How do you like your Project Manager job? Warning: It’s a trick question, so think about your answer carefully.
“Fine,” you say.
“But I do like my job as a project manager,” you protest. “I’m able to work with a lot of great people, the work is challenging, and I feel as if I’m making a difference in what I do.”
Great…but it’s still the wrong answer. Or, rather, the wrong viewpoint of being a project manager. You need to realize that being a project manager is more than just a job, it’s a career. This may sound a bit cliché, but consider the difference between a career and a job and why a project manager position falls into the category of a career.
The Difference Between a Career and a Job
There is a number of differentiating factors between a job and a career. A job is something you do to simply earn money. It’s not something you necessarily love or are passionate about, but is certainly a means to an end. A job is something that may or may not have an impact on your future work life. A job may not have a lot of networking opportunities. And finally, when you work at a job you may find yourself doing just the minimal amount necessary so as to not annoy the boss or get on someone’s radar.
A career is different. A career is a series of interconnected employment opportunities where one position propels you forward to your next position. A career allows you to build upon every experience and learning opportunity to fuel your future growth. Networking opportunities abound when you have a career. Plus, don’t even think about doing just enough to get by in a career. It’s in your best interest to go the extra mile, spend the extra time, and exemplify initiative in your position. This is how you move forward in a career.
So, let me ask the question again. How do you like your Project Manager job? “Correction,” you say. “I LOVE my project manager CAREER”.
Why Project Management Can Be Considered a Career
There are a number of reasons why Project Management can be considered a career and not just a job. The following are a few:
A clear path to follow
You can start off as a Project Coordinator and assist a Project Manager in coordinating activities, resources, equipment, and information. Then, you could move into a Project Management Specialist role that focuses on a specific aspect of a Project such as scheduling, cost, or risk management.The next step is to become a Project Manager of which there are entry level positions up to senior roles. Program Manager is the next step in the career path which could lead to Portfolio Manager. The further along the career path you go, you focus less and less on execution and implementation and more and more on strategy and organizational alignment.
The next step is to become a Project Manager of which there are entry level positions up to senior roles. Program Manager is the next step in the career path which could lead to Portfolio Manager. The further along the career path you go, you focus less and less on execution and implementation and more and more on strategy and organizational alignment.
Not interested in the path laid out above? Take a different road, then. You could find yourself taking a left or a right turn along the way and becoming a Project Management Educator or Trainer. Or, maybe you go down the path of becoming a Functional Manager in a specific department within your company and avail yourself to the different doors and opportunity that this would open up.
There are Executive options as well if you choose to go down the path of setting up a Project or Program Management Office. Director or VP Level positions in this capacity are good stepping stones toward CIO or even CEO responsibilities.
An abundance of certifications
Another aspect of having a professional career is that there are certifications that can be earned along the way. This certainly holds true when it comes to project management positions. There’s the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM), the Project Management Professional (PMP), the Program Management Professional (PgMP), the Agile Certified Practitioner (ACP), the Risk Management Professional (RMP), and the PMI Scheduling Professional (SP). And that’s just what the Project Management Institute (PMI) has to offer.
Then there is Six Sigma Green Belt and Black Belt certification, ITIL v3 certification, Lean Enterprise certification, Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) and a host of other certifications and credentials that would result in your name taking up to two lines if you listed all of them!
Each experience builds upon itself
One aspect of a career is that each opportunity YOU experience builds upon itself and helps you with the next experience. This certainly holds true for project management. In fact, one of the closing activities in project management is to compile a document called “Lessons Learned”.
The purpose of this document is to elicit from stakeholders on the project team what went right, what went wrong, what worked well and what could have been done better. These invaluable lessons are then internalized, implemented, and applied to the next project. Think about how much experience you gain after ten, twenty, fifty, one hundred, or any countless number of projects over your career as a project manager!
Maximizing Your Project Manager Career
Once you view your project manager job for what it really is (a career) then there are certain things you can do to maximize earning potential. For example, at a minimum make sure to earn at least one certification related to where you are on the project manager career path. Then, make sure you not only maintain this certification but also obtain other certifications as your career changes over the years.
Another thing you can do to maximize your earning potential along the way is to become a very serious networker. It’s been said time and again “it’s not what you know, but who you know.” This same principle holds true for project managers as well. Certainly, we all need to know what we are doing, but, in order to apply what we know, we need to know people who can help us use this knowledge and experience. Use networking opportunities as a way to look for how you can help others out first. Maybe they need help in a job search or putting a resume together, or advice on how to complete a particularly painful project. If you approach networking from the angle of how can you help someone, rather than what can they do for you, you’ll find yourself pleasantly surprised that the favor will be returned down the road.
Something else to keep in mind as you build your career as a project manager is not to necessarily get pigeonholed into doing just one kind of project. For example, you may become great at managing IT projects, but that’s all anyone thinks you may be able to do. Stretch your project manager muscles and work on different types of projects. Do a project for Marketing, or Finance, or a project that a Client is paying to get done. This will allow you to diversify your portfolio of experience and glean even more lessons learned that can be applied across future projects.
The next time someone asks you how you like your Project Manager Job, you should be able to recall some of the points above to let them know you LOVE your project manager CAREER. Keeping this perspective will differentiate you from other project managers who do view their position as a job and ultimately increase your earning potential.