PSOhub Blog

Project Manager vs Traffic Manager: Is there a difference?


Agency startups often rely on team members to wear many hats. At the beginning, everything might appear fine and dandy. But when everyone is a proverbial jack of all trades, it can convolute what specific agency roles should actually entail.

A perfect example of this muddying of the waters is the project manager vs traffic manager question. Both are distinct roles but have overlapping responsibilities when an agency can’t afford both.

The fact is, small startups won’t necessarily need both managers to successfully deliver awesome results for clients. Though at some point, it may be time to invest in an agency traffic manager in order to scale products and services.

So, what makes these two roles similar and what makes them different? Here we’ll break down the project manager and traffic manager personas in creative agencies, revealing the key responsibilities of each.

The differences between a traffic manager and a project manager

The traffic manager is chiefly concerned with the administration of ‘traffic’ aka flowing work from account executives to client deliverables. They’re the ones who make sure things are running smoothly from an operational standpoint.

The traffic manager’s main responsibility is resource planning, building out schedules based on the experience, skills, and capacity of the available team members. It is their #1 aim to make sure work gets delivered on time, making adjustments along the way to make sure creatives are meeting milestones.

Sometimes, the traffic manager will get as granular as assigning individual tasks to complete a project. They’ll run reports on time management and inform owners and account executives how individual projects and services are progressing.

On the flip side, the project manager is more concerned with individual projects versus workflows that go across the organization.

For example, a project manager will concentrate on deliverable work, not processes that come beforehand like marketing and sales.

Like traffic managers, project managers need to make sure work is completed on time, but they are much more plugged into the financial numbers.

The traffic manager, while responsible for planning resources, will receive a budget for a project from a project manager or account executive. But they won’t usually be in charge of building that out.

Project managers are the ones in charge of creating budgets and managing them. They’re also focused on the quality of work with the creative team, something the traffic manager largely stays out of.

And while both project managers and traffic managers are critical agency roles, they demand a different set of skills and experience.

The project manager will leverage more interpersonal skills and industry experience, since they have to deal with clients and stakeholders. Contrarily, the traffic manager is more of an administrative role that will require the use and implementation of software tools.

Bottom line–

A project manager deals more with the actual creative work at the project level, making sure that the quality is aligned with client expectations.

The traffic manager is in charge of planning and scheduling work and tracking resources to make sure deadlines are met.

Project Manager: Key Responsibilities

The project manager handles more of the creative work on a micro level. Their role centers around seeing individual projects and services through to completion. The project manager’s key responsibilities include:

  • Developing the overall idea of the project
  • Planning the project
  • Creating the budget
  • Resource planning & tracking
  • Task management
  • Leading the creative team, providing direction and guidance
  • Keeping projects on time
  • Budget management
  • Tracking project progress
  • Managing stakeholder expectations
  • Evaluating project performance using metrics like profitability, etc.

Traffic Manager: Key Responsibilities

The traffic manager will serve as a go-between who connects account executives with the creative team responsible for producing what they sell. The traffic manager works closely with project managers, but will extend beyond individual projects to keep processes moving forward on the whole. The major responsibilities of an agency traffic manager are the following:

  • Resource planning & tracking
  • Balancing workloads to make sure projects and services are on time
  • Task management & timeline management
  • Helping to create estimates
  • Promoting collaboration among and across teams
  • Tracking progress of tasks and projects
  • Providing status reports to owners and management

The overlap between the two

Smaller creative agencies and startups may not have the capital to bring on both a project manager and a traffic manager, which means someone will wear more than one hat.

There’s an overlap in responsibilities in these situations, specifically with regard to resource planning and task management.

A traffic manager will take on the resource planning, as this is their main responsibility, but when there is no traffic manager, this will usually fall on the project manager.

Same thing goes for task management. A project manager will create and assign tasks to different resources, along with deadlines, and track these tasks over the course of their project.

But in larger agencies, it may be the traffic manager who gets into the task minutia, while project managers rely on them to make sure work is moving forward.

Another overlap is timeline management, as this is always part of the project manager’s repertoire. When a traffic manager is brought on, this becomes their primary responsibility.  A lot of work is then offloaded for the project manager, such as following up with creatives on progress, checking alerts, etc.

Finally, project managers and traffic managers will often use the same software tools to help them manage resources, tasks, and timelines. These will usually come in the form of a project management solution like Asana, Trello, or PSOhub, plus another collaboration tool like Slack.

In Sum

Agencies will often employ a traffic manager or a project manager, sometimes both, to manage workflows on the creative side.

In theory, these roles overlap, but in practice, when both a traffic manager and project manager are on the team, responsibilities will get separated.

These overlapping obligations include resource planning, task management, timeline management, and project tracking.

What works for some agencies won’t work for others, so depending on the company, the overlap between project managers and traffic managers may be more nuanced.

But at the end of the day, the project manager deals in projects and the traffic manager deals in traffic.

The former is concerned with seeing the project through from ideation to completion, and the latter makes sure work is moving forward across multiple projects from an operational standpoint.