Unlike many professional roles that require a certain qualification, project managers come from many different disciplines. This versatility is one of its strengths but, for a project manager looking for the next step in their career, it can be hard to figure out what kind of professional development is actually useful. Acquiring the following skills, knowledge and experience can certainly work in your favour.
1. Attain a project management qualification
While general awareness of ‘project manager’ as an occupation has risen over the past decade, it is rarely the case that a high school student aspires to be one in the same way as they pitch themselves at other more defined careers: from doctor and lawyer to engineer, journalist or even actor. It is therefore common for project managers to find their career path in the discipline through complementary roles, especially outside the ‘traditional’ industries of construction and engineering, IT and defence.
If you find you have an aptitude for project management but have graduated from another area, consider a project management qualification, from an entry-level Certificate IV to postgraduate certifications including a Graduate Diploma in Project Management. A dedicated project management qualification will increase your chances of being considered for project roles.
2. Make connections
You may have heard the saying ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’. The truth is, it’s both what you know and who knows that you know it. In addition to being able to do the job, you need to develop a network of contacts that can vouch for your abilities and attitude, so the all-important word-of-mouth can sustain your career.
These connections are not just to secure roles, however. As project work is finite by nature, connections become the de facto colleagues you tote from project to project. And when you’re in charge of hiring people for your team you can tap your network for suitable candidates.
3. Join an industry association
Becoming a member of an industry association, whether that’s for the sector in which you specialise, or for project management as a professional discipline – for example the Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM) or the Project Management Institute (PMI) – indicates that you are serious about both professional development and development of the profession.
Professional development is not just a matter of doing an activity once and then hoping the effects last the breadth of your career. You need to show that you consistently and continually apply lessons and thus progress; industry associations not only give you the opportunity to do that through a program of events and educational opportunities such as talks, seminars and conferences, they also keep track of your commitment.
4. Consider mentorship
Mentorship – either becoming a mentor or a protege – can be an invaluable source of career progression. As a mentor you can foster emerging project managers and feel a sense of achievement when they reach their career goals; as a protege you can fast-track career lessons learnt from an experienced hand.
In both positions, the relationship offers benefits such as new perspectives on professional development, lived case studies and a strong collegiate bond. And as a career move it shows your dedication – and your willingness to invest time in it.
5. Actively participate in the project management community
Because of the periodic nature of project work, maintaining your profile and reputation is important to consistently attain roles. You can develop a professional brand through your contribution to the project management community, from simple activities such as participating in forum discussions or volunteering your project services, to more polished contributions, for example as a thought leader who writes papers and/or speaks at conferences.
6. Keep your CV up to date
Whether you use a traditional CV or a career-focused platform such as LinkedIn, it’s a good idea to keep it current in case an opportunity arises that requires an immediate snapshot of your abilities and experience. List your most recent and/or most relevant projects and provide a role description that mentions both your responsibilities and your achievements. Many career breaks come from being highly responsive in a timely manner, so make sure you’re ready.
Once you’ve chosen project management as a career path, you can turn your hand at projects in many different industries. Encourage professional growth by building a foundation of skills, knowledge and experience that you can then upgrade throughout your career to keep your abilities in demand.