What’s the difference between project management and account management?

 |  In: Project management | Agency management

Confused about the difference between account managers and project managers? You’re not alone. The two can get mixed up so often that, even if you’ve worked in agencies for years, you may feel unsure of the differences between the two roles.

Some agencies have account managers, some have project managers, and some have both. And, in smaller agencies or those with a leaner team structure, it’s very common for roles to overlap and people to wear multiple hats.

We explain the key differences between agency project managers and account managers in terms of roles, responsibilities and expertise, and ask whether you need both roles in your agency.

Agency project managers and account managers: who does what?

While both work alongside creative teams to oversee projects, they each have a different focus.

The main difference between the two roles is that, generally, the account manager nurtures client relationships, adds their strategic insight to projects and develops new opportunities. It’s a customer-facing role that relies on good communication and often crosses over into sales.

Agency project management focuses on internal operations and day-to-day planning. It’s more methodical and process driven, concerned with managing resources and risks, controlling costs and times and, ultimately, ensuring the work is profitable.

Account manager

Project manager

External focus

Developing relationships

Big picture

More strategic

Bringing work in

Internal focus

Delivering projects

Small details

More functional

Making work profitable


What does an agency account manager do?

The account manager is the traditional ‘face’ of the agency – the one going out, meeting clients, pitching creative work and winning accounts. It’s their job to understand what the client needs to achieve, communicate that to the creative team and deliver the finished work. They keep existing clients happy, upsell agency services and win new business.

A good account manager is:

  • A people person, focussed on building and maintaining relationships with clients.
  • A strategic thinker and ace problem solver, able to see the bigger picture and come up with creative solutions to complex problems.
  • A brilliant communicator, working with a wide range of stakeholders and liaising between clients and creatives.
  • Flexible, with a knack for thinking on their feet.

What does an agency project manager do?

The agency project manager is a newer entity, born out of the need for agencies to become more competitive and extract as much value as possible from projects. As agencies, projects and media have become more complicated, it makes sense for dedicated project managers to step in.

It’s the project manager’s job to draw up project plans, map out the work schedule, allocate resources and manage risk. They’ll develop estimates, track budgets and compile project reports. While it doesn’t have the same focus on relationship building as an account manager, the role still calls for good communication and people-management skills. An agency project manager will work with internal agency teams, client teams, outside contractors, and third-party stakeholders to get the project delivered.

A good agency project manager is:

  • Great with money, with an ability to manage budgets and keep finances on track.
  • A strong team player, able to communicate clearly, keep everyone on the same page and manage internal teams.
  • Technically minded and methodical in approach, with a keen eye for detail.
  • An excellent timekeeper, who’ll enjoy delivering projects on time and on budget.
  • A confident decision maker, able to make informed decisions that impact the success of each project.

Do you need account managers and project managers?

If there’s one thing we know about agencies, it’s that there’s no one size fits all. Whether or not you need two separate roles depends on your agency’s size and structure, as well as the complexity of the projects you’re dealing with.

While agency project management and account management have key differences, it doesn’t matter who’s doing what. What is important is that all tasks are carried out efficiently, with well-defined workflows, clear communication on all sides and no duplication of effort.

To find out how Synergist’s all-in-one agency management software can help both project managers and account managers work more effectively, book a demo.