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Take Charge: Manage Your PM Career

Today, being a project manager with a Project Management Professional (PMP) designation just isn’t enough. So how do you, as a project manager committed to a career in this field, take control of your own self-development and create future opportunities?

Trends in the marketplace suggest companies are seeking to hire highly competent project managers rather than develop existing employees. Competency is expected from day one. Individuals are sought who embody the ability to transfer skills and knowledge to new situations and environments. This is made up of three key factors: fitness (to new situations and environments), capability (applied and demonstrated), and ability (skills and know-how e.g. PMP).

Research shows that we gain or develop our competency through: experience (70%), feedback (20% – on ‘how’ to do the job, not results), and structured training and seminars (10%). The attributes that many employers expect a competent project manager to possess when they enter the job are:

Manage and lead
Able to influence
Positive and confident
Demonstrates initiative
Results oriented
Conceptual and analytical
Risk taker

It is unreasonable to expect a first time manager, or a first time project manager to excel in work balance, decision-making, team building and business acumen right out of school. It appears the mature and competent project manager is also a seasoned individual who needs to plan their project management career. That’s why the competent PM will depend on much more than simply the knowledge and skills of PMBOK. There is a need for maturity only gained through ongoing experience and skill development outside of project management.

In developing your career plan you will need to consider:

  • Accepting more managerial and leadership responsibilities, letting technical responsibilities diminish to zero
  • Partnering with corporate management to know and understand executive concerns, demonstrate value, speak their business language
  • How to maximize trust tools – who can you trust, who can trust you, ethical (will you protect my interests), emotional (does this relationship feel right)
  • Becoming internal sales people selling the strategic value of project management and building relationships
  • Global context – global projects will require global project managers who can manage business to business alliances, understand that loyalty is a critical issue, and will protect assets

While looking internally at ourselves it is important in developing our career path and plans, you need to understand and know the environment in which we play

So what do CEOs want? Who and what are critically important in achieving results for their organizations in a global economy. According to sources, including Harvard Business Review’s Burning Question forum (, CEOs are:

  • Looking for leaders
  • Focused on execution of strategy (and that’s project management after all)
  • Wondering how to innovate – how to build organizations where discipline and freedom aren’t mutually exclusive
  • Dealing with the cultural issues of building and changing to meet the demands of the market while still delivering results

All of these aspects are critical to the success of the maturing project manager who is developing from junior project manager to portfolio manager to leader.

The changing workforce will also play a role in career management. Here are just some of the factors that will impact your career planning:

  • It is not just looming; there is already a shortage of skilled resources, and immigration will not solve it all as demand continues to grow exponentially
  • Lean structures of the past will continue to be challenged in the future
  • There is an increasing need for managers and leaders
  • Succession planning for most organizations is only just underway
  • The profile of today’s worker will be different tomorrow – affected by differences in the younger generation and their attitudes to work/life balance
  • Training isn’t performance and availability isn’t a skill

And what about the world of project management itself? PMI has announced it is developing a career path framework. There is an ongoing search for new sources of project managers – driven by the looming shortage of resources and a better understanding of the importance of project management. The definition of a project manager is changing to include such factors as change management, governance, leadership and ethics.

So what path do you wish to follow? One of a traditional direction: project manager, program manager, director, PMO head or lead. Or an executive route: strategic planning, portfolio management , leadership and executive management. Remembering the 70/20/10 rule, you must not only pursue formal training and education, but seek those experiences that will give you the opportunities to pick your direction or test it out as you go. When a fork in the road presents itself you can decide if it is right for you now or later.

In the short term consider:

  1. What competencies you need to manage your own career path if your organization is not doing it for you
  2. If the organization is not going to get serious you must take control to get the training that will propel you forward
  3. Rotate through assignments that will give you increasing experience, expertise, and help you develop your own ‘brand’
  4. Foster internal communities that encourage sharing, generation of new ideas, and mentoring

Longer term concepts and strategies may not bear fruit today but will help you decide where you go in two to three years from now. These may include:

  1. Get an education that is beyond ‘training’. This could include MBA, Certified Management Consultant designation, something outside of ‘traditional’ project management education
  2. Focus on leadership and getting promoted. Corporations need to seek out superior project managers and promote them. Are you one of them?
  3. Times have changed – company loyalty is not the same. Lifestyle and quality of life choices are increasingly important.
  4. Trial runs: test out your direction and be willing to take risk at different levels.

Look at your career as a bridge – today you are on this side of the bridge and in the future you’ll want to get to the other side. You should be constantly asking yourself what you need to do today to get across to the bridge. Remember it is more than just education and designations – competency and where we fit are built on 70% experience, 20% feedback on how we are doing, and 10% on training and education.

And finally it is all about leadership and relationships: who we know, who knows us, and the trust factor.

Take Charge: Manage your PM career by Catherine Daw
©SPM Group Ltd.

Catherine Daw, MBA, PMP, is President and co-founder of SPM Group Ltd. She provides the vision and leadership needed to evolve the firm and the current corporate direction to enabling the effective enterprise through strategic initiative management. Her focus is on results that matter to SPM’s clients and help clients achieve superior business benefits.

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