I am occasionally asked about the differences between being a PM and being a TD. There is a large difference that I usually don’t discuss, but that it important.
In a traditional TD position, the ATD, Forman, and crew are either directly hired by the TD, or are hired with input from the TD, and report to the TD as their direct supervisor. Even in a scene shop were multiple shows are being built at the same time, the TD balances the load between the shows needs and the staff directly. It depends on the theatre if the TD also controls paints or props, etc, or if that falls to the production manager, but it is a fairly linear chain of command.
As a project manager I don’t have direct control of the shop. There is a director of production, as well as department heads in Carpentry, Metals, Paints, and electrics. When I have a project that is in process the department heads assign me a job lead, chosen based on the type of project, shop schedule, availability, and so forth. This project lead reports to me, but also reports to the Dept. Head. Technical solutions are developed with the PM, job lead, and the department head. While the crews are committed to get every project done successfully, the department heads have to balance all of the jobs on the floor, not just mine. That may mean that while I would like item A to get built on Monday, if there is a more pressing need on a different project, my crew might be pulled off to help another job.
There are multiple things to consider here that is affected by this set up. First, multiple people (PM, Dept. Heads, job leads) need to be in on decision making, and kept aware or schedule updates, changes, and other information. Secondly, you may need to negotiate to get someone on your crew, or the job lead the help they need to complete on time. This is particularly true if the ship or installation date is far in the future as the shop can sometimes focus on the next show out the door. It also affects your leadership style as you can’t micro manage the shop floor, and you have don’t necessarily have direct authority. While the PM is not “powerless”, the PM’s management style, influence and reputation makes a difference in how willing people are to work with you and to work collaboratively.