You’ve dealt with them for years in your current role, you’ve watched what they do, and you’ve thought to yourself that project managers seem to have it pretty good. They have a prominent role in most organizations, they earn a healthy share of the credit when a project goes well. What could be better?
To be sure, project management can be exciting and rewarding, but it can also be intense and demanding, and it’s not necessarily the right career choice for everyone. Not only that, the role of the project manager is also shifting. What was once a job for process-oriented people is now one that also demands people skills. Often, project managers are expected to serve as change managers to help foster a new direction or approach within an organization. If you’re wondering how to become a project manager, take a moment first to consider whether the role is a good fit for your skills and experience, and whether it’s likely to take you where you want to go.
Traits and Skills
No two project managers are exactly alike, of course, and different industries require different combinations of skills. Even so, there are certain personality traits and skills that correlate well with success in project management. If you have the characteristics listed below (or feel that you can pick them up), project management might be a promising career choice for you.
Natural leadership: Project managers need to be able to sit down at a table with a dozen or more people, each of whom has his or her own set of priorities, and bring everyone together to agree on key decisions and help execute initiatives to ensure their success. Confidence, poise, and people skills are must-haves for a successful PM.
A positive attitude: As a project manager, you set the tone for your projects. If you spend time assigning blame and getting into arguments over small details, your project team will follow your example and likely doom the entire project. On the other hand, if you point out your team’s successes and look for positive ways to settle disputes, the rest of the team will do the same.
Excellent communication skills: A skilled project manager knows how to deliver any message, whether it’s good news, bad news, deep technical information, or a high-level summary, depending on the audience and the demands of the day. Project managers must have excellent collaboration skills and not just within an organization. Many larger projects involve work with vendors where external collaboration is necessary. Also, teams are global and communications must span geographies and language barriers.
For a more detailed look at some of the skills that make project managers successful, be sure to check out “The 10 Most Important Project Management Skills.”
A Day in the Life
Many people, especially those who move into project management from other fields, find themselves unprepared for the array of seemingly unrelated tasks that make up a typical day in the life of a project manager. Here’s a quick look at some of the ways you can expect to spend your time.
Meetings: If you ask a typical PM “What does a project manager do?” he or she might simply say “Attend meetings.” Many project managers find that their entire day is consumed with meetings, either in-person, on the phone, or via online conferencing. These meetings can include working sessions with the project team, status updates for senior leadership, and check-in sessions with external partners, just to name a few.
Technical review: Depending on the industry and the project, a project manager may be ultimately responsible for the design of the final product, whether it’s a mobile app, a suspension bridge, or a marketing campaign. Even when project managers are not officially expected to weigh in on technical matters, they usually have an extensive background in their industry and find themselves pulled into design meetings or troubleshooting sessions.
Administrative details: When project team members have trouble accessing data, organizing their schedule, planning their travel, or getting their expenses paid, they often go to the project manager first. Successful project management requires a willingness to deal with these types of mundane issues on a daily basis.
Change management: One of the most important changes facing project managers is the expectation that the benefits promised in a project’s business case will be delivered during the project lifecycle. The project manager’s role has thus widened from managing the delivery of a project to ensuring the benefits of a project are realized. Having the skills to lead an initiative and foster its adoption across an organization is the new norm for today’s project managers.
Travel: Not every project management role requires travel, but many do, especially at critical points in a project’s timeline. If you don’t know how to pack efficiently and navigate your way through airports, rental car agencies and other hazards, you’ll pick those skills up soon enough.
Ready to learn more about project management as a profession? Check out “Inside a Project Manager’s Resume” for insights on preparing for a career move. For more information about Planview AdaptiveWork, check out our suite of industry-leading project management solutions for project managers, IT teams and marketing professionals.