What's my job title?
March 23, 2015 1:24 PM   Subscribe

I'm a project manager who also does a fair amount of business development and consulting for my mid-sized agency. I also own a lot of internal projects and infrastructure. I need a job title that highlights my unique contributions, and doesn't sound too precious to my relatively small, flat organization.

I work for a mid-sized communications agency (~25 people). Most associates are either designers, writers or project managers. We also have three partners, who refer to themselves as senior consultants. Generally speaking, our job titles are more about helping clients understand who to contact in any given situation than demonstrating hierarchy.

I was hired in as a project manager, and my core responsibilities still fall under that realm--I lead teams of writers, designers and developers to create all sorts of outputs. Part of this is tactical (managing timeline and budget, communicating milestones, keeping everyone on task), and part of this is strategic (I determine the project approach, develop the content hierarchy, shape the messaging and deliverables, etc.) I also serve as an account executive, in that I develop new business, write proposals, meet with potential clients and "own" the primary relationship with my clients.

I also serve a particular niche role in our fairly traditional organization as someone with strengths in digital marketing and web development. I often serve in a "consulting" role when this type of project comes through, and will conduct research, make recommendations and occasionally even execute the final product. In client meetings and proposals, I'm referred to most often as project manager, strategist, digital strategist and digital consultant.

In addition, roughly 30% of my time is also spent on what might be considered "operational" work. I research and facilitate adoption of new technology, tools and practices for our company. I interview new hires, develop policies and create internal documents like self-appraisal forms and brand guidelines. None of this work is billable, nor is it specifically asked of me--though it is acknowledged and appreciated. Our partners are pretty focused on project work, so there's a bit of a void in this area without my contributions. This work isn't referenced in proposals or by clients, as it's all internal.

Because of my leadership contributions and my project work, I'm considered a senior associate, unofficially on a track toward partnership. As part of my upcoming review, the partners at my company have acknowledged that my current job title is no longer accurate, and are welcoming my suggestions.

Traditional agency job titles don't seem quite right. In the industry at large, I think of project managers as middle managers... they keep things on track, but don't necessarily define the path forward. I don't think I'm a true account executive, because that position seems to be more traditionally sales-focused than project-focused (even though I do a fair amount of business development, it's largely referral-based). Please do challenge these assumptions if I'm off base! If it helps, I bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars in business a year, and manage high-level projects for leading national and international organizations. Our client work is significant, but our company profile is intentionally under-the-radar.

I'm currently leading toward Project Lead and Digital Strategist as a more accurate handle for my day-to-day work. I think Project Lead is a little more all-encompassing than Project Manager, and the digital component is a pretty fair descriptor of my skillset. But I'm not sure how to incorporate the operational aspects of my job in my title, or even whether they should be (as opposed to being a Something-or-Other who just happens to go above and beyond with organizational contributions).

More than anything, I'd like to come up with something that demonstrates leadership and significant responsibility. I'm not job searching now, but when I do in the future, I need to be competitive with people who might be directors, or possibly even VPs, as that's more the level of work I do today, and my role within my organization.

I'd love thoughts from others who have been in similar roles or worked in the agency world in general. Have you transitioned from a small, flat organization to a senior position elsewhere, or hired someone who has? How much do job titles even factor in when you're looking at resumes? What assumptions do you make about someone with a project management or account executive background? And what suggestions might you make for a more appropriate job title?

Thanks very much for your help!
posted by meghosaurus to Work & Money (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't have any specific suggestions, but for whatever it's worth, in my company a "Project Lead" has less status in the hierarchy than a "Project Manager". Might your contacts perceive it the same way?
posted by jeffjon at 1:45 PM on March 23, 2015 [5 favorites]

Instead of the term "project lead," would a term like "Program Manager" fit in your industry? To me, a Program Lead implies that there is responsibility for vision, client management and pre-project marketing, and even some internal resource development tasks that you describe, without sounding as rigid and heirarchical as "Director" or "VP."
posted by muddgirl at 1:48 PM on March 23, 2015

Seconding jeffjon here: 'Project Lead' is almost universally a position that is considered to be lower on the org chart than a Project Manager.

In many PMOs, Project Managers answer to a Program Manager, or someone in a 'Directorship' position. Google 'PMO Org chart" for some perspective here.
posted by BrandonW at 1:53 PM on March 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Senior Manager
Director (or Project Director)
Executive Director
Chief Operations Officer
Digital Project Director
Digital Creative Director
Business Manager/Director and Digital Strategist

Associate Partner if you're really explicitly on the path.
posted by amaire at 1:59 PM on March 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I do not think "Project Lead" signifies that you are a manager or that this is a senior-level position. It sounds mid-level to me, like you oversee the lowest entry level people, but have layers of authority over you. Of course, I don't work in an industry where "Lead" is in titles at all, so I may not have the right context.

Some ideas:

Client Affairs Manager
Strategic Communications Director
Director of Digital Communications
Digital Strategy Manager

I would try to be a Manager or a Director of whatever you want to be in charge of. Project Manager seems to lack the specificity you want and lacks something concrete that will differentiate what sets you apart, assuming you see a career path you'd like to go down.
posted by AppleTurnover at 3:29 PM on March 23, 2015

At my agency these roles are called "producers" with a myriad of different adjectives "Senior Producer", "Digital Producer" etc.

I should note that you've got a pretty standard gig at a smallish agency where folks are meant to wear many hats and there's not one "job title" that fits all of them. I'd pick the most aspirational name you can get. If you want to be doing more production work (strategy etc) then go with Digital Strategist. Want to do more Project Management work then some sort of "Director of Project Management" or "Senior Producer" or "Senior PM".
posted by bitdamaged at 4:26 PM on March 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

As a PM all your responsibilities listed can conceivably fall within the realm of a Senior Project Manager or Project Director.

Some companies that differentiate between have substantial client service work will use the title Engagement Manager but that has the effect of downplaying your project-based responsibilities.

Or go with Associate Consultant if possible to clarify your leadership role.
posted by artificialard at 12:31 AM on March 24, 2015

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