6 Things Project Managers Need to Do to Earn a Promotion

Darragh Broderick
By | Updated September 21, 2017 | 6 min read
Collaboration Skills

When endeavoring to advance your project management career, there is more to earning a promotion than merely excelling in your project management role.


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This article explores some of the most significant factors in demonstrating your value and getting that position that you deserve.

According to “The Five Patterns of Extraordinary Careers,” by James M. Citrin and Richard A. Smith, successful individuals regularly use two promotion strategies.

First, they seek potential based promotions where a senior leader decides to place a bet on the person’s potential (most common at earlier career stages).

Second, they seek to leverage proven experience and major accomplishments and make the case that they can achieve similar results again. It is important to recognize the uncertainty involved with both options for the professional and the employer.

Let’s explore how to set yourself up for promotion.


6 Things Project Managers Need to Do to Earn a Promotion

1. Deliver a major accomplishment

In the project world, there is a distinction between “run the company” projects and “transform the company” projects.

If you are seeking a promotion, projects that make a major impact are the best area to focus on. Citrin and Smith share the example of a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) taking a company public as an example. A successful IPO is a fantastic achievement yet that may not be in the cards for you. What other options are there?

Delivering a project ahead of schedule and receiving high marks from the end customer is often a great accomplishment. Of course, the value of this accomplishment is relative. If everyone delivers on time, then distinguish yourself in a different way (e.g. improved cost performance).

Even those who haven’t always hit their targets can still shine by demonstrating a firm grounding in project management best practices.

“Strive to do the fundamentals flawlessly, be accountable for both success and failure, and be willing to take on the tough assignments,” says Lonnie Pacelli, president of Leading on the Edge, a Washington, USA-based project management consultancy.

Just don’t give stakeholders any surprises. If a project slips schedule, budget, or scope, you need to demonstrate that you are proactively on top of the change and communicate the right information to the right people at the right time.


2. Increase your visibility

Some professionals already know the value of personal brand development and promotion. Others – especially those in technical and back-office roles – may be less familiar with the concept.

We start with the premise that you are already delivering excellent work.

Now the question becomes sharing your success with others. Here are a few approaches to share your story:

  • Writing an article for your website, LinkedIn, or an industry newsletter is an excellent way to get started in promoting your brand.
  • Delivering a speech at a professional association or industry conference is another well-known way to increase your visibility.


”Stand Out” by Dorie Clark is also an excellent resource to learn how to develop a substantial personal brand and grow your career.


3. Take calculated risks

There are no certain paths to success especially as the pace of change continues to increase.

In some circles, risk is considered to be a “four-letter word.” That’s a dysfunctional way to think about uncertainty.

Instead, look for small risks to take and gradually expand your appetite for uncertainty. After all, if you are seeking to lead at an executive level, it is vital to become comfortable with taking risks.

Evaluate the risk appetite. If you are in an organization, it is useful to know the context.

Points to consider: how does the organization encourage innovation and what happens when novel ideas fail? As a general observation, smaller and younger organizations tend to take on more risks.

Try something new in a safe context. To build your confidence, start by taking small risks in a safe area. If you are highly confident with a certain sport, take a risk by experimenting with new techniques.



4. Expand Your Knowledge Base

“Most project managers come up through the ranks as engineers, programmers, etc., and know their fields well,” says Edward Kozak, PMP, president and CEO of Successful Projects for Leaders, a project management consulting firm in Chicago, Illinois, USA. “It’s imperative that you make yourself well-rounded by augmenting your field-specific and project management knowledge with business classes.”

“To become part of the executive suite, an MBA is a must. This gives the project manager that business knowledge to understand management’s point of view.”



5. Underline the Need For a Chief Project Officer (CPO)

Some project managers have their eye on the executive ranks. If your organization hasn’t identified the need for a CPO, you must persuade executives that a senior project practitioner should be represented at the top management level.

How can you secure buy-in? Demonstrate to executives that a CPO is often a better option than a PMO for prioritizing and monitoring an organization’s project portfolio.

“If the company is large, conducts many projects within a given year and is fragmented, then a PMO is probably a good choice,” Mr. Kozak says. “However, many smaller companies, or those that conduct perhaps 10 or so projects a year, have many of the same problems that larger companies do: loss of project control, poor estimating capabilities, lack of communication of corporate strategies and objectives, and lack of good (or misunderstood) project communication, to name a few. They are great candidates for one person at the management level instead of a larger, extended entity that costs more than it saves.”



6. Build Relationships

Establish connections across your organization’s various departments. Some of your most powerful contacts will be contract administrators, accountants, functional managers, and purchasing personnel.

Beyond just increasing your visibility and demonstrating your value, be keenly aware of the human side of this decision. Show them that you are a person that can be trusted and depended upon.

Darragh Broderick
Darragh Broderick

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