AXELOS ProPath, the world's most powerful project, programme and portfolio best practice certifications

Project versus change manager

Adeline Teoh ed.
April 18, 2014

Change management isn’t new but it’s certainly becoming more popular as a career choice. But why are so many project managers so worked up about its popularity?

Ten years ago, if you’d asked me what a change manager was, I would’ve guessed it had something to do with the life coaching sector. Personal growth was really big at the time and change management seemed to fit that nebulous category of psychological makeover.

Mind you, ten years ago I didn’t really know what a project manager was either and now when people ask me, I trot out the simple answer that helped me ‘get it’: a project manager undergoes temporary work on anything that is not business-as-usual for the benefit of the client.

It surprised me, though, to learn that many project managers still don’t know what a change manager does or how they fit into an organisation. Considering how closely related projects and change are, I thought it’d make sense that they’d meet all the time. In fact, I sense there’s a bit of rivalry between project management and the emerging discipline of change management.

But what is a project but a piece of change? The split between project managers and change managers is a false one, I believe, born out of a misunderstanding of what turf belongs to whom. At the PMOz conference in Melbourne last year, Hadyn Thomas of Mindavation predicted change managers would slot in the layer between the executive and the project manager. In a room full of project managers this was a bold statement, but after much consideration I think he’s right.

Project managers are the ones who make the change. A change manager is the one who deals with the acceptance of the change. Projects will always need some element of change management—in smaller projects, the project manager is often also the change manager—but it’s not true the other way around as an organisation may undergo change on a regular basis without doing this through the mechanism of projects.

My suggestion? Work together! Project managers necessarily need to understand how change will affect stakeholders, whether or not you decide to use a change manager for that process. Do you work with change managers? How would you describe your experience?

Adeline Teoh ed.
Adeline Teoh is the editor of She has more than a decade of publishing experience in the fields of business and education, and has specialised in writing about project management since 2007.
Read more