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Operations Manager vs. Project Manager

By Noelle
Sep 18, 2023

Businesses rely on skilled individuals to keep their operations running smoothly. Project managers and operations managers play key roles in accomplishing this goal. However, each role serves a distinct purpose within an organization.

A project manager focuses on planning and executing specific projects within set timelines and budgets. In contrast, an operations manager oversees ongoing, daily activities. They optimize processes and coordinate between departments to ensure the overall efficiency and effectiveness of an organization's internal procedures.

This article explores the key differences and similarities between operations management and project management, the skills and education required for each role, and potential career paths. 

Understanding Operations Management

An operations manager plays a crucial role in supervising the daily operations of a company. They ensure efficiency and coordinate between departments to achieve organizational goals. At the highest level, these professionals may be recognized as Chief Operating Officers (COOs), overseeing the business’s big picture. 

Although an operations manager’s responsibilities will vary by industry, there are key tasks that are common across all roles. Operations managers are responsible for the implementation and maintenance of procedures. They also play an essential part in managing personnel, overseeing inventory, budgeting, and resource management. Finally, an operations manager is responsible for reporting on how the business is functioning and whether the organization’s processes and policies are effective. 

Required Skills for Operations Management

Successful operations managers have essential skills such us: 

  • Leadership: Having the ability to inspire and guide toward common goals can motivate teams to achieve the desired outcomes.
  • Communication: Effective communication skills are essential for operations managers to articulate their project vision clearly and ensure alignment between teams, departments, and stakeholders. 
  • Planning: Creating and executing effective strategies enhances operational efficiency and achieves organizational objectives. 
  • Analyzing: Operations managers must be able to identify problems by assessing data and information to identify problems and inefficiencies within their departments. This allows them to make data-driven decisions. 
  • Decision-making: Making choices based on potential outcomes and considering pros and cons can help keep projects on track. 
  • Managing conflicts: Skillful conflict management is essential, enabling  operations managers to address and resolve issues even in challenging situations. 
  • Organization: Operations managers must possess the ability to streamline processes and workflows,  and ensure efficient task management.  
  • Budgeting: Being adept at managing resources effectively allows operations managers to achieve optimal results. 

A career in operations management can be achieved through a variety of job titles, depending on skills, interest, and opportunities. Operations managers, for example, are responsible for overall organizational efficiency, whereas a supply chain manager oversees logistics and procurement. Logistics managers optimize distribution to determine the most efficient and cost-effective ways to move inventory.  

Understanding Project Management

A project manager is responsible for planning, leading, and executing projects within budget and time constraints. They coordinate tasks, manage project scope, assign team responsibilities, and communicate status with stakeholders. Project managers also track budgets and schedules, advocate for clients and teams, provide leadership, and troubleshoot issues. Although their daily responsibilities will vary according to how far along a project is, the ultimate goal of a project manager is to develop solutions that meet client needs and ensure project success.

Project managers share common responsibilities that require specific skills such as:

  • Excellent communication
  • Strong leadership
  • Negotiation
  • Budgeting
  • Scheduling 
  • Risk, time, and team management
  • Technical knowledge
  • Organization
  • Collaboration 
  • Critical thinking
  • Financial acumen

Project management offers diverse career paths in various industries. In IT, project managers may oversee software development. Engineers often manage technology development projects. Project managers also play crucial roles in construction, ensuring successful job completion. In the insurance sector, project managers handle specific claims, like home restorations and disaster relief. Project managers can also fill roles such as program managers, portfolio managers, or scrum masters, making project management a versatile and adaptable career choice with numerous opportunities across different fields.

Key Differences Between Operations Management and Project Management

Differences in Roles and Responsibilities

The primary difference between project managers and operations managers is that project managers have their eye on the day-to-day details of a project, while operations managers focus on the big picture and how to deliver on a company’s vision and goals. For example, a project manager typically guides a project from start to finish by setting the scope, schedule, and resources allocated to the specific project. They will also assign tasks, track budgets and workflows, develop solutions, communicate with clients, and troubleshoot as needed. 

An operations manager, on the other hand, ensures that projects and strategies align with an organization's overall goals. This includes overseeing programs and company performance, creating and managing budgets, identifying and addressing problems and risks, developing new programs, and managing stakeholder negotiations and communications.  

Differences in Required Skills

Project managers and operations managers share common skills such as organization, time management, and communication. However, they apply these skills differently in their roles to meet distinct objectives. Project managers excel at planning and executing projects within specific timelines and budgets. Operations managers focus instead on ongoing processes. They lead teams and ensure efficient and cost-effective daily operations.   

Differences in Career Paths

Career paths for project managers and operations managers differ in their focus and educational requirements. Both roles typically require a business degree and real-world experience, but operations managers often find greater success with a graduate degree.

Project managers typically hold a bachelor's degree and start their careers in entry-level positions. They focus on delivering specific projects within defined constraints, with an emphasis on organization and problem-solving. While a master's degree or business certificate can be beneficial for career growth, a bachelor's degree is generally sufficient. 

Operations managers, on the other hand, usually require a bachelor's degree in business and gain experience in the field as they advance. Since they oversee daily operations, their position requires  expertise in efficiency and process management. Therefore, a Master of Business Administration (MBA) is highly beneficial because it focuses on leadership, process optimization, and advanced organizational strategies.  

Overlap Between Operations Management and Project Management

Operations management and project management careers overlap in several key areas. Both fields require effective resource management and the ability to manage people and teams. Planning and scheduling are also essential to both roles to ensure that tasks are completed on time and within budget. Both project managers and operations managers must be effective  communicators and able to manage stakeholder relationships. Adaptability is another skill that benefits professionals in either role, since many unforeseen challenges can occur on both operations and projects. Professionals can leverage skills from both fields, making them versatile and capable of handling a wide range of managerial roles.


While operations managers and project managers are distinct in their roles and responsibilities, they also share similar skill sets. Operations managers focus on overall efficiency, while project managers handle specific projects. Both roles require common skills like organization, resource management, planning, scheduling, communication, stakeholder management, and adaptability. Although these skills may be applied in different scenarios, professionals can leverage these skills for versatile careers. Operations managers may benefit from a graduate degree as they advance in their careers, while project managers typically can succeed with a bachelor's degree. 

WGU offers bachelor’s and master’s degree programs for professionals looking to enter or advance in operations management and project management. A B.S. in Supply Chain and Operations Management helps prepare students to meet industry needs and become credentialed experts. A B.S. in Business Administration is an excellent choice for kick-starting your organizational management career, while an MBA is focused on advanced business management, strategy, and leadership. Additionally, a degree in business management or IT management, or a certificate program such as the Leadership Certificate from WGU’s College of Business, can help enhance your résumé. Whether you aspire to work for a Fortune 500 company, a government agency, a non-profit organization, or a fast-paced start-up, WGU’s fully online competency-based education model provides an innovative learning experience you won't find anywhere else.

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