How do I become a Project Manager?
This is a question I get asked all the time, and why I love answering it so much is because I love my career and want to share my passion and enthusiasm with everyone! When someone asks how do I become a project manager, I jump at the chance to reply. I have been in this career for 30+ years and it was one of the smartest decisions I ever made. I truly love it, and love the profession of project management.
This question comes up repeatedly on Social Media
Here is a screenshot from one of the Facebook project manager groups I am in, and I took a screenshot of my response. I will go into details of this response in the article below, but trust me, I get asked this question hundreds of times, and never tire of answering it. You can come join me in my PMO and PM Facebook group and you never know, maybe I will respond to you directly! Ha-ha, of course I will. Join us here: PMO & Project Management – Tips and Best Practices Group.
Pretty cool right? Yeah, I jump at the chance to reply because so many people have this same question and I love answering it.
Ok, let’s keep going, I love covering this topic..
Art & Science of Project Management
One reason I love this career so much is because it is a people’s business. Art and science are so important for you to master and be successful at, it actually gets me super excited about sharing this information. Wait, have you not heard of the art and science of project management? Oh, ok, well we need to fix that right now! Kidding, of course, but really, you need to take this topic seriously if you are thinking about becoming a project manager. It can make or break you in this role! It is some of the very important factors that help you become a successful project manager. If you Google “the art and science of project management” you get a ton of results. Check them out here. Spend time and read those articles today. Why? Because to be successful in project management, you must balance both skill sets throughout your career. Let me go over each of them now to ensure you are aligned.
- Art – Communications, relationships, influence without authority
- Science – Risk log, Issue log, Project Schedule, Budget spreadsheet
Great project managers balance both, and when you focus too much on one or the other, you will suffer in this role. In my role as PMO Director/Manager, I have had project managers that focus on both, some focus on one, some focus on another, and when they don’t balance the two skill sets successfully, they struggle. I cannot stress this enough. If you want to become a skilled project manager, then understand these two worlds very well, and balance both of them for any chance of long-term success in this role.
Let’s keep going in this concept of project management being a people’s business.
Project management is a people-oriented business
One of the most critical skills a Project Manager must have is understanding people. As you might imagine, project managers work with a lot of different people. No matter what your role may be, it’s important to have strong communication and interpersonal skills. A PM must have excellent written and verbal communication skills. This includes speaking to clients about the project and being able to delegate tasks to team members. If you cannot communicate effectively all requirements of the project, or ask for resources from other departments in your company, this will make life difficult for both you and those on your team. I have actually written two books on project communications that are very popular and not only used in Fortune 500 companies all over the world; they use it in schools as part of their project management programs. Check out my Project Management Communication Tools book here on Amazon and be sure to grab a copy. You won’t regret it.
There is a saying in the project management field that “90% of a project manager’s job is about project communications” so let’s keep focusing on that for a bit because I think it is so important.
Excellent communication skills are the foundation of project management success
Some of the most important characteristics of a good project manager are their ability to communicate and motivate. Some of these qualities include:
- Clear communication – You must be able to communicate well in order to succeed in project management. Effective communication involves being clear, concise and direct in your dealings with all of your stakeholders. If you can’t communicate effectively, you’ll lose the support you need from key stakeholders, including your team members and executive sponsors.
- Frequent communication – Good PMs know that it’s not enough to just tell everyone what they want them to hear. They are talking all the time to their teams and other key stakeholders and keeping everyone engaged in both high-level goals and daily progress towards the project’s goals is essential for keeping projects on track.
- Honest communication – Keeping your team engaged requires a certain amount of transparency: if something goes wrong, don’t hide it from them—they’ll find out anyway! Be honest about progress or status updates so people can manage appropriately their expectations, even when it means sharing bad news about roadblocks or delays that have occurred along the way.
