3 Ways To Kick-Start Your Project Management Career
From healthcare to construction, project managers are needed in all industries and organizations for a simple reason: project managers are responsible for getting things done! Some project managers are answerable for numerous roles in a project whilst others delegate roles and tasks to other project members. The project manager then ensures the project progresses smoothly.
It’s often assumed if you’ve just recently finished formal education, you shouldn’t consider getting into a project management role as your first job. I disagree with this opinion.
Project Management is now an integral part of most positions across all industries from entry level right up to senior management. In fact, many educational courses now consider project work as part of the overall evaluation of a student. I do agree that if you are just joining the workforce you will typically be looking for entry-level positions like analyst and coordinator roles. These types of roles will give you exposure to the project environment and, at the same time, allow you to build up both your technical and organizational knowledge.
However, if you are jumping in at the deep end, here are some tips to stay afloat and kick-start a long, happy career in project management.
3 Ways To Kick-Start Your Project Management Career
1. Build Your Knowledge and Skillsets
As project managers plan and manage project work, you will need both soft and hard general management skills. Everyone has different aptitudes and some things may come more naturally to you, but with education, experience, and commitment, you can develop and improve all the skills needed for project management.
Soft skills are those skills you use to deal with people, sometimes called “people skills”. The assumption is often made that those with an extroverted personality have a natural strength in “people skills” as they like to communicate and build relationships with people. However, it is important not to confuse characteristics with skills. People may have an outgoing personality but without the correct knowledge and experience, their project management may be disastrous. Typically, accidental project managers or those new to the field need to spend more time developing their soft skills than project managers who have come from a people managing background. Having the correct combination of soft skills is essential for success.
Soft skills can include:
- Expectations management
- Conflict Management
Hard skills refer to technical elements of project management, and the tools and/or techniques for the delivery of requirements. Hard skills need to be learned. Like soft skills, some people may pick them up quickly or have an aptitude for them, especially those who are more analytically inclined.
Examples of hard skills are:
- Project charter
- Work breakdown structure (WBS)
- Project schedule
- Risk reports
- Earned value reports
- Resourcing reports
- Project budgets
Q1 Are you more comfortable leading the motivation of a team or delivering a project schedule for the team?
Q2 Do you enjoy negotiating with vendors regarding costs or creating a budget breakdown?
Q3 Are you more adept at delegating work and tasks or creating a resource management report?
If you answered the latter to the majority of these questions, you may need to spend some time on your soft skills.
2. Team Up with an Experienced Mentor
The Oxford Dictionary defines a mentor as “an experienced person in a company or educational institution who trains and counsels new employees or students”, “an experienced and trusted adviser”. Pairing up with a mentor can be a big help not only for your professional development but also that of the mentor, a win-win situation for both parties.
As mentee, you should devote some of your time to learning from the mentor. This can include completing agreed tasks to help you practice in certain areas and also to free up some of their time to educate you.
As mentor, they will spend time advising you on your current situation and on how to get to the situation you would like to be in. A good mentor will empower you to be better and there will be a high level of trust, honesty, and respect in the relationship. Confidentiality is key!
How to find a Good Project Management Mentor?
Look at your immediate network. Is there someone from your personal or professional network that is an experienced project manager from an area you would like to be in? If you haven’t worked with them before then talk to other people who have and see if they think they would be suitable.
Be sure to approach them at the correct time and in the right way. Discuss how this could benefit them as well and set expectations from both sides.
If you cannot find someone in your immediate network, look externally. Join local groups or meetups or simply join online groups and forums. There are multiple PM groups online and LinkedIn is always helpful as you can see the experience of the individual which can help you decide if they are a suitable person to approach.
How to be a Good Project Management Mentee?
Put yourself in the shoes of a mentor. You want to pass on your learnings and wisdom to the next generation of project managers but it is time-consuming and sometimes you are coerced into the situation. There are many things a mentee can do to help the situation get off to a good start. Be proactive and prepared.
As mentee, you are generally responsible for initiating and setting meetings and agendas with your mentor, unless otherwise outlined when you are setting expectations at the outset. The mentor is not responsible for the success of the mentee; you are in charge of your learning, progress and in the end, the results you achieve.
It is important to show interest in moving forward. Offer up your time to complete tasks and take on extra responsibilities. This will help you gain experience. Be very clear with what you want to achieve. Share progress updates regularly so when you achieve your goals or find progress has tapered off for either, you will know when to step away.
Q1 Do you have a good rapport with your mentor?
Q2 Is your mentor providing information, advice, and assistance in a way that empowers you?
Q3 Does your mentor work or manage a different team and set of deliverables than the ones you are also responsible for?
If you answered no to any of these questions, you may need to keep looking for your suitable project management mentor!
3. Finally, Jump In!
You’ve been working on building your knowledge and skillset and you’ve teamed up with an experienced mentor. Eventually, the time comes to “bite the bullet” and take on the leadership of a project. This project can be in your professional or personal situation.
Talk to your manager about project management opportunities within your organization. Do not expect to land a huge project immediately and I would advise not to look for one at the beginning. Start with a small project, ideally a project that has been completed before so you can look back at the documents and learnings from the previous project and also consult the relevant project manager.
Keep in touch with your project management mentor as you complete the project; they will no doubt be interested to hear how the project is progressing and may be able to assist.
If there’s nothing at work, maybe take on a project in your personal life such as a home improvement project or a family event. You’ll get to practice some of the skillsets you’ve been working on and build up your confidence that you can do it.
Gradually move from smaller projects to larger and more complicated ones with more variables and longer timelines. Over time, you will gain the experience needed to move into higher-paying project management positions.
Kick-starting your project management career can be daunting and very few are fully successful from the get-go. It is important to remember that with practice, things will become easier and project objectives that once seemed impossible will become attainable as you become more experienced. There are a lot of variables to deal with and a lot of skills and advice needed. No human is an island so once you are open to working on your skillsets, learning from others, and taking on challenges, you will continue to improve.