Comparisons of a Project Manager to a Maestro


In many ways a project manager (PM) is like a Maestro or Conductor of an Orchestra. A Conductor doesn’t need to know how to play every instrument. A good PM needs the ability to lead people who have different skills and roles within the project. PMs and Conductors need to give direction to set standards, maintain focus, and ensure results. They are both expected to manage these functions/instruments in harmony and present a deliverable which will satisfy their customers/audiences. For added insight, let’s look at the makeup of projects, Orchestras, and their similarities.


This section describes the typical roles and responsibilities for projects. Roles may be assigned to one or more individuals. Conversely, individuals may have one or more roles on a project.

Project Sponsor –This person is typically an executive with an interest in the outcome of the project and responsible for securing spending authority and resources for the project. Besides championing the project, the Sponsor oversees the high-level progress and approves the completion of the project.

Project Owner – This person is typically the head of the business unit that proposed the project or is the recipient of the project output or product and acts as a “champion” for the project, in partnership with the Sponsor. Sometimes the Owner is the Sponsor.

Project Manager (PM) – This person is assigned by the IT division to ensure that the project team achieves the project’s objectives and completes the project.

Subject Matter Expert (SME) – This individual has a prominent level of expertise in performing a specialized job, task, or skill within the organization that may be needed for a technical project. If required, the SME could be a functional manager that provides resources and/or equipment as needed.

Project Team – They have the responsibility for conducting project activities and assist the PM in planning the development effort and help construct commitments to complete the project within approved schedule and budget constraints.

Stakeholders – The people or organizations that are actively involved in the project, or whose interests may be positively or negatively impacted by the project.


This section describes the overall role of the Conductor or Maestro and the collective sections of musicians within an Orchestra that create something bigger than themselves through collaboration and a unity of vision. “To achieve great things, two things are needed: A plan and not quite enough time.” – Leonard Berstein

Conductor – The leader of classical music and is the most important person in the room leading the artistic direction, sound, speed, and movements. The Conductor communicates primarily through hand gestures, usually with the aid of a baton, and may use other gestures or signals such as facial expressions or eye contact.

String – This section is the main body of the Orchestra and sits close to the Conductor. Strings include the violin, viola, cello and/or double bass.

Woodwind – This section sits a few rows back in the center behind the String group. Woodwinds may include piccolo, flute, oboe, English horn, clarinet, bassoon and/or contrabassoon.

Brass – Since this section makes the loudest sounds, they are in the back of the Orchestra. The Brass section may include trombone, tuba, trumpet, French horn, and others.

Percussion – This section is found on the far-left side of the Orchestra near the Brass group. Percussion includes Timpani, xylophone, cymbals, triangle, snare drum, bass drum, tambourine, maracas, gongs, chimes, and/or a celesta. Pianos are rarely used.


Let’s explore the main similarities between a PM and an Orchestra Conductor, and how these comparisons can enrich a PM’s understanding of their role in effective project management.

Roles – The Conductor is like a PM, who is the Conductor of the project team. The PM unifies the team, sets the tempo, and collaborates with individual team members and sections to interpret the work being performed. Good PMs and Conductors know when to push and when to lay back!

Teams – The symphony players are called Orchestra or section members. They are classically trained musicians who rehearse, perform, and record music with an Orchestra. The PM and the Orchestra Conductor are both responsible for their teams and the final product of their work which is the project outcome or the concert.

Stakeholders – The Conductor’s audience is part of the Stakeholders. Other Stakeholders include the artistic director, the board, patrons or donors, volunteers, or the community at large. The PM’s Stakeholders are a collection of individuals who are involved or affected by the project. Some Stakeholders exert influence over the direction of the project, while others are impacted by the outcome of the project deliverables.


These are some areas that PMs can improve themselves by observing Conductors.

  • Conductors are particularly good at seeing the big picture and this is an area where most PMs can improve themselves.
  • Conductors are top-notch at planning and execution to satisfy demanding audiences. Therefore, it is important for the PM to understand fundamentals of your company’s business and recognize expectations of the Sponsor and other Stakeholders before charging forward.
  • A Conductor is a relationship manager with a balance of salesmanship, diplomacy, and education. Also, the Conductor communicates goals and visions, and elicits and incorporates suggestions as to how best to improve execution or make it more efficient. Communication skills are vital for PMs, and it would be advisable to get some interpersonal coaching courses and public speaking skills (e.g., Toastmasters) to stay on top.
  • A Conductor knows how to leverage each section and member. PMs must always understand the unique contributions members bring to the team, how to leverage their strengths, and who to give them opportunities to shine.

Being a PM is an art because it describes personal and skillful application of existing knowledge to achieve desired results. The delivery of projects on schedule within a budget is like a Conductor that delivers a beautiful symphony with a standing ovation at the end.

Your thoughts in the comment section below are welcomed.

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Ronald Smith has over four decades of experience as Senior PM/Program Manager. He retired from IBM having written four books and over four dozen articles (for example, PMI’s PM Network magazine and MPUG) on project management, and the systems development life cycle (SDLC). He’s been a member of PMI since 1998 and evaluates articles submitted to PMI’s Knowledge Shelf Library for potential publication. From 2011 - 2017, Ronald had been an Adjunct Professor for a Master of Science in Technology and taught PM courses at the University of Houston’s College of Technology. Teaching from his own book, Project Management Tools and Techniques – A Practical Guide, Ronald offers a perspective on project management that reflects his many years of experience. Lastly in the Houston area, he has started up two Toastmasters clubs and does voluntary work at various food banks.
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