You’re a what?
“From a young age, I’ve enjoyed puzzles,” says Nikki Letendre. “I’m all about making sense of the chaos.”
As the project coordinator for an architecture firm in Hoboken, New Jersey, Nikki is still managing chaos. She keeps track of documents and other details to complete design projects, fitting them together much as she would the pieces of a puzzle. “I do whatever it takes to organize projects and people so everyone can work more efficiently,” says Nikki. “It’s like arranging the puzzle pieces into something that makes sense in the end.”
Project coordinators work in diverse industries, including construction, fishing, and telecommunications. Working under the direction of a project manager, project coordinators do administrative tasks—such as compiling paperwork and setting up meetings—to take a project from start to finish. Some, like Nikki, expand their role to help not just with individual projects but also to provide broader support for the entire business.
What they do
Project coordinators’ duties vary, depending on the needs of their employer. Their main focus is to organize the numerous parts of a project and make sure it runs smoothly. “When we have a contract in place, and there’s a clear sense of the scope of the work, then I start getting involved and organizing the people, the project, and the budget,” says Nikki.
Organizing. Every project has lots of details to arrange. Project coordinators usually work directly with other team members and the client—a representative from the organization that hires the firm for its services—to plan meetings and organize logistics. They set up schedules and timelines to monitor progress and help make sure the project meets its goals.
Project coordinators track dates, budgets, and other information using spreadsheets. They also sort reports, contracts, invoices, and financial files for quick access. For example, Nikki’s job requires her to compile architectural documents and drawings for formal submission and filing. “Submissions involve thousands of pages of documents and full-size drawings,” she says. “There’s nothing more satisfying to me than consolidating all of those documents and drawings and turning them into an organized and successful submission.”
Communicating. Nikki and other project coordinators need to communicate with others, including the project team and client. They must be able to convey a project’s particulars, which range from daily minutiae to long-term goals, in order to keep it on schedule. And when problems arise, they may need to troubleshoot and clearly articulate proposed solutions to all parties.
Project coordinators also help with presentations and reports to allow other team members to concentrate on their area of expertise. “I try to take anything off the architects’ plates that I can, especially when it comes to documents, so they have the time and freedom to do the knowledge-based part of their job,” says Nikki.
Other duties. Other responsibilities for project coordinators may include budgeting, monitoring expenses, and projecting cash flow. These workers also ensure that projects meet quality standards. And they do administrative tasks such as billing, bookkeeping, and ordering office supplies.
How to become one
Project coordinators often share common qualities and skills that help them to succeed in their work. Education, certification, and work experience also may be required or preferred by prospective employers.
Qualities and skills. Strong organizational and communication skills are important requirements for project coordinators. In addition, they must be self-motivated, conscientious, and adaptable because their employer trusts them to handle many details of the business.
Basic math or accounting skills are helpful for doing financial tasks. Office and clerical skills, including proficiency in word-processing and spreadsheet software, are essential for completing administrative duties. And employers may require other expertise specific to the business. For example, in the firm where Nikki works, architects value her suggestions on aesthetic elements because she has a background in visual arts and design.
Education and certification. Project coordinators typically need at least a high school diploma to enter the occupation. However, employers in some industries may require job candidates to have a bachelor’s degree or technical certification in a particular discipline, such as in software design for applicants seeking project coordinator jobs in information technology.
Other certification specifically for project coordinators is available through professional associations. Although this certification is optional, it may help candidates stand out from other applicants.
Experience. Many employers prefer to hire prospective project coordinators who have several years of experience in the industry in which they wish to work. The experience need not be in project coordination to be relevant.
Some project coordinators might start out doing clerical tasks and gain experience as they take on additional responsibilities. Nikki originally worked in an administrative position, for example, but she began handling bigger assignments—and eventually became a project coordinator. “My position evolved from opportunity,” she says. “My employer gave me the opportunity to expand my job duties to fit my skill set and to redefine what my role is in the firm.”
What to expect
Project coordinators usually work in offices, but occasional travel to visit clients or jobsites may be required. And, like most jobs, there are good and bad aspects to this work.
Employment and wages. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not collect data on project coordinators. Instead, BLS counts these workers among business operations specialists, all other. In May 2014, there were about 934,400 of these wage and salary workers employed, according to BLS. They had a median annual wage of $67,280, higher than the $35,540 median wage for all workers.
Likes and dislikes. Project coordinators find it satisfying to concentrate on the individual parts of a project and build toward the whole. And they like the variety of tasks and projects that they work on. For example, Nikki enjoys dealing directly with clients and working behind the scenes, and she likes that no two architecture projects are the same.
But the emphasis on meeting milestones and deadlines is demanding. “Everybody needed something yesterday,” says Nikki, “which can be especially stressful with new clients.” That stress usually diminishes when clients get to know her, she says, and learn that she follows through. “I may not have the answer,” she says, “but I’ll find out and get back to them.”
The trust Nikki builds with clients is, in large part, a reflection of the trust placed in her by the architects she works with. And that makes her job even more rewarding. “They encourage me, and that makes me want to do a good job because they’re so passionate about what they do,” she says. “I love that I’m part of what makes a project successful.”
Kathleen Green, "Project coordinator," Career Outlook, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, October 2015.