A project coordinator is not quite a project or program manager, but this role is often just as valuable to a company’s overall strategy and goals. Often tasked with larger and more complex projects, the project coordinator ensures even the most minor tasks are on track for on-time completion.
With large projects, even the smallest item can derail the project or grind progress to a halt. This is where a project coordinator shines brightest. In addition to ensuring all aspects of the project are going smoothly, the project coordinator may also need to report to the program or project manager about the status of tasks.
What does a project coordinator do?
A project coordinator is responsible for the day-to-day execution of a project. They work with the project manager to develop and implement a project plan, and they are responsible for ensuring that the project stays on track and within budget. Project coordinators also communicate with stakeholders, manage risks, and resolve issues.
Here are some specific duties and responsibilities of a project coordinator:
- Develop and implement project plans
- Create and maintain project schedules and budgets
- Assign and track tasks
- Monitor progress and identify and resolve issues
- Communicate with stakeholders
- Manage risks
- Prepare and deliver project status reports
- Close out projects
Project coordinators play a vital role in the success of any project. They keep an eye on a project’s scheduling and budget, and communicate frequently with stakeholders throughout the organization, from project managers to clients and executives. In addition to technical knowledge (such as the project’s programming languages and tooling), that means they must also have excellent “soft skills” such as empathy and communication.
What technical skills do project coordinators need to know?
An analysis by Lightcast, which collects and analyzes millions of job postings from across the country, shows that the following skills pop up most often in job postings for project coordinators:
- Project management
- Customer service
- Project planning and development skills
- Administrative support
In other words, if you can manage all the particulars of project management (such as keeping project and team member details straight in a spreadsheet, and tracking progress via the administrative tool of your choice), you’ll likely succeed in a project coordinator position.
What soft skills are essential for project coordinators to have?
Program coordinators need a variety of soft skills to be successful, including:
- Communication: Project coordinators need to be able to communicate effectively with various stakeholders, including team members, clients, and executives. They need to explain complex technical concepts and manage expectations.
- Leadership: Project coordinators need to be able to motivate and inspire their teams. They need to delegate tasks effectively and build trust with their team members.
- Problem-solving: Project coordinators need to identify and solve problems quickly and efficiently. They need to think critically and come up with creative solutions.
- Organization: Project coordinators need to be able to organize and manage complex projects. They need to be able to track progress, identify and mitigate risks, and keep projects on track.
- Adaptability: Project coordinators need to adapt to change and manage unexpected challenges. They need to think on their feet and develop creative solutions to problems.
In a tech context, great project managers have a deep understanding of the software development process and the tools and technologies used in software development. That allows them to listen effectively to what a software developer or engineer might be telling them, as well as make effective judgments about resource allocation or a path to pursue next.
What’s the difference between a project coordinator and a program manager?
“In a nutshell, there are two different levels of coordination,” Kristina Kushner, PMP, Delivery Manager at Branly, tells Dice. “If we talk about a project, it always has its start and finish points, KPIs, and deliverables. Being a project coordinator, you can finish on this single instance and make sure it succeeds.”
A program may encompass several projects. “A program is a set of projects that are interconnected with each other and lead towards the same common goal,” Kushner adds. “When we talk about program coordination, it is about leveraging across several projects and making sure they are aligned and not blocking each other on their common delivery path.”
It’s worth pointing out that the level of responsibility differs between these roles, too. A project coordinator is responsible for the day-to-day execution of a project, while a program manager is responsible for the overall success of an ecosystem of projects.
Project coordinators typically work under the supervision of a project and/or program manager. They are responsible for developing and implementing project plans, creating and maintaining project schedules and budgets, assigning and tracking tasks, monitoring progress, identifying and resolving issues, communicating with stakeholders, and managing risks.
Project managers, on the other hand, are responsible for the overall success of a project. They develop the project plan, set its goals and objectives, and oversee the project team. Project managers are also responsible for communicating with stakeholders and keeping them informed of the project's progress.
On a level above that, program managers coordinate various projects; it’s a strategic role that’s hyper-focused on carrying out the company’s top-level strategy in ways that will positively impact the business.
What job titles can a project coordinator expect to have?
Project coordinators can expect to hold various job titles as they gain experience. Job titles may be unique to a particular company, but the particulars of the job are very much project coordination. With that in mind, here are some common “alternative” job titles for project coordinators:
- Project Coordinator
- Senior Project Coordinator
- Lead Project Coordinator
- Project Administrator
- Project Management Specialist
- Project Scheduler
- Project Planner
- Project Risk Manager
- Project Procurement Manager
- Project Quality Manager
- Business Analyst
- Project Manager
- Project coordinator
- Portfolio Manager
Project coordinators who have strong technical skills may also be able to transition into careers in software development or IT management. For example, a project coordinator with experience in software development can transition from overseeing project progress to actually coding software in conjunction with other engineers or developers. A project coordinator with experience in IT management can become an IT manager or even a CIO.
The specific job titles that a project coordinator can expect to hold during their career will depend on their experience, skills, and the industry in which they work. If you’re focused on entering a particular industry (such as healthcare or manufacturing), keep in mind that you may need to learn domain-specific knowledge in order to succeed, such as particular regulations.
Do you need a degree to become a project coordinator?
The short answer is “no.” Given the incredible demand at the moment for tech talent, as well as experts in project and program management, project coordinators with the right mix of skills and experience (or even an enthusiasm for learning, in the case of more junior positions) can land a job as a project coordinator.
Here are some tips for becoming a project coordinator without a degree:
- Gain experience in related roles. Start by looking for entry-level positions in project management or related fields. As you gain experience, you can move up to more senior positions.
- Get certified in project management. There are many project management certifications available, such as the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification from PMI. Getting certified can demonstrate your skills and knowledge to potential employers.
- Network with other project coordinators and managers. Attend industry events and join online forums to connect with other project coordinators. This can help you to learn more about the role and to find new job opportunities.
What are some interview questions a project coordinator may encounter?
We queried our panel of experts on the questions a project coordinator may encounter in an interview setting. Here are some sample questions:
- Describe a challenging project you've worked on. How did you manage the tasks and the team?
- How do you prioritize when multiple projects or tasks demand your attention?
- What project management tools have you used, and how did they assist in ensuring project success?
- How do you handle conflicts within the team or disagreements about project direction?
- Describe a time when a project did not go as planned and how you managed the situation.
- Imagine you have to get a status update from a project team member, and they are not responding to your requests. The deadline for your report that needs that status update is approaching. How would you handle this situation?
- Imagine you made a mistake in the budget report update. It was only discovered during a steering committee meeting. What steps will you now undertake?
- How do you know if the project is on track?
- Share a challenging project you've coordinated. How did you address unexpected issues and ensure the project remained on track?
- Effective communication is critical for Project Coordinators. Can you provide an example of a situation where your communication skills played a pivotal role in a project's success?
- How do you approach task prioritization and ensure that project timelines are met, especially when managing multiple projects concurrently?
As with any job interview for any technical role, rehearse your answers beforehand, and make sure that every answer demonstrates your problem-solving abilities. If you have stories about solving big challenges in your previous roles, be prepared to deploy those at the most opportune moment.