Whether you have trained specifically for a career in project management through a degree or Masters course at college or university or whether you have been one of the many “accidental” projects managers who happened upon this career path by chance there are plenty of opportunities to develop in the project management world right up to Director level.
With so many major organisations working in a project focused way, project management is increasingly a career of choice rather than chance with entry level jobs such as Assistant Project Manager or Project Assistant, through to working on more complex projects and then onto programmes and portfolio management.
But what do all these stages in a career development entail?
Assistant Project Management Roles
Assistant Project Managers are in effect what we might once have called Junior PMs and might either have worked their way up from a more administrative role in project management or be straight out of university with a relevant degree. They would typically be working under a more senior mentor, assisting in the management of large projects or be assigned simple, non-complex projects of their own but would be expected to have good project management knowledge already, even if not much real-world experience in the role.
Depending on their existing qualification this might be the time to start gaining professional PM accreditation and indeed many organisations are keen to train staff as it ensures they are trained in their preferred methodology using any internal project management framework if applicable.
This role involves full ownership of a project from initiation right through to completion and whilst many companies will offer a supporting network this is the first time you will be going it alone. Some organisations may not specifically use the title Project Manager but if you have full responsibility for a project from start to finish, whether your title is actually project manager or a variation of Project Leader, Implementation Manager or similar then you have that project manager’s role.
This role involves ultimate responsibility to deliver a project on time and on budget and, of course, delivering what the client wants. You will plan the project, ensure it is well-executed and all the while monitoring and controlling tasks and schedules. Unlike other management roles it is concerned with change; delivering some new cutting edge technology or a completely new business process for instance, so your experience needs to be about implementing change rather than managing day to day business activities.
Typical responsibilities of a project manager include:
- Establishing, monitoring and controlling a schedule
- Establishing, monitoring and controlling a budget
- Stakeholder management
- Team management
- Scope management
- Risk Management
- Change Management
Senior Project Management
Once you have proved yourself capable of delivering successful projects and have built up experience in the wide range of skills required for a project manager there are opportunities to progress to a senior management role. Usually meaning responsibility for more important, higher profile projects, more complex projects or simply larger, longer projects with larger or multiple teams, perhaps in different location across the world.
This senior management role includes all the responsibilities of a project manager with added levels of complexity. You would be expected to have evidence of continuing professional development (CPD) and to be an advocate for project management best practises and a formal approach to PM.
You will have developed not only your PM skills but also people skills for dealing with larger teams and also the more demanding clients of the bigger budget projects.
Without necessarily being given the title of programme manager you are also likely to be involved in programmes of projects and the additional responsibilities that entails such as managing inter-dependencies and balancing resources.
Those who have achieved a senior project management role often decide they have the skills and experience to strike it out alone and establish themselves as a PM Consultant. At this stage in a career you are likely to have the network of contacts needed to succeed as a an independent consultant but bring to the table an un-biased view of complex projects that may not be available to an internal staff member so this role is highly valued by many organisations.
However, experience in a particular industry is usually expected so that right from the start you are bringing an understanding of the business to the project in addition to specific PM skills. If you are considering independent consultancy it is best for those who wish to remain in the same industry rather than branching out, which, is course, possible but probably better done within an organisation where you can develop your business skills and knowledge as part of an internal team.
Programmes and Portfolios
A Programme Manager is essentially a project manager who has the skills and experience to manage multiple concurrent projects. Indeed many “project managers” are already doing this just without the title but it does require a high level of experience and a good track record of successful project delivery. As it involves a skill set above and beyond just business understanding this is the role that would enable a switch of industries most easily if that is where you see your career path developing.
In addition to a successful track record of delivery it is especially important at the senior level of programme manager that you have gained the highest levels of professional project management qualifications.
At an even higher level of responsibility for ensuring both projects and programmes are delivered successfully across an organisation and deliver real business benefits is the Portfolio Manager role. This is one of the most senior levels that can be achieved through the PM career path. It would be from this level that it is possible to strike out into non project senior roles such as board level positions if that is where you are aiming for. Just remember PM is an interesting and challenging role with constant variation so think carefully before you leave it all behind.
If you are fortunate and work for the right sort of large organisation you may find that there is a Project Director role and you can satisfy you career ambitions yet still remain involved with the exciting world of projects!