The functional manager’s position is very popular in matrix organizations. A matrix organization is an organization where there’s no single leader and different teams report to different leaders. For matrix organizations, functional management is a perfect way to control the quality of work and make sure that the right people perform the right tasks.

However, functional administration can come in handy in many other companies and business types. In this paper, we will uncover what functional management is, what functional managers do, what skills, tasks, roles, and competencies are associated with this profession, and more.

All this information will help you decide whether you need such a position on your project and how to hire a truly experienced person. Keep reading to learn what a functional manager is.

What Is Functional Management?

Let’s start by answering the question “What is a functional manager?” In comparison to other leading positions, a functional manager has a somewhat different view of a project. For functional managers, the main task is to manage a specific functional area. They see a project as a unity where multiple functions are implemented and combined for a common purpose.

Let’s take a simple example. In the context of software engineering, functional management is responsible for a certain business unit or functional area, like development, testing, human resources, etc. In each of these aspects, functional managers will give guidance and implement their best practices on how to organize the work process and distribute resources effectively. This is extremely important as we witness organizations losing nearly 12% of their resources because of ineffective management practices.

Functional managers have niche expertise in their functional aspect and have a deep understanding of their team’s needs. Their role is similar to the role of a team leader. However, the team leader focuses more on the technical side of the work, while a functional manager is more dedicated to enhancing in-team cooperation and fulfilling the core team’s function.

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Functional Manager vs. Project Manager

After figuring out the difference between a project manager and a functional manager, you will better understand what role you should add to your project. If you are also interested in the difference between a product manager and a project manager, check out our recent article where we discuss these two professions and their role in software development projects.

As you see from the functional management definition, it is a person responsible for a particular function in a company or organization. Their role is to manage, control, and supervise their part of a project. Typically, they work with their team or department and focus on people. Their task is to distribute resources wisely and ensure the effective execution of any function they are assigned to.

The responsibilities of functional managers are to organize and conduct performance reviews, hire new people to the team, ensure the right skill set within a team, delegate and distribute tasks between team members, and more.

The project manager role is somewhat different. They focus on processes within a project instead of managing people. The task of a project manager is to plan, organize, and manage the work on a project based on the roles distributed in a team by a functional manager.

If we compare these two roles, a functional manager has more authority over people and resources. A functional manager provides and organizes the means for performing certain functions. In contrast to this, a project manager is responsible for leveraging these means to achieve project goals. A project manager works on the operational aspect of a project, while a functional manager centers on the actual work done by a team.

One more difference lies in the output we get from the work of functional managers vs. project managers. The result of the functional manager’s effort is the high-quality work done by a competent team member. Meanwhile, the result of the project manager’s work is the completed piece of a project and the readiness to move to the next step or sprint.

In conclusion, here are the key differences between these two roles:

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In software development, project manager is a must-have role, while functional managers are often “grown” naturally from team leaders with the richest experience. If your team is young and you need help with any of these two roles, check what we have to offer and contact us for a free introductory conversation.

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In the next sections, we will look at the tasks and responsibilities of functional managers and figure out when you need to hire them for your team.

Tasks and Responsibilities of Functional Managers

A functional manager is involved in the following activities:

  • Track the availability of resources and keep record of resource management;
  • Guide team members in their work, provide training if necessary;
  • Hire team members with the right expertise;
  • Track the progress a team makes and evaluate the performance;
  • Use the insights they collect at work to improve performance and facilitate work;
  • Prioritize tasks and distribute them to reach goals efficiently;
  • Develop and implement risk analysis strategies;
  • Identify weaknesses and gaps in their focus functions and elaborate on solutions;
  • Cooperate with a project manager to enhance the project growth and select cost-effective software development methods;
  • Delegate work responsibilities and master work schedule;
  • Help choose, hire, and onboard professionals in their focus teams, and more.

All these responsibilities fall into 5 main categories that we will discuss below.

Managing and guiding a team

The core responsibility of functional managers is to make sure that everyone is in the right place, does the right thing, and brings the right results. Team coordination can be ensured either by a functional manager alone or in cooperation with other management representatives (like project managers, operational managers, line managers, etc.).

Functional management bridges the gap between teams with different expertise. In software engineering, these can be the development, UI/UX design, marketing, DevOps teams, etc. To guide a project team, functional management should involve a lot of soft skills, which will be discussed in the next section.

Resource management authority

To achieve the project deliverables, a team should be provided with all the necessary resources, tools, and means for completing their tasks. With a functional manager, you will achieve resource visibility and availability, which will give your team more space to do their job.

