What Is a Project Owner? Roles & Responsibilities


For a project to function properly and be delivered on time and within its budget, all the roles and responsibilities of everyone involved must be clearly defined and communicated. Everyone has their part to play in the process, which is orchestrated by the project manager acting on behalf of the project owner.

The project owner isn’t an unheard-of project management role, but it does have an air of mystery to it. What exactly is a project owner, what does the project owner do and so forth? These questions will be answered and in so doing we’ll reveal the critical importance of the project owner, their duties and responsibilities to the project and the skill sets that set them apart from the rest of the project team.

What Is a Project Owner?

The project owner is a leader who works with the project manager closely to drive the project to a successful conclusion. That relationship is so close that in some projects, the project owner is the project manager. However, there’s a difference and we’ll get to that later.

The project owner is the person who’s responsible for the vision of the project. They have the big picture and look at what the project is achieving and how it fits in with the larger strategy of the business or organization.

As their name says, a project owner owns the project. They’re accountable for the success or failure of the project. That’s why they’re the ones who set the high-level vision, and objectives and even get the funding from the project sponsors. However, their responsibilities don’t end with project approval. As it’s being executed, project owners are vigilant about identifying issues and, when found, resolving them.

To do their job and shepherd the project through its various life cycles, project owners rely on project management software to give them the data they need to make more insightful decisions. ProjectManager is award-winning software that gives project owners real-time data on the project to help them steer it to a successful end. One tool they can use is our reporting features that deliver customizable reports on status, portfolio and many more. Each report can be filtered to show only what you want to see and displays live data that leads to better decision-making. Plus, reports are easily shared in many formats to keep stakeholders updated. Get started with ProjectManager today for free.

ProjectManager's status report filter
ProjectManager has real-time reporting features to get insightful data for making better decisions. Learn more

What Does a Project Owner Do?

The project owner oversees the project from a high level. They’re often the head of the business or business unit involved with the product or service. Therefore, they have responsibility for the project and its successful delivery.

In terms of what they do, we’ll get to the duties and responsibilities in a moment, but you can think of the project owner as the champion of the project. They, with the project sponsor, are invested in the project’s success. The sponsor financially and the project owner in terms of delivering the project on time and within budget.

Sometimes the customer can be considered the project owner and have a different role to play in driving the project. For example, the customer will define the project’s scope, goals and objectives, while making sure that the project is on track to meet their needs.

While one of the most important people in a project, the project owner often must report to the C-suite executives in the organization. However, this depends on the size of the organization. If the organization is smaller, they might report directly to the CEO or business owner.

Why Are Project Owners Important?

The buck stops with the project owner. They’re vitally important to the project because the project is vitally important to them. They’re the ones who bear the business responsibility for implementing the project successfully. If it fails, they must take responsibility.

They’re leaders of the project to an even greater degree than the project manager in that they’re the project champions and the face of the project. All its weight is on their shoulders. It’s the project owner’s leadership and management skills that will be tested by the success or failure of the project.

While there are other stakeholders, the project owner can be considered the key stakeholder in the project and, therefore, of utmost importance. They are, after all, defining the project’s scope, objectives and requirements, plus working closely with the project manager to ensure the project is delivered on time, within budget and meeting quality standards.

What Are the Main Duties and Responsibilities of a Project Owner?

We’ve established why a project owner is important and defined who they are and what they do, but that’s only scratched the surface. A project owner isn’t merely a figurehead, but what exactly are their duties and responsibilities?

A project owner must be a leader. This isn’t a skill that you can become certified for, but it can be learned if one is open to advice and the guidance of experience. Leadership is one of those slippery qualities that’s hard to get a hold of but everyone knows when they’re in the presence of a leader.

Leaders lead, of course, but they also inspire. Therefore, the project owner leads the project team, including the project manager, though more about that relationship soon. They’ll oversee the project activities to ensure that they’re being done properly and in a timely manner.

As mentioned, the project owner is the champion of the project and works with the project sponsor to motivate and answer questions. This includes assisting the project manager in leading the project team to complete all the project tasks.

