Is a PMO Higher Than the Project Manager? (Detailed Guide)


The PMO and project manager operate on different levels; the PMO deals on an organizational level while the project manager works on an individual project level. PMO’s are accountable for attaining the approved company goals while the project managers are accountable for their projects’ achievement and success.

So, is a PMO higher than a project manager? A PMO is higher than a project manager in reference to the report and approval process. A PMO’s primary function is to oversee the management process, which is run by project managers. Therefore, project managers are accountable to the PMO in specific steps of their managerial project process.

Factually speaking, a PMO sets project managerial guidelines and processes for the organization. However, the implementer of these guidelines is the project managers who also have to consistently and periodically update the PMO while doing so. Read on to discover the various functions that highlight a PMO and project manager’s hierarchy in the workplace.

Working Relationship of the PMO and the Project Manager

To begin with, let’s establish the relation between a PMO and a project manager. A Project Management Office (PMO) is a department or office in the company whose purpose is to create project management standards and ensure that the same is followed during the projects’ execution. Their job is to decrease project risk while increasing project efficiency.

A project manager’s role is limited to planning, executing, controlling, and monitoring their assigned project according to the baselines and objectives provided. A PMO is over, and above all the projects, the project manager may seek assistance from the PMO if need be or when required to do so by the guideline. A PMO can also control and interfere with the project manager’s actions if reasonably needed to so.

Below are various ways the PMO and the project manager work together to achieve the organizational goals.

1. Project Initiation Request

Project managers are required to communicate any project start-up or initiation request early enough to the PMO. Once all the project start-up requests from all project managers are sent, the PMO decides which of them to approve, assigns the resources, provides guidelines to the provision of the skill set required for the projects, and then finally gives the project manager the go-ahead.

2. Training and Mentoring of Project Teams

Before starting a project, the project managers receive training from the PMO regarding how they are expected to handle the task. Any practice outside the given standards can lead to the interruption of project activities by the PMO.

3. Status Reports

The project manager is required to fill a project status report and provide it to the PMO. The update must be provided to the PMO governance function to update the project portfolio reviews. Once the project manager reports the project status, the PMO compares it with the report expectations.

4. Other Pending Approval Reports

Part of a PMO’s role is to create project management procedures to maintain consistent results. Part of these processes includes project managers seeking approval for financial allocation on their projects, the increment of human resources, and any other infrastructure they may need. Therefore, the project manager must report any such needs to the PMO for assistance.

5. Communicate Risks

Project managers communicate any key risks and issues to the PMO. Part of the PMO’s duty in an organization is to track and monitor a project’s systems for any problem. Issues within a project are more likely to be first noted by the project manager, who should report to the PMO for guidance, if necessary.

6. The Tollgate Procedure

PMOs, in many organizations, manage the tollgate procedure for the project manager. A tollgate refers to a standardized control point through which project phases are audited and reviewed for approval to move in the next step.

Can A PMO Become A Project Manager?

A PMO is an office, which is a team of professionals. Part of the PMO team members includes project managers. Therefore, a PMO may become a project manager.

PMO roles provide opportunities to apply a lot of project management skills across a variety of projects. For instance, a project specialist, who is part of a PMO team, requires project manager skills since their role is to proactively play a role in the promotion of the best project management standards and methods, implementing sound project management practices, and monitoring specific projects. Such a function is best played by an actual project manager that is part of the PMO team.

A PMO leader may serve as a project manager over a short duration of time, and inversely a project manager too may evolve into becoming a PMO.

If a project manager applies for a PMO position, the level and type of PMO should be considered. Program level PMO positions will allow one to develop their program managerial skills. Organizational PMO roles will include staff duties and an opportunity to influence the business’ project management delivery. If the position is an executive-level PMO, then the project manager would gain viability to the top programs and projects within a company and observe how the senior management takes up strategic problems.

Who Should PMO Report To?

To whom the PMO reports to is somewhat a technicality in a host of organizations depending on the mandate given to the PMO. Generally, a PMO will act on behalf of the organization in managing its projects. If the projects are executed within the organization’s IT departments, the PMO would report to the IT head, i.e., the CTO (Chief Technology Officer).

The hierarchy also depends on project orientation. If the PMO is focused on business-related projects, then the PMO would report to the COO (Chief Operating Officer), CFO (Chief Financing Officer), or the CEO (Chief Executive Officer). For instance, if the project is geared towards development, modernization, infrastructure, and building maintenance, the PMO would report to the engineering division. Alternatively, in some businesses, a PMO could have its separate division to report to depending on all the associated costs and budgets.

Why Do Project Managers Seem Higher Than PMO?

For starters, a PMO’s job is a staff role, which, along with other roles like managerial roles, is less conspicuous and recognized than delivery roles. The project manager plays an integral role by ensuring that all the activities and workstreams are completed. The senior executives and managers depend on the project managers to deliver high-quality work from the projects on time.

Employees often hear the news about the hero who came in and rescued the troubled project or the creative manager who hacked the most sales numbers. Rarely does the PMO manager that streamlined the budgetary allocation, did the project team training, kept them on toes with deadlines, and assisted when needed gets much recognition. However, this does not negate the reality that project managers are still accountable to the PMO.

A PMO Oversees Project Management

These two terms, PMO and project manager, can never be used interchangeably. The PMO focuses on the management of all the organization’s projects while the project manager only managers a single or a few projects at a time.

Therefore, a PMO is higher than a project manager when it comes to approval processes and the monitoring oversight duty for all the projects. A project manager is subject to the PMO’s set guidelines on how the projects should be run and the procedure to follow.

However, the project manager runs a given project at their discretion as long as they remain in line with the set PMO guidelines. A PMO is a project success catalyst, while the project managers are a tool for project delivery.

Jas Singh

I specialize in writing about technology subjects from Citrix, gaming to products from Apple, Microsoft, Oculus. My goal is to ensure the information I write, is to the point, has the relevance required and is easily understood by all.

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