What Is a Functional Project Manager? (+ Examples)


This is about what a function project manager is in IT.

IT projects are notoriously the hardest to manage.

You’ll learn:

  • What a functional project manager is
  • The roles and responsibilities of a functional project manager
  • Lots more

Let’s dive right in!

Functional Project Manager in IT 101

Project management is a hot business these days!

Studies have shown that the right project manager can be the difference between a project going bust or launching like a rocket.

And for any new project, IT teams are almost always involved. In fact, IT projects are increasingly the most pivotal factor to ensure overall success. 

But here’s the kicker:

T projects are notoriously the hardest to manage.

A study by Gallup found that failed IT projects cost between $50-$150 billion in lost revenue and productivity.

Harvard Business Review found that one in six IT projects overran its budget by 200% and its schedule by 70%. There’s even a name for this kind of project—a black swan. 

You might be wondering: Why do these projects fail?

The study by Gallup concluded that the main issue was poor people management. You can map out tactics and outcomes correctly, but if your people aren’t motivated, you’re going to struggle.

Enter: the functional project manager. 

What Exactly Is a Functional Project Manager?

A functional project manager is a key to successful IT projects. They’re the subject matter experts who motivate teams, evaluate productivity, and deliver results. But a lot of people don’t fully understand what sets them apart from a regular project manager.

Let’s look at the definitions of functional project manager vs. non-functional project manager.

Project Manager Meaning

A regular project manager does exactly what it sounds like they do: manage projects.

Companies assign project managers for projects with a clear beginning and end, outcomes, and a specific budget. Project managers often work on a temporary contract basis.

The project manager’s job is to keep all the details organized across six aspects of the project: scope, schedule, finance, risk, quality, and resources. They manage details and tactics isolated to the project, but not necessarily people.

Most of us are generally familiar with this definition. So what is a functional project manager?

Functional Project Manager Meaning

A functional project manager is already a manager in their area—in the case of this article, IT. On any given project, the functional project manager will oversee the contribution of that specific business unit. They are usually already full-time employees.

The functional manager has to keep the big picture in mind. They have in-depth knowledge of their specific business unit and will make hiring, budgeting, and strategy decisions that a regular project manager could not.

The last important piece of the functional project manager is they are people managers. Who is going to motivate employees to get this project done? Who is going to monitor performance and coach people who are falling behind? That would be the functional manager.

Let’s Look At An Example 

Sarah is the IT manager at ABC Company. The company just decided for some reason to take on the harrowing project of changing HR systems. Success in this project will require input and collaboration from HR, marketing, a project manager, and of course, IT.

Let’s call the overall project manager for the new HR system Julie. 

Julie doesn’t have decision-making power or direct reports. Her responsibilities are tactical. Julie is the one who coordinates the work done by each team, makes sure the project is running on time and budget and ensures no detail slips through the cracks. 

Sarah, on the other hand, has decision-making power and direct reports. She knows the big picture goals of her unit, any other projects going on, and how this project will affect them. 

Sarah decides which employees to assign to this project, how much of her budget to spend, and how to allocate priorities. She’s also responsible for her entire team’s productivity.

Sarah is the IT functional manager for the project. Sarah will work closely with Julie and the other functional managers involved—HR, marketing, etc. Together they will ensure the project launches successfully.

What Kinds of Projects Are We Talking About?

Of all business units, IT requires a high level of functional project management. IT is so specialized that it’s nearly impossible to find a general project manager who can fully understand and oversee the job’s technical aspects.

Additionally, these days IT crosses over with nearly every other element of a business. Imagine pretty much any project, and you probably need IT involved at some point. The list of projects requiring a functional manager in IT could be pretty long! 

However, we can narrow down to some of the most common IT-specific projects. 

A few of these are:

  • Software development
  • Hardware installations
  • Cloud computing
  • Virtualization rollouts
  • Network upgrades
  • Analytics and data management
  • Implementing IT services

Any of these projects need a skilled functional project manager to ensure success.

Functional Project Manager Roles and Responsibilities 

A functional project manager in IT will probably be juggling several projects at once. What makes them unique is their responsibility to assess the full range of active projects and prioritize resources based on big picture strategy.

But in terms of specific project management, functional project managers are involved in basically the same phases as the general project manager. Those phases are: initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing. 

Let’s take a closer look at each of these functional project manager roles and responsibilities:


This phase literally just means getting the thing started. The non-functional project manager will begin at the very beginning, when the project goal, need, or problem is identified.

The functional project manager in IT will probably enter the initiating phase a little later—when overall goals have been set. At this point, the IT manager will assess the project’s impact on IT and begin planning.


Planning is a critical phase for the functional project manager. In this phase, they will estimate resources, timeline, and costs for their team. They’ll develop a schedule and identify risks and risk responses. They will also assess which team members to assign to the project.