The project owner is also there to get buy-in from the project stakeholders. While all these duties and responsibilities feel a bit broad, they’re supposed to be. That’s because a project owner isn’t dealing in the day-to-day operations of the project, but is on a higher level.

Project Owner Skills

In terms of project owner skills, we’ve already mentioned that leadership qualities are essential, but that’s just one piece of what makes a good project owner. The skill sets of a project owner are the normal suspects, such as an advanced degree in project management, business or a related field, years of experience and even certification.

But all those pale in comparison to the soft skills that are less easily quantifiable. For example, you can’t get a degree in enthusiasm, but the project owner must be enthusiastic about the project, its value and its deliverables. This can carry the project team through hard times as well if not better than methodology.

The skills of a project owner can be all over the map, depending on the role of the project owner. We’ve already stated a customer can be a project owner, but some can be a business analyst, strategic architect or any other number of professional positions. The skills vary, but the enthusiasm to champion the project’s vision will always be paramount.

Project Owner vs. Project Manager

The project owner and the project manager are closely intertwined in the project. A project manager can even be a project owner so it’s important that we explain their similarities and where they differ.

The project owner is accountable for the project’s success or failure, while the project manager is managing the team and the daily operations of the project to deliver it on schedule, on budget and meeting quality expectations. Their objectives are the same, but the project owner is looking at the project from a high level and the project manager is in the weeds dealing with the day-to-day responsibilities of managing the project.

As noted, the project owner is setting the vision for the project. The project manager is executing the project to achieve that vision. The project owner is setting the objectives, the project manager is achieving the objectives through the planning and execution of that project plan. The project owner secures the funds from the project sponsor while the project manager estimates the budget to determine how much the project will cost.

Another way to look at it is that the project owner is setting up the project. However, once that project has been approved, the project manager takes over the responsibility of taking the project from planning to closure. The project manager is more involved in the details of identifying tasks, milestones, risks, workflow, methodologies, reporting procedures, etc. The project owner is updated and helps guide the project, but the project manager is driving it to the final delivery.

ProjectManager Is Ideal for Project Owners

That doesn’t mean the project owner disappears once the project has begun. Remember, they’re accountable for its success or failure and want to stay informed throughout the project’s life cycle. We already talked about how reports that the project manager makes and delivers to key stakeholders, such as the project owner, are one way to stay abreast of the project’s progress and performance. ProjectManager is award-winning project management software that offers a full suite of features that keep project owners involved.

Plan on Powerful Gantt Charts

To ensure that the big picture is reflected in the project plan, project owners will work with project managers to schedule on Gantt charts. Our tool allows them to get an overview of the entire project on a visual timeline that links all four task dependencies to avoid costly delays, filters for the critical path and sets a baseline for tracking variances in the schedule and budget in real time. Our Gantt charts are easy to edit and share with stakeholders. Project owners can even track progress by the shaded percentage of the taskbar.

ProjectManager's Gantt chart
Monitor Progress With Real-Time Dashboards

The project owner is accountable for the success or failure of the project, as noted above, which means they’ll want to have intimate knowledge of its progress and performance whenever they need it. While reports are another tool they use to get live data, the project owner can toggle to the real-time dashboard when they want a high-level view of the project. They can track six metrics including time, cost and the overall health of the project like an instant status report. Unlike lightweight tools, there’s no time-consuming setup required with our software. It’s plug-and-play.

ProjectManager's dashboard

The project owner works with the project manager to ensure the project is delivered on time and our software has all the features to help achieve that goal. There are multiple project views from Gantt charts to kanban boards, task lists and calendars. Resource management features help keep the team’s workload balanced and risk management tools identify and track risks until they’re resolved.

ProjectManager is online project management software that connects everyone on the project team no matter where they work or when they work. They can share files, comment on tasks and more to foster better collaboration. Join teams at companies such as Avis, Nestle and Siemens who are using our software to succeed. Get started with ProjectManager today for free.