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Proposal director vs proposal manager vs proposal coordinator vs proposal writer

Proposal development is bigger than one person or a single role

The scope of work required to achieve a high proposal win rate is bigger than one person. Here are some of the differences in the roles that proposal professionals often play:

See also:
Proposal Management
  • The things that a Proposal Director does are different from what a Proposal Manager does. A Proposal Director might not even manage individual proposals. They manage all the proposals. A Proposal Director sets standards, defines processes, ensures staff are trained, and allocates resources across all of the company's proposals. They play a critical role in quality assurance for proposals. A Proposal Director also addresses problems that cross organizational boundaries, which is a common problem for proposals.
  • A Proposal Manager has responsibility for implementing the process for the development and submission of proposals. Proposal Managers herd the cats guide the proposal contributors through the process to complete their assignments. If the company has capture managers, a Proposal Manager works with the relevant capture managers assigned to their proposals. A key requirement for a Proposal Manager is to understand how a compliance matrix helps you create a structure for the document that will meet the customer’s expectations. This is key for understanding the relationship between achieving RFP compliance and maximizing your evaluation score, and for providing a structure you can build your messaging around.
  • In most organizations, the role of Proposal Coordinator is poorly defined and ends up being a mini Proposal Manager, or someone who is cheaper, has less experience, has little or no authority and who assists the Proposal Manager. I prefer not to use the title "Proposal Coordinator" because it is too ambiguous and results in misuse of the role. I prefer to call them "Proposal Process Administrators" because what they should be doing is ensuring that process deliverables are completed, enhancing communications, facilitating expectation management, and helping to surface issues. The Proposal Manager sets expectations. The Proposal Process Administrator documents the expectations, makes sure that everyone is aware of them, and discovers if there are any issues in fulfilling the expectations on time.
  • Proposal writers are responsible for completing the narrative portion of the proposal. Most proposal writers are not specialists, and many proposals have at least one person doing proposal writing for the first time. A distinction can be made between subject matter experts and proposal writers. Sometimes subject matter experts write proposal copy, and sometimes they just provide information.

Proposal organization at small vs large businesses

Large companies have more people. But small businesses can be better organized. This directly impacts proposal development and win rates. Small businesses can have better win rates than large businesses. There's also the difference between small proposals and large proposals to consider. 

Large companies may also have someone managing document production and graphics. They also have departments to address pricing and contractual matters.
When a small business has one person effectively “doing” the entire proposal, it should still think in functional terms. Each person you hire will have strengths in some but not all of the functions required. How will you fill the gaps? If you start with a junior or mid-level proposal specialist, who will play the role of Proposal Director? If you hire a proposal writer, will they be capable of creating a compliance matrix? 

As you grow, how will you split the functions? Will you promote your first proposal specialist? Will they be capable of fulfilling the functional aspects of their new role? Will you hire someone new, give them a title, and just expect the work to get divided up? Or will you hire someone who can fill your functional gaps? As you grow, it is better to organize around covering the functionality required to win than it is to create positions based around the skills of the people you have or hire. First, identify your functional requirements and then map your people to them. Then fill the gaps. Along the way, you can also use consultants and training to address your gaps.

Small businesses often have one proposal specialist. Large businesses may have a whole department. But the curious thing is that what it will take to win your proposals is functionally the same whether you have a single person or a whole department to do it. Titles do not matter. What matters is whether you understand what it will take to win, have people with the skills to turn that understanding into proposals, and have the capacity to meet your bid volume. 

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Carl Dickson

Carl is the Founder and President of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY

Carl is an expert at winning in writing. The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is also a prolific author, frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant and can be reached at carl.dickson@captureplanning.com. To find out more about him, you can also connect with Carl on LinkedIn.

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