Defining Roles and Responsibilities: Setting the Stage for Managerial Success

Discover the crucial role of defining responsibilities in job roles through a personal interview narrative, showcasing the importance of precision for organizational success.

If you’ve drafted a job description before, you know how challenging defining roles and responsibilities can be. Furthermore, establishing role clarity is crucial to meeting the needs of any org and helping to ensure that you find the right candidate promptly.

This post dives into a recent personal interview experience where I was being interviewed (for a broadly defined role) vs. being the hiring manager and why defining roles and responsibilities is imperative for success.

Here’s What Happened

I recently interviewed with a company because I loved their mission and the role, and it matched my skill set and experience! 100%!

It was for a community program manager gig at an environmental nonprofit! A dream next step! I started my career in environmental nonprofits, and now I’m expanding my horizons (or trying to) with the experience I’ve gained:

  • As an award-winning and recognized GTM leader specializing in project management in citizen development.
  • Graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in Applied Management.
  • I have published content (my work was noticed for best practices) in an actual book through an EdTech startup written by a legitimate professor at a real university (See #4 under this section in my portfolio).
  • More recently, my firm won a contract for a federally funded grant project to expand telehealth services (asynchronously vs. virtually) across 18 clinics and 100 employees to reach +10K marginalized patients living in one of the most rural US states. From scratch, successfully. You can read the referral here and learn more about it—see #4 under this portfolio section).

Anyway, I was SO excited! I prepped, rehearsed, and was completely psyched!

Before I knew it, interview day was here!

Interview Day

Not only was the interviewer late (I was early), but they took a deep breath and rolled their eyes as soon as they signed in. Then, they were silent—and not because of an audio issue.

Nor were they collecting their thoughts. They were seriously just rude, and it was weird. Of course, I could have been misjudging their approach…

So, I introduced myself.

Their reply: “Yes. Now, I will ask you questions for the next 30 minutes, and we should hopefully have 5 minutes at the end to answer any questions you have. First, I am going to introduce myself.

They seemed extraordinarily warm-hearted and friendly.

So, I reintroduced myself and tried acknowledging the pattern they used in their intro.

And The Interview Continued

Then, they asked their first question, clarified what they were asking for (I didn’t ask for clarification, but appreciated it), and added, “See how I did that in a sentence or two?

Apparently, my intro was too specific AND long-winded.

Nonetheless, it quickly became apparent that the interviewer was BEYOND overwhelmed. After all, I learned during the interview that they only had 3 paid positions, and this would be the 4th. In addition, the position was published over a month ago (I applied because I saw a post from the CEO where they reshared the original job notification clarifying that they were still searching).

Bite Your Tongue

I bit my tongue because they are a workforce development org. (I’m not.)

Also, the hiring manager had “programs” in their title and an MBA. (I don’t. Yet.)

It was super disappointing, and by the end, I had uncovered that the position was a community manager gig, not a “community programs manager.” The role required a lot of time managing social media channels and sourcing folks to speak in webinars (both not mentioned in the job description—I’ll give some examples below). Plus, I found it odd that the community programs manager could only source webinar participants and not host them.

Ask Questions

Of course, I had to ask, “Why?” The interviewer felt they needed to specify that I could not host them because I am “not a subject matter expert.

In short, it shows that the hiring manager should have researched the title and role better and my background (including my portfolio and LinkedIn). Looking back, it also makes sense why the position was described as a “broad community program manager” in the repost.

You Live, and You Learn!

Instead of this post being a rant, let’s turn it into a learning experience. Below, I’ll define roles and responsibilities to help explain the differences between program, community, project, and product managers. Then, I’ll provide a “hypothetical” example for each based on industry best practices and then contrast each role with the other three to give even more clarity.


Community Manager

Definition: A Community Manager is responsible for building, nurturing, and managing a brand’s community, both online and offline. They engage with the community, facilitate discussions, provide support, and often serve as the brand’s voice within the community.

Example: When a tech startup launched its new app, the Community Manager spearheaded an online campaign, engaging users through social media and forums. Their strategy boosted the app’s visibility and gathered valuable user feedback, driving a 30% increase in user retention within the first quarter.

Contrast with Program Manager:

  • The focus is on communication and community engagement rather than overseeing specific programs.
  • Engages with individuals rather than managing a portfolio of projects or initiatives.

Contrast with Project Manager:

  • They are not typically involved in the structured execution of projects with specific timelines and deliverables.
  • Deals more with ongoing, day-to-day community interactions rather than project-based work.

Contrast with Product Manager:

  • Focus is on the community and its needs, not on the development and strategy of a product.
  • Acts as a bridge between the community and the organization, whereas Product Managers bridge the gap between the product and the market/business needs.

Program Manager

Definition: A Program Manager oversees a portfolio of projects or initiatives that are interconnected and aligned with strategic business goals. They ensure the overall program is cohesive and its objectives are met, often focusing on strategy, implementation, and delegation.

Example: A Program Manager in a healthcare nonprofit successfully aligned various telehealth projects, ensuring cohesive technology integration and staff training. Their oversight led to a streamlined patient experience, reducing average wait times by 40% and significantly improving patient satisfaction ratings.

Contrast with Community Manager:

  • The focus is on strategic oversight and alignment of multiple projects rather than on individual community engagement.
  • Deals with higher-level organization and coordination rather than day-to-day community interactions.

