By Leanne Bateman
By the time we reach adulthood, we have already managed many projects in our lives, whether or not we called it project management. We have completed school projects, participated in musical or theatrical productions, played a season or more of a certain sport, and/or completed any number of endeavors that were temporary in nature and resulted in a unique product or service. That’s all a project actually is, though the purpose, complexity and level of effort vary from project to project.
Following this simple theme, we enter the professional working world that will define our effort between (roughly) 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. over several decades until we retire. For many of us, much of our professional work will consist of some level of project management, whether we are directly managing projects or overseeing those who do. The longer we work, the more projects we will encounter since projects are the building blocks of a company’s capability and achievement. For those of us who are naturally inclined toward the organizational aspect of project management, we will enjoy the many benefits of dedicating our time and effort to work on a team focused on delivering a new product or service for the greater good of our company. This is the reward in itself.
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For myself, I started my career in information technology. After a few years as an HR Information Systems (HRIS) Manager, I found that the work I most enjoyed was managing HRIS system implementations and other related technology projects, so I decided to focus solely on project management in the next phase of my career. That was several years ago, and I have not looked back.
If you find this is also true for you—that the work you most enjoy is managing or overseeing projects—then there are no rules that say you can’t become a full-time project manager. The best way to do this is to keep managing projects whenever you can, since experience is by far the most important asset in our skill set. You can volunteer for projects at work while approaching your home projects in the same way, since all projects (professional or personal), require a phased approach of initiating, planning, executing, controlling and closing. Both the hard skills and soft skills required in project management get sharper with each project, as long as we continue to focus on continuous improvement of these skills and learn from past lessons. Also, the variety of projects we manage only serves to sharpen our project management skills more while also keeping us interested and learning. At least, this has been true for me.
In addition to gaining experience, I would also recommend the following steps to transition from managing projects to a career (or next phase of your career) in project management:
- Read the job postings for a Jr. Project Manager, Project Manager, Sr. Project Manager, PMO Lead, PMO Director and VP of Project Management. These job postings will give you insight into the daily responsibilities and qualifications of project management professionals. This is also a common professional path, though many professionals work as a Project Manager for their entire careers.
- Take a class! If you don’t yet have formal training in project management, it is definitely a good idea so you can fully understand and apply project management principles wherever appropriate. Check out Brandeis’s graduate program in Project & Program Management—you don’t need previous project management experience to take a course at Brandeis, just a bachelor’s degree.
- If you have a good amount of experience in managing projects, consider professional certification. The Project Management Institute (PMI) is the global governing authority in professional project management. They offer several levels of project management certification, including the industry standard Project Management Professional (PMP).
- Continue to hone your soft skills. The skill of communication in particular—verbal and written—is the most important and most commonly used skill in project management. Other soft skills such as leadership, team building, influence, negotiation, and emotional intelligence are critical, and there are endless opportunities to strengthen these skills daily in our personal and professional lives.
- Learn, learn, learn! As project managers we never stop learning.
I recommend the steps above because those are exactly what I did. And because my 9-to-5 time is valuable to me, I want to be sure to spend it doing what I most enjoy and what best utilizes and continues to develop my interests, skills and expertise. Transitioning to a career in project management is not for everyone, but it certainly was the best career move I ever made.
Leanne Bateman, MA, PMP, CSM, Six Sigma Green Belt, CIP is the program chair of the Project and Program Management program at Brandeis University Graduate Professional Studies, and the Principal Consultant with Beacon Strategy Group, a Boston-based management firm specializing in project management services. Leanne has 20+ years of project management experience across the areas of health care, biotech/pharmaceuticals, information technology, high-tech manufacturing, human resources, construction, housing/real estate, government, and higher education.
Faces of GPS is an occasional series that profiles Brandeis University Graduate Professional Studies students, faculty and staff. Find more Faces of GPS stories here.