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How to Launch Your Project Management Career

As early as 2008, a spike in demand for project management talent triggered a talent gap – one that, according to the Project Management Institute (PMI) has only outpaced current predictions. An increase in jobs that require project-oriented skills coupled with current professionals from the baby boomer generation retiring has left a widening gap; globalization has driven that deeper with exploding developing economies like China and India. By 2027, the PMI estimates 87.7 million project manager roles will be required, though the organization currently expects many roles will remain unfilled, leaving a potential loss of an estimated $207.9 billion GDP.

To launch a project management career, professionals typically begin in their desired field and then develop into project management. Florida Tech Adjunct Professor Wayne Brantley, a certified Project Management Professional (PMP®), advises professionals to first earn a degree in their desired field, and gain experience before becoming a project manager.

One key reason inexperienced professionals can struggle to get started in project management is just that – they are new not only to project management but to projects and the industry itself. Since project management requires leadership at a systems level, the transition can be tough. Even so, regardless of whether your background is on the technical or the leadership side – or if you don’t have a professional background at all yet – you can launch your project management career with these steps.

Grow Your Skills

Successful project managers possess multiple skills to see a project through from end to end, including:

  • The ability to set up an organizational system. While the project methodology an organization uses may differ, what doesn’t vary is the need for a project manager to be able to establish a system to track tasks and progress.
  • Highly detailed planning. Project managers need to establish and maintain schedules, budgets, and stakeholder updates, all of which will need to be fine-tuned throughout.
  • The ability to lead a meeting. Most project managers need to lead regular status meetings where they hone in on potential issues and understand the status of all the moving pieces.
  • Skilled communication. More than simply being able to communicate well, a project manager will need to communicate well with stakeholders, by managing expectations, collecting and understanding data and metrics, driving cross-functional planning meetings, and escalating issues.

Aspiring project managers should assess which areas they need to improve on, and then find ways to do so.

“Develop. It is like a recipe for a delicious cake,” Brantley suggests. “Get the education in project management and other key skills like leadership, process improvement, Agile and other skills.”

That development doesn’t have to wait until you’re in a project manager role – it’s likely that your current job requires some elements of project management, even if they don’t go by the same names. Practice honing those skills and determine what types of education are appropriate for your goals.

Find Volunteer Opportunities

Florida Tech Project Management Instructor Cyndi Dionisio suggests aspiring project managers without any professional experience find a volunteer opportunity to practice project management. And, this doesn’t have to be limited to your organization – it can be for a passion project outside as well. Also, keep in mind that volunteering doesn’t have to be formal – start taking steps to manage the project. This may be as simple as volunteering to take meeting notes or drafting a schedule or scope document.

Bruce Harpham, the author of Project Management Hacks, recommends starting small, with a project you can manage yourself, as opposed to one that involves a dozen different departments.

Network with Professional Associations

Florida Tech Project Management Instructor Carl Pritchard recommends professional networks to make connections. “Participate,” he says. “They add immense value if you dive right in.”

For example, the Project Management Institute (PMI) offers local chapters allowing professionals access to resources, training and reports as well as also a network of local project managers you can connect with and learn from. Joining social media networks, such as groups dedicated to project managers on LinkedIn, is another way to network with professionals in your area and around the globe. This article on TechRepublic lists seven LinkedIn groups project managers should join.

Find a Mentor

In addition to your new professional association, your own network can be a valuable resource for finding a mentor. Scour LinkedIn, share (as appropriate) your desired career change, and find out who you know that may be able to help you begin your career as a project manager. In seeking a mentor, remember that you are asking someone to give both their time and their knowledge. As a result, you should offer to support something they are already working on, instead of asking to observe work they are doing. While the support may be heavily task-oriented, it allows you to add value for your mentor in exchange for sharing his or her expertise.

Pursue Training and Education

After establishing an understanding both of the project management skills and where you need to grow, both from your own research and insight from those in your network and in mentor roles, you’re ready to obtain more formal training and education. While learning the methodologies is important, developing the core skills project managers require is equally important. A formal qualification or certification can also give you an advantage when you’re interviewing for positions.

If you’re just starting your career, earning a degree in your field of choice is a great place to start. If you are already experienced in your own profession and looking to bridge the gap between your industry and a project management career, a certificate could be the right choice for you.

In addition to honing your hard skills, don’t neglect soft skills like interpersonal communication, conflict resolution, and time management.

“Focus on the soft skills as much as the technical skills,” Dionisio says. “People do projects, software, reports and plans don’t.”

Are You a Good Fit For Project Management?

After exploring project management, it’s important also to ask yourself if you would enjoy doing the tasks required of project managers, and if you can, and want to, develop the soft skills that will drive those tasks.

Project management is both a challenging and rewarding career, as the full responsibility of a project’s success lies with the project manager. When asked what makes him passionate about project management, Pritchard responded, “Getting stuff done. That’s the true joy and essence of project management at its core.” If that pressure sounds like a thrill, you’re probably a great fit for project management.

The systems and processes implemented by projects will also continue to change and develop, so project managers need to be willing to continue to learn new things and adapt to changes in the organizational or greater business landscape.

Dionosio says, “It is never the same day twice. There is always something new to think about and new opportunities to learn.”

Do you have the skills and abilities it takes to become a project manager? If the answer is “yes” today, then you’re ready to launch your career in project management. If not, continue developing your skillset and honing your abilities within an industry you are passionate about. Project manager jobs will be available for skilled professionals – the growing market will almost certainly demand it.

Interested in learning more about the path to a career in project management?

Check out our infographic here!

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