- Effective communication – Project Communications isn’t just about what you say; it’s also about how you say it and who says it; who delivers the message? Different people have different styles of communication (verbal vs written), presentation styles (public speaking vs one-on-one meetings) and preferred mediums (video calls vs emails). As a PM, try to understand each person’s preferences when communicating with them so that they get the most value out of your interactions. I talk about this all the time, when I explain there are text people and there are graphics’ people. Some people prefer one or the other and if you communicate to them incorrectly or not understanding their preferences, your materials might not land as well as they could if you choose a different method.
I could go on all day around the importance of project communications and, like I said, I wrote two books on the topic because of how strongly I believe project communications are critical to the success of this project manager role.
Let’s go into other best practices and ideas now about how I think you can become a project manager.
To become a project manager, there are many paths you can take. In my case, 30+ years ago, I was a business analyst who asked one day if I could manage the project I was working on. My manager said yes, and the rest is history. But, I think that my path and your path will be different, so let’s dive into that now. Let’s explore the different paths you can take to become a project manager.
Path to Project Manager
When you think about how PMI® defines the path to project management, it typically looks something like below. It is not perfect, but directionally correct, and one I have seen happen for individuals over the last 30+ years I have been in the industry.
Project Coordinator to Project Manager
In this example, you start as a Business Analyst and keep taking on more responsibilities on the project where you are working. In doing so, you keep increasing your project’s responsibilities and you gain the experience and background you need to manage the projects yourself. I have done this for several individuals in the PMOs I have run over the years. By the end of this process, you eventually become a project manager.
Path # 2 – Accidental Project Manager Path
Accidental Project Manager
In path number two “Accidental Project Manager”, in this one step you are assigned instantly as the project manager! Here, we call you the “accidental” project manager because you don’t have the backgrounds or skills necessary to be the project manager, but you get assigned anyway and need to figure it out. This is not a fun position to be in, but this happens daily, and sadly, not stopping anytime soon. I saw this a lot at one of the Fortune 500 companies I worked at where they never really valued project management, and would randomly assign anyone they could find the project manager role. Those individuals usually struggled to be successful because they were not setup from the very beginning and would get very frustrated. So much so, they would leave that role immediately because they knew they were not going to be successful. I saw a lot of people leave the organization due to these random management decisions, which is sad, because we lost good people, and it could have all been avoided if they would have just selected a project manager to run the effort.
Path #3 – Project Coordinator to Project Manager Path
Project Coordinator to Project Manager
In this third path, this is where you are acting as a project coordinator, usually working alongside a project manager and he or she believes you are ready now to take on a project yourself. This is another path I have seen happen lots over my career and I encourage in my PMOs. As project coordinator, you get hands-on project experience, and you are aiding a project manager with small but important project tasks that he/she is trusting you to handle for the project. You are an active member of the team and gaining valuable hands-on project management experience. Here, you make the one step jump and become the project manager.
This path is becoming more and more popular these days as the project manager’s role keep expanding and more and more companies are increasing, adding more work to their plates.
Ok, we covered three of the most common paths for you to become a project manager. Let’s keep look at some other ways and best practices for you to follow to become a project manager.
How do I get into the PM role?
As discussed earlier, you can see there are many paths to becoming a project manager, but how do you start? How do you find that ultimate project manager role, especially without experience?
Well, I would like to look at some of the advice that I gave on Social Media that I believe should be covered in detail here as well. Earlier, I noted the following ways to get into the role of Project Manager. These included:
- Volunteer at Nonprofit Agencies
- Watch YouTube Videos on project management
- Scour LinkedIn, Glassdoor, and other job sites for the project manager’s job description
- Hire a coach or mentor for support
Let’s spend some time and look at each of those areas.
Volunteer at Nonprofit Agencies
One of the best ways to get some experience is to volunteer at agencies or companies that are always looking for help and support. Open the yellow pages, crack open Google/Bing and start searching for nonprofits in your local area. Once you find some nonprofit companies, reach out, tell them you are new in the project management field, and want to work “for free” on some of their projects. When they accept, work on their projects, help anywhere you can, and make sure you document exactly what you have done for that project. Create a little table like below to document your volunteer experience.