Increase efficiency

Functional managers’ task is to maximize the productivity of a team in the most efficient way possible. For instance, an initiative that comes from a functional manager can be the replacement of information systems, the shift from on-premises to cloud-based software, or others. By taking advantage of their decisions, a project team can increase productivity, get more convenient conditions of work, add automation, save a lot of time, and more.

Brainstorm and conceptualize new ideas or initiatives

One of the tasks of functional managers is to find ways to conceptualize and implement useful ideas that can positively affect productivity and work on a project. Before bringing an idea to life, a functional manager will conduct research, decide on its relevance and viability, and check if the organization is capable of investing in new enhancements.

Report to and cooperate with the rest of the management structure

Along with other managers, functional managers improve the structure of a project and give clients more visibility of the project’s progress, resource management, and the quality of results. They should maintain effective communication to align their goals, advocate for their teams, represent their team’s needs, and strive for excellence in work.

Must-Have Functional Manager Skills

Functional managers should possess a variety of hard and soft skills. The hard skills should be focused on their niche. For example, if a functional manager is responsible for UI/UX design, the required hard skills will be visual and UI design skills, user research skills, wireframing and prototyping skills, etc.

As for the soft skills, here is the list of the most important ones to acquire and develop:


Functional managers should have excellent communication skills, including verbal and written ones. These skills will be useful for exchanging, receiving, processing, and sharing information with colleagues and clients.

Conflict management

As a functional manager, an expert should know how to manage and resolve conflicts. By conflicts, we mean not only direct situations where disagreement occurs. Conflicts of interest, challenges in task and role distribution, indirect or intergroup conflicts, etc. also fall into this category.

Critical thinking

Critical thinking is the ability to fairly evaluate the situation and problem and view it from different perspectives. With the help of this skill, we can analyze, process, conceptualize, and synthesize information in an unbiased way.

As a result of critical thinking, we get reflections, insights, ideas, as well as experience. Functional managers use critical thinking skills to manage risks and challenges and spot issues at work.


Leadership skills are essential for bringing experts together, guiding them, and motivating them. This is a functional manager who makes sure a team is aware of the common goal and their contribution to achieving this goal. The best scenario is when a functional manager serves as a role model for the rest of the team working in the same area.

A functional manager with good leadership skills also knows how to spot the difficulties or challenges a team member faces and respond to them effectively.


Problem-solving skills help functional managers find the best solutions to problems and challenges that occur on a project. If problem-solving skills are well-developed, they choose the solution by considering its relevance, efficiency, timeliness, and effectiveness.

Time management

A functional manager should know how to distribute their work time, create project timelines for their part of a team, schedule particular tasks, assign roles, etc. By doing this, they make sure that all the deadlines are met, and a project manager receives quality results on time.

When Do You Need to Hire a Functional Manager?

You should hire a functional manager if you have a big software development project where many teams are involved. You may have one project manager responsible for your project as a whole. However, each separate team will need guidance and a niche-oriented person who would facilitate their job. Let’s discuss the example.

Suppose that you have a software development project involving a UI/UX design team, a software engineering team, a team of QA engineers and testers, and a team of content specialists. A project manager can assign tasks, control the project’s progress, manage challenges and risks, and more. However, they would lack understanding of the functional aspects each team works with.

For example, if a design team faces difficulties concerning resource distribution, the use of specialized software, and so on, a project manager will lack the UI/UX design background to assist the team.

In contrast to this, functional management would ensure micro-management in the niche-oriented team. They will deeply know the processes happening under the roof and share their expertise with team members. Functional managers strive to master the functional aspects they focus on. They will allocate the necessary resources, distribute the roles, and track the quality of work. They will also report the results to a project manager coordinating the work on the whole project.

So, if you have a big software engineering project that involves dozens of people specializing in different areas, functional management will help make their work more effective and efficient. Our software engineering company represents a wide range of areas and competencies. We can help you optimize the processes of your project and ensure continuous delivery. Check what we’ve already delivered to your customers:

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Conclusion on the Role of Functional Managers

In this article, we discussed what a functional manager is and what roles and responsibilities are important for their work. Also, we provided you with a comparison of a functional manager vs. a project manager that may help you decide what professionals to hire for your team.

As you see, functional management plays an important role in software engineering. They help teams organize work processes effectively and deliver quality results in each of the software engineering aspects.

Project managers from Forbytes have led and successfully completed dozens of projects. We can help you with functional management, project management, DevOps operations, and more. Contact us to get a free consultation and discover our view of the best solutions to your tasks.

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