the change, the project hasn’t achieved anything.

So does that make change management part of the project manager’s role?

Well, the jury is still out on that one. For many smaller businesses or where project management maturity levels are not as high, change management is either overlooked or done as part of the project manager’s role.

Larger organizations may have dedicated business change managers who are targeted with increasing the adoption of the solution and ensuring the outcomes of the project are integrated into the existing business processes.

How different are the roles? And can one person do them both? We’ll answer those questions in this article.

An Overview of the Roles of Change Manager and Project Manager

The role of the project manager and change manager are quite different on paper, although in practice there feels like there is more overlap.

A project manager is tasked with delivering the tasks identified for the project in a way that reaches the required scope and quality targets. They are instrumental in ensuring that what was in the business case is delivered.

The change manager works to integrate that solution with the rest of the business, making sure that everyone affected is ready to catch the ball as it is thrown.

In terms of responsibilities, you’ll recognize the key elements of the project manager’s role:

Defining the project scope;

- Identifying the required resources and planning their allocation;

- Scheduling tasks using project scheduling software, tracking and prioritizing the work appropriately so that it gets done;

- Facilitating the resolution of project issues;

- Managing project risks;

- Completing a handover at the end;

- Most project managers will recognize this list of responsibilities as very similar to what they are expected to do day-to-day.

The change manager is responsible for:

- Project communications outside the immediate project team;

- Stakeholder management planning and engagement activities;

- Change readiness planning and implementation;

- Training needs analysis and developing solutions to address the gaps;

- Capability development where required;

- Change acceptance and sustaining the change over the longer term.

Does any of this sound like what you do in a project management role? Stakeholder management, communications, and business engagement are part of the job description (at least, informally) of most of the project managers we know.

Training is often ‘outsourced’ to a training department within the HR function, and not managed by a bespoke change manager.

The change management responsibilities are essential for project success long term, but they don’t have to be carried out by a single individual with the title of Change Manager. If you have someone in that role, you should be grateful, as they will have without a doubt a huge and positive impact on your business project and the outcomes it achieves.

But if you don’t have someone with that particular set of responsibilities, as a project manager you can work to include the responsibilities in other people’s roles.

Some might sit with you. Some might sit with others on the team.

As long as the tasks are covered, in my view, it doesn’t much matter who does them.

The Relationship with Customers

As a project manager, the most important thing when it comes to customers is understanding what they want. When you know that, you can deliver it. And hopefully, they’ll sign off the project as complete and fit for purpose at the end based on those expectations.

With a change manager hat on, it’s important to understand that the views and expectations of the customer change throughout the project. This is the crux of stakeholder management planning processes and engagement activities: what works with one stakeholder today might not in the future due to a shift in the external environment that has changed their view of the project, for example.

Whether you are working in a project or change role, it’s important to stay close to your stakeholders and key customers so that you can serve them effectively.

Reporting Structures

There’s another difference between the change manager and project manager roles. The reporting structure for a project manager is normally into the project sponsor. The role is supported by a governance framework that could include a program manager, PMO team, Project Board or other governance structures that provide support and oversight. The project manager will also have a line manager too, who is probably outside of the project organization, such as the PMO Director.

The change manager might also report into the project sponsor and sit at the same level as the project manager. However, the role could report directly into the project manager, depending on the structure of your organization. This person is also in a matrix reporting structure. Like the project manager, they’ll have a line manager too as well as their project responsibilities. However, they won’t necessarily operate actively as a member of the project governance structures – they may not sit on the Project Board, for example, or attend meetings with the PMO.

Change management is an important area for businesses in its own right. It has some way to go before it’s recognized as an individual role on large projects routinely, and until that happens, project managers will continue to fill the gap.