How to Advance Your Project Management Career
In today’s business environment, the traditional ‘job for life’ doesn’t exist anymore. The average person changes jobs up to fifteen times over the course of their career, with an average job duration of five years. Reasons for changing jobs are numerous and vary by individual circumstance and career trajectory. In this age of job-hopping, it’s important to cultivate transferrable, in-demand skills to propel your career. Project management is one such skill.
By 2027, employers will need 87.7 million individuals working in project management oriented roles, both as full-time project managers and as individuals with some project responsibilities. Even if you are not pursuing a career as a project manager, you should consider developing some core skills and competencies to remain competitive in the job market.
In this article, I’ll explore key trends in project management recruitment and how to set achievable career goals.
Project Management Career Trends
Project management is a growth industry and is showing no signs of slowing down. In addition to adding 87.7 million roles to the global economy, the project management profession is expected to grow by USD$6.61 trillion between 2010 and 2020. This expansion incorporates sectors traditionally reliant upon project management such as construction, and less project-oriented industries such as healthcare and publishing.
There are numerous factors fueling this demand for project management:
- Following the global economic crises, organizations must do more with less and are more risk-averse. Projects can deliver the innovation and change needed to gain competitive advantage using established process and tools.
- As project management professionals retire or switch careers, more positions become available; for example, it is estimated that 97% of open vacancies in manufacturing in the US will arise due to retirement in the next ten years.
- Organizations are increasingly reliant on technologies and the projects required to support these systems.
However, there is a downside to this growth. The gap between organizational requirements and the availability of skilled project professionals to fill open roles could result in a potential loss of some US$207.9 billion in GDP by 2027.
Although the requirements of every project management role depend on the organization and industry, employers are increasingly focused on three core areas: technical skills, leadership skills, and a strategic mindset.
Three In-Demand Project Management Skillsets
1. Technical Skills
Technical skills include your ability to plan, execute, and close the project using best practice methods. This covers the full spectrum of project management from scheduling and resource management to scope creep and budgets. You should also be familiar with the platforms, software, and programs used by your team, even if you are not in a technical position. This knowledge will help you to understand what is and is not possible, making it easier to guide your team and deal with stakeholders more effectively. As technical skills are process-based, they are easier to develop as needed.
2. Project Leadership Skills
Great project managers are also great leaders who set the vision, motivate the team, and engage stakeholders. Project management is all about people and relationships, making leadership skills indispensable. In fact, the PMI reports 66% of organizations rate leadership skills as the most valuable trait of a project manager.
Leadership skills can be broken down in a few key areas:
- Communication: From presentations to negotiation, team meetings, emails, and everything in between, project managers spend up to 90% of their time on communication-related activities. Communication impacts on team dynamics, stakeholder engagement, vendor relationships, and end-user adoption.
- Coaching and Mentoring: Your role as project manager is to empower your team and get out of the way whilst they do their job! Of course, you need to support and guide team members as needed throughout a project and their career. Coaching and mentoring helps team members to reach their full potential, improving overall performance.
- Team Environment: Gallup reports that only 13% of employees worldwide are engaged at work. In the same survey, they found that 63% of respondents were not engaged at work whilst 24% were actively disengaged, indicating significant levels of dissatisfaction and reduced productivity. It is estimated that lost productivity costs American companies $450 billion to $550 billion each year. Project managers now face the difficult challenge of engaging team members to drive success. This includes developing the right team dynamic; managing remote team members; encouraging collaboration, and motivating the team.
- Conflict Management: Conflict is an unavoidable presence in our personal and professional lives. Individual opinions, ideas, beliefs and personality clash for many, many reasons! Ideally, project managers should establish acceptable team behaviors, and take preventive steps to prevent any conflicts from escalating. In reality, you will likely need to tackle conflict more directly with the relevant parties.
- Resilience: Failure is part of life, and projects are no exception. Often, the fear of failure exceeds the consequences of failure, reducing individual appetite for risk and experimentation. However, failure is necessary for success, offering an important way to grow and change. Learning to ‘fall upwards’ will enable you to deal both with failure positively and become more tolerant towards the failures of others. The importance of resilience and failure is increasingly recognized as a desirable leadership trait; in fact, some universities are now running courses on failure.
3. Strategic Mindset
Successful project management helps organizations to reach their strategic goals quickly. Project managers need to step away from the daily task list and think about what is right for the project and the team in the long term. Project managers also require business acumen to assess how projects impact on the financial health of the organization and deliver value to end-users.
Identifying Your Project Management Career Goals
Now that you’ve read about key trends in project management recruitment, you are probably wondering what are the next steps for your career. Identifying career goals and creating an action plan will help you to advance in the right direction. A word of warning: career plans rarely go to plan! There are simply too many factors outside of your control. Adopting a mindset of continuous planning is likely to yield better results with less stress. It is also important to set aside time to reflect strategically on your career, particularly in an era of fast-paced technological advancements.
Imagine writing your CV in five years’ time. What is your title? What are your daily responsibilities? Are there any experiences or qualifications required for this role? How would you describe the dynamics of the team? This exercise will clarify your long-term goals and the actions needed to get there.
Achieving Your Project Management Career Goals
Once you have identified your goals and actions, the next step is to develop a realistic plan to reach these objectives. The path to your career goals is really up to you and will depend on your personal circumstances. Some tips to help you develop your plan include:
- Setting goals that are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, and Time-Related.
- Focusing on long-term, valuable projects to hone a wider range of skills and demonstrate your capabilities.
- Working with a mentor.
- Allowing sufficient time to complete any certification exams or courses.
- Building an external network by attending conferences, changing departments or switching organizations, and volunteering.
- Leveraging the power of LinkedIn and online forums. Connect with peers in your industry or target industry, publish content, and interact with groups. This will develop your reputation with a wider audience whilst also reminding your current employer that you possess excellent skills and knowledge.
- Scheduling time to review and plan goals. Priorities and external factors will change so you need to re-align your plans periodically.
Project management is a growth industry, offering multiple career opportunities to the right candidates. If you wish to build your project management career, it’s important to take note of current recruitment trends, define your goals, and start your journey!