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Will the real Project Manager please stand up? by Christopher Maione

Project management and the term “Project Manager” is used in so many industries from construction, to architecture, to IT, AV, and the like – and in many cases is the default job title for any person that has responsibility to complete a given project.

  • In the course of a typical AV (construction) project, the title “project manager” has a variety of meanings and this article will try to identify these meanings and the players and their roles so you can consider them in context.

When assembling a project team, you will find a coalition of professional services and design firms that all have project people – managers – that will work together to develop and refine scope, plans, drawings, specifications, and other details for the project. A typical project team associated with an audiovisual scope would include:

· Architect
· Mechanical & Electrical Engineers
· Telecommunications Consultant
· Acoustical Consultant
· Lighting Consultant
· AV Consultant / AV Systems Integrator
· Owners Representative

The architectural firm is tasked to create the overall design of walls, floors and ceilings and typically has a “Partner in Charge” or “Principal” as the person with responsibility for the work of the firm. This person assumes the lead position and heads up the project from the architectural side. A typical architect’s team includes a Project Director/Manager, Project Architect, Project Designer, Production (drawing) Manager, and the CAD team.

The Mechanical / Electrical Engineering and Telecommunications firms are responsible for all the Plumbing, HVAC, and Electrical systems designs and these also typically have a “”Partner in Charge” or a Project Engineer that oversees the work within their discipline. In many cases these are true licensed “Professional Engineers” and will carry the PE designation in their title.

Telecommunications Consultants are responsible for the infrastructure cabling design for all voice / data telecom, network and security equipment. The point person here is also called the “Project Manager” for the firm.

In multi-discipline firms, where a single firm provides Mechanical, Electrical, Telecom, and AV consulting services – there could be four separate Project Managers (one for each discipline) with oversight by an “overall” Project Manager who coordinates all work and is the “point person” to the client.

The Acoustical Consultant assembles a team that is comprised of Acoustical Engineers and/or Acousticians with their point person being the Project Manager who is responsible for ensuring the acoustical criteria for the project are defined and met. The acoustical criteria includes controlling all noise from HVAC systems, elevators, mechanical rooms and ensuring the occupied spaces are appropriately “quiet” for the intended use.

The Lighting Consultant on point is typically considered the “Lighting Designer” and may also be working under a “Partner in Charge”. The lighting designer creates the aesthetic lighting “look” of the space, referred to as architectural lighting design.

Most AV Consulting firms again will have a “Partner in Charge” that has overall responsibility for the AV consulting firm’s efforts. This includes developing the needs analysis, all AV design drawings, AV systems design, equipment lists and bid specifications. They will be joined by a team assigned to the project which would include a Project Administrator, CAD, and a Project Engineer (please note – I take issue with anyone in our industry which refers to themselves as an “engineer” without having a true four year accredited degree in engineering).

The AV System Integrators structure typically includes an “Account Manager” who handles all pre-sales efforts. Once the project is awarded to the AV Systems Integrator, a “Project Manager” is assigned to oversee all procurement, fabrication, logistics, installation, testing & commissioning efforts within their core expertise.
So with all of these cooks in the kitchen, who is the REAL Project Manager for the project?

This responsibility falls with the Owner’s Representative; and here is the major distinction with this role versus the other project people we’ve discussed. The Owner’s Rep must oversee the overall design and construction process and is responsible for ALL aspects of the project. They report and answer directly to the owner and are the true project managers of the project. They "manage", organize, schedule, and define the project processes, reporting to the owner throughout the “life” of the project. In this capacity the project manager isn’t a sole contributor to the project process, but is the key contact that represents the client’s best interests. It is their ultimate responsibility to see that the project is delivered as designed, on schedule and under budget.

The owner’s representatives for a typical small project could be a single person – and for larger projects it could be a team of people with varying expertise across multiple disciplines – every skill set required to build a building. They have to be well versed and "experts" in everything from backup generators to water chillers, from VAV boxes and 400 amp switches to carpet, furniture even the pantry coffee machines.

To ensure client satisfaction, the project manager must build a strong working relationship with all team members and clearly understand the needs of his client and the work they need done. To truly serve the project and act on behalf of the owner, the project manager should be impartial and not working under any of the other professional services or design firms that are involved in the project.

Every project needs a full cast of qualified team members that clearly understand their roles and responsibilities to maximize efficiencies maintain impartiality and avoid costly redundancies. Whatever your role in a project, be sure to work closely with the REAL project manager – the owner’s representative firm. By embracing your role and maintaining focus in your area of expertise you will help ensure that your contribution to the project results in its ultimate success.

Christopher Maione, CTS-D, is president of Christopher Maione Associates, a firm specializing in all aspects of AV business, technologies, and marketing strategy. He also serves as an Infocomm Adjunct Faculty member and frequent speaker at global AV industry events. Reach him at

The AVNetwork staff are storytellers focused on the professional audiovisual and technology industry. Their mission is to keep readers up-to-date on the latest AV/IT industry and product news, emerging trends, and inspiring installations.