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The Many Faces of a Translation Project Manager

The world of language services has been growing at a tremendous pace over the past few years. To keep up with this speed, the roles of the people involved are becoming less rigid and professionals are having to acquire a variety of different skills to avoid being left out in the cold.

This universe is populated by many different figures, the three key ones being: the translator – whether freelance or in-house -, who is the artist or main protagonist; the customer (whether direct or indirect), who is the final commissioner of the work needed to gain global presence and, finally, the translation agency (whether a single or multi-language vendor): the intermediary that orchestrates the whole process by employing a variety of professionals.

The Localisation Manager is to be found (often, but not always) in the micro-universe of agencies.

So, who is the (localisation) Project Manager? And what does project management involve these days?

Briefly, the Project Manager is the conductor managing the whole project, the process owner with all the associated honours and duties.

A changing industry

In the early days, project managers were little more than envelope-swappers: in the most classic cases, they received a translation request, examined it according to fixed parameters (type of text, language combination, rate, deadline) and passed it on to the various professionals involved (translator, reviewer, proof-reader) and then delivered it back to the customer. This is prehistory, however, a time that precedes a whole series of developments which revolutionised the very concept of project management.

The real world moves almost as fast as the virtual one, new technologies seem to have removed all limits: everything is possible and within everyone’s reach. Within this daily tsunami, project managers have to keep themselves afloat and develop a variety of very different and essential skills. It’s a matter of survival. The more highly specialised project managers become, the more essential their role will be in ensuring the success and high quality of a project and the customer’s satisfaction.

The diplomat

Today’s PMs are above all diplomats and they must be able to communicate correctly (for the most part in English). Often, they are the only point of contact between the customer, translator, reviewer, engineer, accounting department and others. They need to be careful about what they write and above all how it is written: communications must always be clear, with an appropriate tone of voice for the recipient, bearing in mind that written communication (for the most part) is the main way of managing the entire relationship.

The mediator

Good project managers know they have to mediate constantly (even with themselves!) to avoid compromising their relationship with the customer on the one hand and the translation team on the other. While in some cases they may take a firm position, speaking loudly and clearly, in others they become a narrator conveying different points of view between the stakeholders involved.

The psychoanalyst

Modern PMs are therefore psychoanalysts who need to analyse every aspect carefully. First of all, the practical ones, such as the type of source text, topic, CAT tool required, timescale, budget, with all the ensuing difficulties and ramifications. Once this first analysis has been completed, the aim has been identified and you just have to achieve it. And this is where the distinction lies between a good PM and a champion. True professionals know that they need to understand their customers and suppliers, they have to study the character of the person on the other side (of the world sometimes), without knowing them in person. They test the ground to figure out how far they can push things: an informal communication, phone call or emoticon in an email can lighten the tone and foster relations with more empathic people, while shorter, clearer emails, without too many frills, are needed to reassure more rigid personalities.

Thanks to the many opportunities offered by remote work, the project manager often works with freelance translators located in various parts of the world and immersed in their own daily lives, with all the associated problems and frustrations. In many cases, translators need to interface with their PM to discuss an issue or simply have a chat: the PM listens, offers a solution (sometimes just providing a listening ear) and draws the communication (often by telephone) to a close, just as a psychologist winds up the therapy session after an hour.

Project management, therefore, encompasses various different roles, some defined and some undefinable. No two days are the same. Project managers are under constant stress, but this can provide the encouragement to exceed one’s limits every day, as a professional and a human being. They can go further, reinvent themselves and their processes: they can choose to revolutionise, standardise or automate any process, depending on the requirements at the time.

Their work reflects an industry which is in a constant state of transformation.

Find out more about the solving the top project management challenges here.