How To Plan A Career As A Project Manager

Paul Naybour

One of the biggest mistakes that project managers make is that they do not plan their careers. They simply go with the flow and they do not plan their path. Does this sound familiar? If so, it is time to sit down and take a look at your career, determine where you want to go, and plot how you are going to get there. After all, if you have not experienced any improvements in earnings or your job in general, this could be why.

Whenever there is a career opportunity out there, you need to make sure that you are in the top five per cent of candidates. The best project managers do not get to the top by chance. They get to the top because they have planned effectively, and they have plotted their route to the top to perfection. So, read on to discover the key steps you need to follow when it comes to planning your career in project management.

It all starts with a plan

There is only one place to begin, and this is with putting a plan together. As a project manager, you should have plenty of experience putting plans together. However, rather than putting plans together for individual projects you now need to start putting plans together for yourself and your career. So don’t neglect your personal plans.

In order to form a plan, you are going to need to do some soul searching. In the upcoming sections, we will discuss different things that are going to have an impact on your plan. For example, understanding your strengths and weaknesses will help you to determine any areas that need improvement.

Nevertheless, before you can get to all of this, you need to figure out where you want to go and what you want to achieve. Think about the perfect job scenario for you. This could be branching out on your own or it could simply be progression within the firm you are currently working for. Your goal may be to handle a certain type of project or it could be to specialise in a certain field. We all have different goals so now is a good time to get in tune with what you truly want from your career.

project management job interview

Remember – you are in charge of your future

One mistake project managers make when it comes to career development is that they sit and wait around for the opportunities to come to them. This is not something that you can afford to do. You need to be the person that creates the opportunities. Many people leave their jobs because they are unhappy with the lack of training and development. This is understandable, but there is something you can do about it. Why not take training courses yourself? You are in charge of your destiny.

There plenty of programs and incentives out there that can help you to move forward and lead to greater opportunities in the future, whether within your current organisation or elsewhere. Of course, there are specific project management courses too, which are very helpful. Some people assume that project management training is just for those starting out but that could not be further from the truth. As we will discuss in the next section, project management is changing all of the time and new trends are constantly coming to the fore, and this is something you need to be prepared for. Regular training and development will make sure that this is the case. You can take training courses to gain PM qualifications recognised within your industry but also non-project courses aimed specifically at those in your industry. For example, there is no denying that cyber security is playing an increasingly important role in projects today, and so you may decide to take a data security training course so that you can hone your skills in this area. By investing in your skills and knowledge, you are putting yourself in an exceptional position to grab opportunities in the future.

Stay ‘in-the-know’

In addition to putting a career and development plan together, you need to make a dedicated effort to make sure that you always stay up-to-date with everything that is going on in the world of project management.  There are a number of different reasons why this is the case.

Firstly, it is because the landscape of project management is changing all of the time. If you do not stay up-to-date with the latest trends and everything that is going on in the industry, you are only going to get left behind, and this is going to make it impossible for you to be in the top five per cent of candidates when an opportunity arises.

This is why you need to subscribe to different news outlets and blogs and make an effort to know what is going on in the world of project management. You should also dedicate yourself to continual training so that you are always improving yourself and adding to your skillset. Another reason why you need to keep up-to-date with everything that is going on is that sometimes there are going to be external influences that can have an impact on your career. If you do not make yourself aware of current issues, there is the risk that you could leave it too late to take opportunities when they present themselves.

project manager skills

Understand your strengths and weaknesses

If you are to put an effective plan together for career development as a project manager, it is of the utmost importance that you understand your strengths and weaknesses. No one is the perfect project manager. We all have things that we could improve on. Knowing yourself and knowing what you are good, and less good, at is a vital skill to have.

Once you know the weaknesses you have, you will be able to plug these gaps. You will be able to do research and you will be able to broaden your knowledge in these areas so that it does not hold you back. This is key in moving your career forward. It can also help you in your day-to-day life as a project manager too. After all, when you know what you are good at, you know what tasks to handle yourself and what tasks should be delegated instead.

Figure out and take time to find a work-life balance

While we discuss your professional goals and all of the different steps you should be taking in regards to your career, it can be very easy to forget about your life outside of the workplace. However, having a good work/life balance is imperative. Not only is this important for your health but it can actually lead to better performance in the workplace too.

The key is to figure out what sort of balance is going to be right for you. Everyone is different after all. Once you have done this, you then need to put steps in place to ensure that you achieve and maintain this balance. After all, we all have the best intentions but if we have a project looming it can be easy for our home life to be forgotten about. You may even want to consider a career break to help you figure out how to achieve the type of work-life balance that suits you.

This may sound counter-intuitive, but plenty of people say that a career break is the best thing they ever did. It enabled them to view their work lives clearly by removing everyday pressures so that they could understand what was important to them in life and what they wanted from their careers. In some cases, people have also been able to increase their earnings by doing this. It is amazing what you can gain by taking a step back to evaluate the current situation.

better project manager

Look for ways to give something back

Another essential part of your project management plan and journey is to look for ways to give something back. There are so many different ways you can do this, for example, you could offer your skills voluntarily to a charity, join a group, or give a presentation to students or professional organisations. You may not understand why this is an important part of your career plan, so let us tell you. Giving something back shows that you are dedicated to the profession of project management and that you are a key part of the industry as a whole. You will start to be recognised as someone who is interested in representing this industry. This makes a huge difference in terms of the opportunities that are going to start to become available to you.

Build up your network

You also need to look for ways to build up your network. Careers are all about relationships. This is definitely the case when it comes to project management. There are a number of different benefits you are going to be able to gain if you have an effective project management network.

Firstly, by having a good network, this is more likely to result in greater and better opportunities. Often, people like to hire from within their network of people, so you never know what sort of doors this could open. Not only this but it is important to recognise that networks consist of two-way relationships. This means that you will have people who already know and trust you. Not only does this mean that you can get opportunities that will not be on the open job market, but it also means that you can call in favours and use your contacts to your advantage so that you can move forward in the industry.

Develop your people management skills

The final piece of the puzzle is to develop your people management skills. This is something that is linked to the other points we have mentioned here. It is also something that can be assessed in regards to your strengths and weaknesses so that you know what areas of people management you need to improve. After all, it is impossible to be a great project manager without a successful team behind you and building a successful team requires good people management skills.

There is no denying that project management is underpinned by people management because, no matter how high-tech a project, at the end of the day it is people who deliver projects. Not only do you need to manage your team, but you are going to be dealing with stakeholders and clients too, and so you need to manage their expectations. In addition, you also have suppliers to consider and maybe outsourced teams in different companies.

There are so many different types of people you need to interact with and so you need to make sure you have the capability to manage those relationships in an effective manner.

Some people believe that good leaders are simply born that way, or they are not; that the requisite skills are innate. This could not be further from the truth. You can train yourself to be a good leader. It does not matter whether you are shy or an introvert; everyone has the potential to enhance their people management skills so this is something you should focus on too.

So, there you have it: everything you need to know in order to plan your career in project management properly. There is no denying that the very best people in the industry get to the top because they have had a well put together plan and they have executed it properly. This is something that professionals can sometimes overlook, whatever industry they work in. After all, if you do not have a plan to get to the top, how do you expect to get there? Instead, start with the steps that have been described above, add in some more steps unique to your own circumstances and perhaps you can even exceed your project management goals.

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