Whether you're a business or project analyst, project coordinator or some other type of project team member, making the transition to a project manager role is likely to be on your career agenda (the salary is excellent and demand is high). But although it's well worn, the path to becoming a PM can be a bit daunting and often different for everyone. Nevertheless, there are some tried-and-tested approaches you should consider.
Coffee picture from Shutterstock
Step 1: Begin with the end in mind
As Steven Covey notes in his world-renowned book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, beginning with the end in mind is a crucial step to realising your goals. For a career in project management this means being clear on what your objectives actually are rather than just jumping straight in:
- Is there are particularly industry, company or type of company you want to work for?
- Is there a particular project management methodology you want to specialise in?
- Are you more focused on finding interesting and more involved work or on increasing your earning potential? Or both?
Having an idea of where you want to end up now will help you realise which decision points and activities will help you get there, faster
Step 2: Coffee, coffee, coffee
And no, it's not because you'll be so exhausted that you'll need the caffeine. The cold, hard reality of the workplace is that people hire people that they like and that they know. Yes, there will be processes and assessment criteria in place, which you certainly can't ignore, but ultimately the person making the hiring decision is the one you want to connect with. So, knowing the right people might just help you get the right job — and if you and your objectives are well known to your network, they might just think of you when something comes up.
Even if no-one offers you a job, there is enormous value in leveraging the experiences and knowledge of a well-rounded network.
So get building. Networks don't have to be formal — they often start with friends, family or colleagues and grow from there. But be deliberate. Based on your objectives, try and identify the gaps in your network and who could fill them. Make contact with each of them using LinkedIn, email or a phone call.
Then meet them and shout a coffee. Discuss your objectives, ask their advice, how they got to where they are and what they think you should do to get where you want to go.
Step 3: Assess your current experience and identify any gaps
This is where the information you have gathered in steps 1 and 2 come into play. Based on your objectives, what are your experience and qualification gaps? What have people in your network done that you haven't and think you should? You can always ask these questions explicitly of people in your network:
- What experienced do your contacts have that you don't? Or what have they recommended? Would these experiences suit your objectives?
- Do you currently hold the right project management certifications for the industries you want to work in?
Step 4: Close the gaps
To close the gap you need to focus on one or two key areas . Firstly, get more experience: Take on new roles, secondments and side projects. Talk to your manager about stretch opportunities
Secondly, improve your qualifications. Most PMs have at least one type of project management qualification and most employers will expect you to have one too. Consider the following certifications:
- PRINCE2 — the most established certification
- Agile — the new and fast growing certification
- PMP — the certification for really experienced project managers
Step 5: More coffee(!)
Remember your network is the key, so keep working on it at every opportunity. Use your network to continue to test your objectives, understand your gaps and help close them.
Andrew Wayland has worked as a project manager for over 10 years, and currently provides project management training through Online Course Academy.