Are you enthusiastic, able to lead a team, think on your feet, and don’t mind getting down and dirty with details? Then project management might just be the right career for you. EPM has received several emails asking this question recently, so here I’ll give my take on how to become a project manager.
The role of a project manager is to take a clearly defined piece of work and ensure it’s delivered on time, to the right quality level, and within budget. When you start a project you will create the plan, but the project will never run exactly to plan, so flexibility of approach is needed. You will have to deal with specialists, issues, suppliers, report to senior managers, and even handle customers.
It might seem obvious to you that the first step towards becoming a project manager is to get some formal qualifications such as PMP or Prince2, but this is not the approach I would advocate. Yes, qualifications are important but experience is even more important. If given the choice between formal qualification and experience, always lean towards experience. In fact, I would recommend a multi pronged approach if you really want to be a project manager, doing as many of the following as possible:
- Find a mentor. If there is a project manager within your organization, ask if they would be willing to take you under their experienced wing and mentor you. They may even be able to bring you into their organization temporarally to give you a taste of project management on a small scale.
- Volunteer – either at work or at a non-profit organization if work isn’t an option.
- If you are already working as a team member on a project, ask if you can discuss the project with the project manager. It can often be very insightful to understand the difference between your concerns and the project manager’s concerns, and most project managers I know would openly welcome having a soundboard to discuss their project with.
- Join your local PMI chapter. This will give you the opportunity to connect face to face with other project managers, and give you a great opportunity to network.
- Speak with your current boss if appropriate, and ask if they can assist you in moving towards a project management role.
- Read the best in field books (such as Fast Forward MBA in Project Management) and blogs about project management.
- Get some formal training, either PMI, Prince2 or another. These qualifications mean that when you turn up for a job interview the interviewer already knows you have the basics of project management under your belt, so they can focus on finding out how you would fit into the team, rather than asking you basic project management questions.
If I had to recommend one tip above all others it would be to get hands on experience. Even if it’s just project managing a kitchen refit in your own home, any experience no matter how small is better than no experience. Essentially, get your hands on any project you can to begin with. Once you have a few well managed projects under your belt, you can start to move up to bigger and brighter projects.
That’s it, my list of tips on how to become a project manager. If anyone thinks of any others please let me know and I’ll add them to the list.