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The Account-Project Management Split


The age-old question, two roles with the potential for crossover, but how rigidly do you carve out the responsibilities to optimise agency performance?

Everything an agency does will, and should, be judged by the client. Not just getting a project off the ground or completing the project on time and budget, but also all the stuff in between; scenario planning to add thoroughness to your deliverables; the communication of statuses and timings; responding to change; literally everything a client could use to say, ‘this is why these are the guys to be doing this’.

So, whilst it’s the job of account management to understand the client pressures and reasons for doing work in the first place, it’s a whole team’s responsibility to own the client work and deliver the right thing the right way for the best possible outcome.

In having this attitude, there should actively be some level of crossover between account and project management, more so than with any other two roles. There are many aspects of the roles and documentation sets which can clearly be assigned to one or the other, but there are grey areas which differ significantly agency-to-agency and account-to-account. These differences can be derived from client ways of working, how accounts and knowledge have evolved over time, but also often basic, more human, personal differences and preferences.

As a basic flow, clear definition of the client problem belongs to the account manager, albeit the project manager should collaborate to refine details around the problem. But fundamentally this is the responsibility of the account manager to own the view of the problem both at ground level and bigger picture from the point of view of the client organisation, and industry sector. What is going to be delivered is the responsibility of the wider team. Without going into too much detail here, think the 3 amigos of business, development and testing. How it is to be delivered, the project manager should own. Finally, if we were to include a ‘when?’, then this would be a mix of the account manager owning the prioritisation and the project manager owning the commitment and adherence to delivery timelines.

  • Why? Account Manager
  • What? Team
  • How? Project Manager
  • When? Account Manager + Project Manager

However, this basic flow fails to cover the day-to-day and bits in between that make for the successful delivery of your project pipeline. I believe it’s those bits in-between which are most commonly the grey areas, yet not commonly explicit in how you might go about defining a responsibilities matrix that is considerate in balancing necessity and preference.

When we talk about account managers, the level of desire or organisational demand for them to understand the more intricate details of how your agency’s services are delivered, will differ. At the very least an account manager should have the client perspective, so if the scope is complex, what will the client be asking? This should be considered in terms of both deliverable and delivery mechanism, and how you will relay the answers in a way that means something to them and the chain of stakeholders they may in-turn have to relay that same message to.

This leads nicely to the subject of client communication. There may be reasons, personal or historical, which mean an account manager is protective over client discussions. By contrast there may be the scenario where the project manager is uncomfortable with too much ‘client stuff’, and fear that emails directly into them will become habitual. Where’s the middle ground then?

Generally day-to-day communication will be answering questions, updating on current projects and starting new ones.

  • Answering questions: this can be split into whether it’s about the deliverable or about the delivery. Going back to the initial what/how split I introduced this article with, I would suggest for most costs account management own discussions around the deliverable, and delivery can be owned by either with detail at least validated by the project manager.
  • Updating on projects: in most cases I would assume this to be the account manager’s job as the purpose of doing this is ultimately to maintain the relationship and levels of client satisfaction. Equally, the communication of timelines and dependencies might as well come from the source, and the project manager owns this.
  • Starting new projects: absolutely the account manager. Understand the requirement and whilst having the attitude of ‘anything is possible’, which it really is, be considerate of your Project Manager’s pressures in terms of capacity, technical dependencies, etc.

Moving on from, but in no part mutually exclusive of communication, is commitment to delivery. A project manager’s biggest enemy is an overpromising account manager, but before a scope of work is defined and estimated, are clients satisfied with a caveated statement of non-agreeance full of maybes?

Confidence and attitudes towards risks

If you were to define the project management role, or even write a job spec, one of the first points that comes to mind would be an understanding of how to mitigate risk. However different project managers have different appetites or aversion to risk, which has a significant impact on decision-making; arguably the biggest responsibility of any management position in any industry.

Finally, there’s the relationship between account and project manager and frankly, whether they are each other’s cup of tea. Like any two roles in any business which requires people to work together, a very human working relationship is needed to minimise rigidity and keep outputs flowing at a level of high quality.

Here at Rockpool we operate flat organisation structure, so no team member will be overruled based on a hierarchy of mis-matched experience. Avoiding dictatorial conflict and encouraging discussion helps us arrive at a thorough consensus, quickly.

If you’re interested in getting involved in one of our big-brand accounts, then browse our vacancies and get in touch. Join

Author: Tom French, Account Lead