Project management is the future for administrative professionals explains Rhonda Scharf

Project Management seems to be overtaking the administrative professional’s world these days—her job and her future. Whether or not your company calls it “Project Management” and deliberately applies its terminology and principles doesn’t matter; the reality is that Project Management is part of every admin’s working life, now and in the future.

In my experience, this makes today’s admin a little nervous, when I think they should be excited. The possibilities to raise your profile, to potentially raise your pay, and to provide an additional source of value to your company is all in your favour. Your job isn’t being eliminated if you jump on board the project management explosion. Your job is being expanded and valued.

One of the elements of project management that gets me really excited is the fact that administrative professionals are natural project managers. Taking care of deadlines, deliverables, people, and reporting is what we do.

What is Project Management?

The definition of project management is “a process by which a leader and team plan for, implement, monitor, and evaluate a series of activities designed to produce a stated objective.”

Sound familiar? It should. Administrative professionals do those things all the time. At work we manage events both big and small, we often help to create the budget for the department or the company; we are part of reorganizations, moves, and relocations. In our personal life, we have all probably been the general contractor on a house renovation or a move, planned a wedding, were the team manager of a child’s hockey team, or even organized a fantasy football pool. These are skills that come naturally for us.

Project Management gives structure to a project by applying a specific set of tools and principles.

However, much like an administrative job, Project Management is filled with contradictions and exceptions, which can be very frustrating at times. Understanding the terminology is the first step.

Project Management is a problem scheduled to be solved.

Your “problem” (or project) needs defining—it isn’t just the usual tasks you do in your job every day.

What is a project?

  • A project has a deadline; identifiable beginning and end points. It isn’t an ongoing or recurring task such as calendaring or weekly board meetings. Projects have a set beginning, middle and end.
  • A clearly defined goal is also important. Your project will have a specific end result that will define its success. That means that a project wouldn’t be something like improving the morale in the company, because that would be too difficult to measure and it’s too general to have a specific end result. A clearly defined goal might be to install new payroll software, which will be up and running by January 1.
  • Projects almost always have a budget allocation. If a to-do item doesn’t come with a specific budget, I tend to think of it as a task, or a short-term assignment. However, project management is filled with contradictions, so it is possible to have an actual project without a specific budget (especially at first).
  • Most projects involve multiple people. Think of arranging a corporate awards banquet. While you might be the only person coordinating all the aspects of the event, there are others involved, such as the venue staff, caterers, florist, etc. You don’t have supervisory responsibility for those people, but you are the one to ensure that their tasks are done; on time, and on budget. If things are running late, it is typically the admin who follows up to see the status right? This should start to sound an awful lot like your current job and responsibilities.

The Stakeholder

A current buzzword in business these days is “stakeholder,” which is a term often used in project management.

A project stakeholder is “an individual, group or organization, who may affect, be affected by, or perceive itself to be affected by a decision, activity, or outcome of a project.” (Project Management Institute, 2013).

As you can imagine, there can be a lot of people involved in any business decision. Your stakeholders include: the people who are commissioning the project, the people funding the project, and quite possibly the people to whom you, as project manager, report.

Other stakeholders are the customers or clients. These are the people who will be the recipients of the work involved in the project; they may or may not participate in the project itself.

Looking again at our example of the corporate awards banquet, there will also be a sponsor. In this case, it is likely someone in HR who has decided the company needs to have an awards banquet. Your customers will be the employees attending the event; each of them is a stakeholder in the project.

Confusing, right?

The Project Manager

Of course, each project has someone in charge: a Project Manager. (Some companies use the term Team Leader.) This is not necessarily a supervisory position. Just because you have a team or are the manager of the project, does not mean you are in “management” or have a team of people reporting to you. It means you manage the project, but not necessarily the people.


Scope is another term that seems to be leaking outside of the project management world. Scope is how you define the boundaries of a project; what it will and will not include.

In our corporate awards banquet example, the scope would cover things like who was invited, who would speak, the meal served, the location, the flowers, awards, etc. Outside the scope of that project (things we wouldn’t consider when planning the event) would be whether the venue was unionized or not, or whether spouses would be invited. In scope means we are dealing with it and it is part of the clear definition of the project, and out of scope means it isn’t on the table for discussion.

Mission Creep / Scope Creep

Mission Creep or Scope Creep is when your scope has traveled outside of the original boundaries of the project. This is a very common and often dangerous thing to happen to your project, and it can easily incur cost or time overruns.

My husband and I landscaped our backyard last year and we put in a pool. We had allocated our budget and contracted a company to install the pool and interlock. Then I found Pinterest. As you can imagine, I found all kinds of great things I wanted to add to my backyard. It wasn’t in my budget, but it needed to be added during the construction phase (and quite frankly, my fire table is lovely!). That is Scope Creep at its finest. We spent more money and more time than the original plan called for because I wanted to add things to the plan. Scope Creep.

Project management is the future for administrative professionals. For many, it is their current reality. Perhaps you’ve heard that administrative professionals do meeting planning (which is true project management), organizing facilities, or even running a team without the supervisory responsibility. All are really just project management in disguise.

The Future

Have a look at the online job boards in your area. Start looking at the jobs that have the word project in them (such as project assistant, project liaison, project support). You’ll find that generally those jobs are paying 15-25% more than the comparable job that has the word administrative in it. If you compare the two, you’ll see they are very similar.

It is possible to study project management (check out and obtain the necessary credentials you feel are necessary. What you’ll really get is the confidence to step into a new path; the skills you already have.

Have a look at your resume. If you are interested in expanding your responsibility, your possibilities, and your pay cheque, then start to use some of these terms and references in your experience description.

The terms listed above are to give you a little push into an area you are likely already competent in. These terms seem to be overtaking our daily business language. Whether you are operating using a project management style or not, these terms are useful to know, to understand, and most importantly, to use correctly.

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Rhonda Scharf, CSP, HoF, GSF is a Certified Speaking Professional, Hall of Fame trainer and author based in Ottawa. She helps organizations feel motivated and educated through her interactive, realistic and fun training programs and keynote speeches. If ... (Read More)

One comment on “Project Management and Today’s Admin

  1. Garrett on

    Really good insights here, and I love the positive outlook. Accountants and accounting software seem to be another area where admin employees are asked to be more productive. At the very least you need to understand the different types of systems and products out there, but I’ve also been seeing more and more examples of young accounting professionals who write their own software, or hack and modify the company’s existing software.


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