Document Volunteer Experience – Example
Fill in this table for all of your project experiences and track all your work experience. As a PMO Director/Manager and I see this experience documented at non-profits, I will be very impressed and it will show me you are dedicated to learning this skill set. The fact you have done this on top of working for free will be amazing. That will be super impressive and will open doors for you to get into this field. As someone who has hired project managers for over 20+ years, trust me when I say this, it will make a difference for you to get a break into this role.
The other impressive aspect of this work you are doing is that you are getting experience in the role of project manager and you are learning for free whether you like this role. You might actually do this work for a bit and hate it (Trust me, project management is not for everyone!) and without spending too much time or energy, you could go on and try something else. Please stay at the Nonprofit and finish the project you committed too, but you see where I am going here, right? You lost little time and effort and didn’t make a huge career mistake.
Watch YouTube Videos on Project Management
Along those same lines of hating or loving the project manager role, you have to do your research on what you could be getting into as a project manager. Especially if you are brand new and trying to understand what does a project manager do every day. Spend the time and watch YouTube videos on project management. My site Dow Publishing LLC is a great starting point, but of course there are tons of other project management channels on YouTube, some good, some bad, but spend the time and watch those videos. In those videos, you will learn firsthand what project managers do and knowing this information before spending a ton of time and energy for a role you might not like is so valuable. Of course, there is nothing like being on a project and gaining that on-the-job experience, but watching and learning is critically important as well.
Scour LinkedIn, Glassdoor, and other job sites for the project manager’s job description
Nobody thinks about this idea. I am always looking at Project Manager and PMO Manager/Director jobs. I mean always, and that’s not because I am looking and searching for my next role. No, not at all, it is because it helps me keep up with the industry needs. There is nothing better to understand a role and what a project manager needs to do than what they write in a job description. LinkedIn, Glassdoor, or any of the hundreds of job hunting sites out there will have plenty of project manager job descriptions for you to dive in and really understand this role. Most HR departments and recruiters are on top of current industry trends, and one way to stay on top of what is happening in project management is to read, I mean devour, those job descriptions. You are going to get the gist of the role and you will get to do some sole searching on whether this is the role for you. You might find that after reading several job descriptions, you don’t actually want to become a project manager, that’s ok, at least you are making an informed decision. You did the research; you spent the time learning, and you are making the right decision for you! Nothing more important than that!
Hire a coach or mentor for support
Ok, my last piece of advice to anyone looking to get into the project manager role is to get a coach or a mentor to help you through this process. Yes, I offer a coaching program, but to be honest that is not why I am suggesting this, I am suggesting this because I have had a coach/mentor for the last 20+ years and I could not have gone as far as I have in my career without them. Yes, I said them, because it is over one. I won’t name them, but I can tell you I owe my career to having coaches and mentors. I have paid some, some have been free, but if you want to move your career forward, this is a strong recommendation and one you should consider seriously. I saw a statement on the internet a long time ago that read something like this that resonated with me to this very day.
There are two types of people that hire coaches:
- People who are at the top of their game and looking to go even higher.
- People who want to get to their top of their game and understand they can’t get there alone.
The question is, where are you? Are you just learning and want to take months and years to learn what I have learned, or you want to speed up the process and hire a coach to guide you down the path into the project management career? It really is your choice. If you are interested in learning more about my coaching, check it out here: Bill Dow’s Coaching and Mentoring Program. I also wrote and article on why Project Managers need coaches, and will point you to that link as well. Check it out here: Why you need a project management coach.
Your call, your decision, and it is your career!
That’s all I have for now. Hopefully, this was helpful, and you got the path to follow to start your career in project management. I wish you the best success and hopefully you will achieve everything possible in this amazing career.
What do you think?
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Bill Dow, PMP
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