Facilitator & Project Manager — What’s The Difference?

Lately I’ve realised the need to clarify the differences between a project manager and a facilitator with clients and individuals who have come to see the potential of bringing in facilitators.

Therefore I thought we could take a quick look at the two roles and also introduce a model to have in mind.

Let’s start by taking a look at the dictionary definitions of the two:

project manager
noun
1.
the person in overall charge of the planning and execution of a particular project.

facilitator
[fuh-sil-i-tey-ter] 
noun
1.
a person or thing that facilitates.
2.
a person responsible for leading or coordinating the work of a group, as one who leads a group discussion.

There’s already a few clear differences in the definitions:
Project managers — plan & execute, facilitators — lead & coordinate.

I would like to introduce the content-process model which is great to have in mind when thinking about the differences.

Content Vs. Process Model  

Content Vs. Process Model

 

A project manager will often have the mandate to make decisions on the content. Ex. if a product will be launched or who will execute which task. Facilitators on the other hand don’t have the mandate to make decisions or telling who will be creating or executing.

As a facilitator your focus is on leading the process, making the most value for the participants and in no way creating, deciding, or changing the content.

Meaning facilitators can be brought in for short term to long term projects. Everything from a 30 minute meeting to a blended learning project which can span a few years. They are often brought into help with planning as process consultants and can give advice on how to plan a process or design a process for a client. Though in the end it is up to the client to decide on what kind of content they want.

There are of course many situations which people can switch between the roles. The facilitator role can be adapted by a project manager when needed but I urge to make it explicit which role your in; not only for yourself but also the people you surround yourself with. The outcome will be very different if you are there for the participants process or the desired content.

I hope to have been able to bring some clarity to the two and feel free to use the content vs process model as an example when you are facilitating.

Before I finish off I would like to share a quote by David Sibbet which we at The Other Potential believe is a good definition of facilitation:

“Facilitation is the art of leading people through processes towards agreed upon objectives, in a way that fosters participation, creativity and ownership from all involved”
- David Sibbet

Signing off for now and do give me a shout if you’re interested in discussing deeper on the subject.