The functional manager needs to assess projects in the pipeline and allocate resources based on strategic priorities. This process should always be done in collaboration with the overall project manager and any other functional managers of different business units. 

Let’s go back to the example of ABC company changing HR systems. Sarah, the IT functional manager, needs to set her goals and timeline in coordination with the project manager, HR manager, marketing manager, and any other functional manager involved.

You have to get the planning stage right. Studies have shown that unclear requirements can increase a project timeline and budget up to 60%.


Once the planning phase is complete, and everyone has agreed on goals and processes, the next step is actually executing the project!

The functional manager will be highly involved in this stage, directing and managing their employees’ work. Because the functional manager is a leader in the company, they have to decide who should work on what projects. 

In our example, Sarah would make hiring and staffing decisions, including assigning and coaching the IT team and evaluating her team members.

She would conduct interviews and hiring processes where needed and fill gaps left on her team in their other projects.

Monitoring and Controlling

Alongside the execution stage, which has more to do with managing people, the functional manager needs to monitor progress and ensure their tasks stay on target. This phase can include controlling the scope, schedule, and quality of the project.

You can think of the functional project manager tasks within monitoring and controlling in these categories:

  • Schedules: The functional manager is likely overseeing multiple projects at the same time. They must be competent at managing a master schedule with due dates for specific tasks and employee time management.
  • Budgets: The functional manager ensures their unit stays on target with the overall project budget. They should allocate resources and staff time to save money without hurting the overall success of the project.
  • Team: The function manager is responsible for the team’s success. They should be conducting regular performance evaluations and training their staff on various project-related roles.
  • Process: Throughout the project, the functional manager needs to be regularly assessing process efficiency and finding ways to enhance performance. They also need to be aware of maximizing the organization’s high-level goals.


The end of a project is not quite the end! When a project closes, it’s vital to ensure that everything has been approved, everything is complete, and that ownership is transferred to the right operational teams. 

In the case of the functional manager in IT, some ownership will likely stay with their team. So when ABC Company completes the transition to a new HR system, Sarah would probably assign someone on her team to be responsible for its regular maintenance and support.

What Challenges Should a Functional Manager Expect?

The functional manager of a project will face unique challenges to success. The top three overall project management challenges are:

  • Poorly trained project managers
  • Too many simultaneous projects
  • Lack of project funding

For a functional manager, add on the challenges of the day-to-day management of the team’s overall goals and collaboration across multiple teams. 

And it gets better:

For a project to succeed, the functional manager must have a flawless integration with the non-functional project manager. In our example, that’s Sarah and Julie. This specific relationship is where many projects break down and fail. 

Usually, the cause of such failure is a functional manager having a change of heart about project goals: pulling someone off the project, cutting the budget, or prioritizing other projects first. This risk is why the planning stage is so critical. Everyone has got to be on the same page.

The bottom line?

Being a functional manager is a demanding job, requiring a unique set of skills.

What Skills Should a Functional Project Manager Have?

So, we’ve looked at what a functional project manager is, what types of projects an IT functional manager might oversee, and outlined their responsibilities. 

But you might be wondering: 

What’s the right skill set? 

It should be clear by now that functional project management is both essential and tough to get right. Functional managers need to be tactical, yes, but also strategic. They need to be excellent with high-level strategy but also skilled with hands-on people management. 

A functional project manager job description may include skills related to their unique business unit and a list of the functional skills of a project manager. 

Yep, it’s a lot.

In a nutshell, though, these are some of the top functional project manager skills:

  • Technical expertise
  • Strategy and decision-making
  • People management 
  • Communication 
  • Interpersonal collaboration
  • Team leadership
  • Conflict resolution
  • Budgeting
  • Time management

The right mix of skills can be tough to find but can also make the difference between a successful project and a failure to launch.

What Do They Get Paid?

This is the real bottom line, right? How much can a functional manager make?

A functional project manager salary is tough to estimate since they typically have another role within the company—like IT Manager. You might be better off searching other roles on salary aggregating sites. However, a few sites do collect data for a general functional manager.

Glassdoor estimates that a functional manager’s salary can range anywhere from $63,000 to $112,000 per year, with an average of $82,701 per year. It’s definitely a wide range due to the incredibly varied roles a functional manager can hold.

Education is another variable in salary estimates. Nearly all companies require at minimum a bachelor’s degree. More and more often, companies prefer people who have completed a master’s degree or other certifications. 

The best certification for functional management is the project management professional (PMP) certification. For employees looking to advance their careers, a PMP is a great way to make your resume stand out. 

For employers, asking for a PMP certification can help you find a highly competent functional manager.


The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the need for functional managers—i.e., managers over a specific business unit—could increase 9 percent by 2026. The demand for project managers is even higher, with an expected growth of 33% by 2027.

IT is also a growing field and one in which project management skills are critical to success.

Assuming these predictions hold, functional project management will continue to be crucial to business development for years to come. 

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