Contrast with Project Manager:

  • Manages a group of related projects (a program) rather than individual projects.
  • Focuses more on strategy and long-term goals rather than on a single project’s specific timelines and tasks.

Contrast with Product Manager:

  • Focus is on the success of a program (a collection of related projects) rather than on the lifecycle of a particular product.
  • Less involved in the market or user-specific aspects, focusing instead on internal alignment and execution of program objectives.

Project Manager

Definition: A Project Manager is responsible for planning, executing, and finalizing projects and staying within budget. This includes acquiring resources, coordinating the efforts of team members, and delivering projects according to plan.

Example: At a renewable energy firm, a Project Manager led a cross-functional team to develop a new solar panel installation project. Their meticulous planning and resource management resulted in the project being completed four weeks ahead of schedule, under budget, and with superior efficiency ratings.

Contrast with Community Manager:

  • Focuses on meeting specific project objectives rather than building and maintaining a community.
  • Deals with specific timelines and deliverables instead of ongoing community engagement.

Contrast with Program Manager:

  • Manages specific projects with set deliverables rather than overseeing a collection of related projects (a program).
  • More hands-on experience managing tasks, resources, and project stakeholders daily.

Contrast with Product Manager:

  • Focus is on the successful completion of a project, not on a product’s overall lifecycle and strategy.
  • It does not typically involve defining product vision or aligning product development with market needs.
  • I also wrote about the differences between project and program management.

Product Manager

Definition: A Product Manager is responsible for a product or product line’s strategy, roadmap, and feature definition. They work across teams to ensure that business, user, and company goals are met by the product(s) they manage.

Example: A Product Manager at an educational software company conducted extensive market research to guide the development of a new learning platform. Their data-driven approach and close collaboration with the development team led to a product that met and exceeded educator and student needs, capturing a 25% larger market share within the first year.

Contrast with Community Manager:

  • Focuses on the product’s success in the market rather than managing a community or brand representation.
  • Involves strategic decision-making based on market research, not just community interaction and support.

Contrast with Program Manager:

  • Manages the lifecycle and strategy of a specific product or line, not a series of interconnected projects (a program).
  • Focuses on market needs and product development rather than the coordination of multiple project initiatives.

Contrast with Project Manager:

  • Focus is on long-term product vision and market positioning rather than managing the timeline and resources of a specific project.
  • Incorporates feedback into product development, whereas Project Managers focus on delivering specific project outcomes.

Reflecting on Defining Roles and Responsibilities

In reflecting on my interview experience and the subsequent clarification of these distinct managerial roles, it’s evident that precise job titles and descriptions are not just formalities. They are crucial in aligning expectations and expertise, ensuring that both the organization and potential employees are on the same page from the outset.

Misalignment of Roles and Expectations

The mix-up between a ‘Community Manager’ and a ‘Community Program Manager’ in my interview may highlight a broader issue in the recruitment and workforce development world. For example, the issue of role clarity in job titles is widely recognized in the industry—including places outside of the US! Like this article from the New South Wales government website discussing role clarity and role conflict with work-related stress!

Of course, sometimes, it’s not intentional; they get misinterpreted. However, in other scenarios, job titles get used interchangeably (without a second thought) or, worse, infused together in an attempt to “innovate.” Ultimately, without clearly defined roles and responsibilities, the company risks not understanding a role entirely, and that matters because:

  • Organizations risk attracting candidates who may be highly skilled but not the right fit for the position’s specific responsibilities.
  • Candidates may enter interviews or roles with a mismatched understanding of their job, leading to job dissatisfaction and turnover.
  • Projects are rife with complexity in the digital era, and according to Gartner, complexity in IT projects is a leading cause of project failure.

The Importance of Defining Roles and Responsibilities for Clarity and Research

This experience also underscores the importance of thorough research and clear communication from both parties. As candidates, while we prepare to put our best foot forward, it’s equally important for hiring managers and organizations to:

  • Ensure job descriptions are precise and reflective of the day-to-day responsibilities.
  • Understand the backgrounds and expertise of candidates to tailor their approach and questions during the interview.

Turning Frustration into Learning

Despite the initial frustration with the interview process and the apparent disconnect in role understanding, this experience has been enlightening. It served as a reminder of the nuanced differences between seemingly similar roles and the importance of clear communication in the professional sphere.

By sharing these definitions and contrasts between Community Manager, Program Manager, Project Manager, and Product Manager roles, I hope to shed light on each role’s distinct value to an organization. They also shouldn’t be mixed/matched or used interchangeably. Of course, this isn’t a comprehensive list defining roles and responsibilities for every necessary position. Especially in niche fields like climate tech or startups and nonprofits in general, where the missions are critical and the work is intricate, having the right people in the right roles is not just beneficial—it’s imperative.

The Takeaway: Clearly Defining Roles and Responsibilities is Crucial

Organizations should strive for precision in their job titles and descriptions, avoiding combinations that dilute the core responsibilities of a role. How could that impact company culture and employee engagement in the long term? As for candidates, we should seek clarity and be quick to ask pointed questions about our day-to-day responsibilities. After all, a clear mutual understanding lays the foundation for success, satisfaction, and impactful work.

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