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So You’d Like to be a Project Manager

In one of my recent articles, I’d listed some characteristics which might dissuade someone from joining the project management profession.

These included low change resilience, a preference for working with tools rather than people and an inability to multitask. But let’s say that you don’t possess any of these traits and you are passionate about becoming a project manager.

Where should you start and what is the path of least resistance to landing your first role?

PMI recently modified their Continuing Certification Requirements (CCR) process to reflect the reality of managing today’s projects by requiring certified professionals to earn a minimum number of Professional Development Units (PDUs) across three areas which PMI terms the Talent Triangle™. These areas are:

  • Strategic & Business Management
  • Technical
  • Leadership

As the profession evolves, there’s a need to stay current on one’s technical project management skills (e.g. scheduling, risk management, agile practices) and soft skills development is lifelong learning, but it is also important to possess sufficient business acumen related to the industry in which you are interested in managing projects.

This is not to say that a competent project manager can’t move from one domain to another. Another article I’d written provided means of crossing that chasm.

Evaluating your goal to become a project manager against the Talent Triangle gives you the ability to assess your knowledge and experience against each area to find out where further development may be required.

But what else can you do? There’s no foolproof approach but here are some suggestions which might help you achieve your dream.

Join the club

It really doesn’t matter which project management association you join – whether that is PMI, APM or AIPM really boils down to their ability to help you achieve your goals.
A worthwhile association will provide you with three benefits:

  1. Opportunities to increase your knowledge through in-person development events, an online knowledge base, and print or online publications.
  2. Opportunities to expand your network both in terms of meeting contacts who might help you land your first project management role but also those who might be willing to act as a coach or mentor.
  3. The chance to volunteer which will not only broaden your network but also gives you a great opportunity to showcase your project management skills to other members and to add to your experiential portfolio.

Ideally, you can join an association which has a local presence so that you can participate and contribute in person rather than virtually. While a network of virtual contacts can certainly add value unless you are willing to relocate to land your first project management role, local contacts will be the most helpful.

Read the key publications of the association cover-to-cover each month. Not only will this broaden your knowledge of the profession with relatively low effort but it will also provide you with a range of topics to discuss with your peers at local networking events.

Get trained

If you have never taken a foundational project management course, it’s worth investing in one to not only learn and practice tools and techniques which you might not have previously been exposed to but also to continue to broaden your network.

I would not recommend attempting to attain a project management certification until you have gained sufficient experience to demonstrate that you aren’t just paper-certified. While the lack of a certification could eventually prevent you from landing certain project management roles, those are not likely to be the ones you will be pursuing for your first project manager role.

Play to your strengths

When crafting your resume and cover letter, your lack of specific project management experience is something that you can’t hide, but you shouldn’t emphasize this.
Focus on the experience you’ve gained in previous roles which can showcase your fit for the role – whether that is domain expertise, influencing, negotiation, conflict resolution, or event planning, all should be considered and highlighted. If you are stumped, reach out to a trusted member of your network to help – they might find those hidden nuggets in your past experience which you are ignoring.

Fish where the fish are biting

You might know that you can easily manage a large project. But if you aren’t getting the response you’d expect to job applications, consider pursuing a full-time or contract opportunity as a project coordinator/administrator/control officer.

Be strategic about this – look for these types of roles on large, complex projects in organizations which have made a visible commitment to project management. By doing so, not only will you gain valuable experience, but you will be supporting a seasoned, senior project manager who might give you opportunities to “steer the ship” and may also help coach you.

Success is almost totally dependent upon drive and persistence. The extra energy required to make another effort or try another approach is the secret of winning.” – Dennis Waitley

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