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How to Become a Project Manager

Posted: Sat 13 Apr 2013 8:58 am
by dhaughey
How to become a project manager is the most frequently asked question on these forums. First, there is no easy answer or formula to becoming a project manager. However, there are some actions you can take that will help you in your pursuit of a career in project management.


The dilemma most aspiring project managers have, is their lack of experience, and frankly, who is going to employ somebody to run their project who has little or no experience. But don't despair, there are roles to help aspiring project managers build their experience and skill set. Working in a Project Management Office (PMO) or as a Project Coordinator can give valuable insight. Look for opportunities to work alongside experienced project managers and carefully watch how they work.


People often ask whether gaining a project management certification will help? In short, yes. Any employer is going to want to know you understand the tools and techniques needed to run successful projects. Gaining a PM certification shows you are serious about joining the profession and can complete a rigorous programme of study. Often these certifications can open doors and help you get a few steps further up the ladder to your goal.


Much is written about the skills needed to become a project manager. I won't list them here, but you should identify the skills needed and match them to, those you have, those you need, and those you need to improve. Project management involves a lot of soft skills, so don't just look at those in the syllabus' of project management certifications. I recommend you take some time to read David Litten's, eight skills needed on the path to project management.


Being a Project Manager is an immensely rewarding job. However, you should not underestimate the complexity and difficulty of the role. It needs a range of skills in many business areas. It will see you put under pressure by customers, suppliers and other stakeholders so that you will need a good deal of tact, diplomacy and resilience. But don't let this put you off, it's well worth pursuing if it's your dream.

Re: How to Become a Project Manager

Posted: Sun 14 Apr 2013 1:06 am
by begeland
Nice post Duncan. It is interesting how things have changed. When I left switched from being a developer to the project management track, there wasn't that much formal project management structure in most organizations. You often became a project manager out of choice or force - usually the later. But that was 20+ years ago. Now most have to make a conscience decisions to go the PM route and you're right - experience counts a lot. Certification will help, but you can't get certification without experience so you must start somewhere. Taking control of your career and seeking positions that give you some 'PM' type opportunities to plug into your resume is definitely a way to go. Volunteer for those PM type roles that will look good on paper and hope you get shoe-horned into a PM role when it becomes available. You will have to do this within your own organization because no outside company is usually going to hire a PM with no experience. Make your desire known to your management and explain why you fit the position and deserve the opportunity to show them. It's all about desire.

Re: How to Become a Project Manager

Posted: Thu 18 Apr 2013 12:28 pm
by kwalford
....It needs a range of skills in many business areas.

I feel a PM needs to be very well rounded in their skill sets. You will encounter various situations that will require a whole host of different skills & experience (i.e. IT skills, finance processes, people skills etc).

Re: How to Become a Project Manager

Posted: Fri 19 Apr 2013 2:14 am
by begeland
I can't agree with you more. It would be nice if one strong area would make it all work, but in reality it really helps if the project manager is a 'jack of all trades.' Financial management experience, resource manager, technical background (really for IT projects, but it will be helpful in general due to technology being an aspect of nearly every project to some degree), technical writer, negotiator, etc. etc. The lists goes on. Once you've managed projects for a few years it's amazing to look back and consider all the different skills you've used and some new ones you've acquired along the way.

Re: How to Become a Project Manager

Posted: Thu 25 Apr 2013 1:22 pm
by rattanw
I guess there is no simple answer to this question. A PM's role is largely fluid, depending as much on the organization project management maturity level as well as on the Industry and type of projects that s/he is responsible for.

While the knowledge of PM concepts is gained through the books, nothing can replace or match the knowledge gained through real handling of projects. Real exposure in dealing with projects of varying size and complexity can teach what the best coaching institutes cannot, i.e. how to survive and adapt. These last two words hold the key, Survive and Adapt. As a project manager, one may have all the current knowledge and skills to work the projects, yet due to the ever changing dynamics of the way businesses are being run and new, innovative concepts are taking shape, there is an ever constant need for the Project manager to adapt to newer ways to simply survive.

Re: How to Become a Project Manager

Posted: Mon 29 Apr 2013 7:27 am
by aamanyire
Nice article, you couldn't say it better.

Re: How to Become a Project Manager

Posted: Mon 27 May 2013 12:52 pm
by dhaughey
Advanced notice of my new article being published in June exploring alternative ways of entering the project management profession and ultimately becoming a project manager.

There are many articles written on the subject that explore the need for experience, certification and skills. In this article I'm going to look at the problem from a new angle.

A link will be added to this topic.


Re: How to Become a Project Manager

Posted: Sat 01 Jun 2013 1:33 pm
by dhaughey
New article: How to Become an Accidental Project Manager

Many people have fallen into project management to fill a gap and found themselves a career. Here's how to exploit any opportunities that may exist in your organisation. ... nager.html


Re: How to Become a Project Manager

Posted: Mon 03 Jun 2013 5:19 pm
by kwalford
Hi Duncan,

I like the new article.

Regarding the below point,

Prepare an elevator speech to convince any executive that you know how to manage projects.

Could you sum up what specifcs you would include? I am thinking along the lines of a quick comment on the below:

- Project Life Cycle
- Customers (quality) expectations for the project deliverable
- Proactively Managing Risk(s)
- Handling Project Issues
- Project Characteristics (temporary, start/end date, deliverable orientated)

A elevator speech should be very quick; so I am thinking a very quick comment on each of the above.

Re: How to Become a Project Manager

Posted: Tue 04 Jun 2013 8:35 am
by dhaughey
Hi Kit,

What you need to do is convince the executive you are the person for their project. Being an 'elevator speech' you need to get this into a few sentences. Usually these people are very busy, so time is a premium to them. You need a few well-chosen words to tip the scales in your favour.

In a recent conversation with a senior executive it was clear he didn't understand the stages of a project or how to kick-off. I spent 10 minutes taking him through this. Once he had the basic roadmap in his head he was happy and we got started.

It's useful to identify the major worries the executive has and address these. Is he or she concerned about keeping within a tight budget, delivering on time, quality of the product, or something else?

To address your points:
  • Project life cycle definitely, it's easy to assume people understand this when often they don't.
  • I've never come across an executive whose major concern was quality before the project started.
  • Risks and issues is certainly an area to touch upon. Concentrate on how you will identify and manage them, rather than the real risks and issues, which you probably haven't identified yet.
  • On your last point, concentrate on how you intend to kick-off the project and your next steps. Take control by saying something like, "I'm going to arrange a kick-off workshop right after this meeting". Be careful when taking control that the executive is in a place where you can close the deal.
The executive wants to know, or at least think, you are a safe pair of hands, and he or she can leave this project with you without having to worry it will fall apart.

Make sense?