The next generation of project managers

Deborah Singerman
February 7, 2018

A job for life is no longer a viable concept for today’s workforce. More common are short-term contracts, project work and job portfolios. Whatever their size and scope, however, projects need to be managed. Project management is a concept that industries want to know more about, and value. Disruption of different sectors brings broader goals than the traditional on-time and on-budget of disciplines such as construction and engineering.

Project managers’ range of hard and soft technical, administrative and personal skills can be applied to cover most bases of workplace engagement. Versatile and transferable, they are not tied to any one business, sector or profession, which in today’s flexible, fluid economy is hugely attractive.

So, whether starting out in the profession or a seasoned player refreshing or expanding your career, where are the most likely fruitful choices? A look at management, business, finance, human resources and education websites uncovered a consensus on the diverse sectors wanting a project manager’s skills, and why.

Industries wanting project management skills

With the Federal Government’s $200 billion investment in Australia’s defence capability, defence force demand for a range of technical trade and management skills in the naval shipbuilding industry will increase progressively in support of new offshore patrol vessels and frigates. There will be work to design, install, build, integrate and maintain our ships, submarines, aircraft, land vehicles, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, information technology (IT) and cyber security.

Urban renewal, precinct development and ongoing local and international infrastructure growth make it unlikely that demand for project managers on construction and civil engineering projects will diminish. With larger infrastructure projects, managing and reducing risk will be more important than ever.

Healthcare is also hiring project managers to oversee the building of new hospitals and of local and remote community medical facilities. For those also with an IT bent, there are digital opportunities with the continuing digitising of patient medical data from traditional paper-based records.

Smarter ways of working are meeting the demands within financial services for transformative change that stays within overall strategic plans while also keeping customers on side in what is a highly regulated and IT-oriented industry.

Project managers within law often work alongside solicitors, lawyers and other specialists to ensure the effective and certain delivery of legal services, including setting the budget for a piece of legal work and managing the ongoing work flow.
The pharmaceutical industry has also welcomed the communication skills of project managers to inform doctors and nurses about the administration of new systems and processes within this fast-growing industry.
Working within the IT industry is another area to consider as long as you constantly update your knowledge of the tools and techniques that help plan and execute an IT project.

Employment trends may also indicate where stronger project management may be needed in the future. For instance, advisory agency CareerHQ measured the career and industry interests of Year 11 and 12 students from a diverse range of New South Wales high schools. While ‘lawyer or solicitor’ was voted the most popular career option for students in 2017, more students were interested in becoming a barista than the total group interested in becoming a medical physicist, radiographer and robotics/mechatronics engineer.

Do not dismiss this possible pointer to faster growth in the managing of café and restaurant projects, both the physical outlet and systems for online food orders and then delivery. The FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) sector, which manages vast distribution networks with an eye on reducing operation costs, is already starting to look to relevant project manager skills.

Project management skills in demand

The bedrock of project management, organising, coordinating and managing a project from big picture planning through detailed completion, showing leadership, taking control, liaising with stakeholders, motivating the team and meeting the project objectives provides a steadying hand to the industries now working with project managers.

The project manager can help direct and manage company changes to systems or processes, containing them within a regulatory framework. They can work with management to relay their decisions to internal and external stakeholders.
The ability to understand team members’ strengths and weaknesses and allocate work and other resources to best suit work routines and personalities builds trust and keeps projects on schedule.

With so many – and varied – projects on the go across these industries, project managers’ contact with stakeholders and their ability to identify business expectations of the project gives the best hope that everyone will be measuring success in the same way. The corollary is that identifying and managing risk will also be ongoing, a problem-solving strength that is valued in project managers.

With the constant changes to systems and processes, having a plan is important but being able to adapt the plan and clarify and communicate changes to the project team is critical too. Successful project management in whatever industry depends on knowing how to get people to work together. That means not only managing and leading teams but also listening to them and to clients and other stakeholders and ensuring decisions are understood and acted on.

Nothing beats people skills and having these may well be the ultimate contribution project managers make to their traditional and now their non-traditional industry employers.

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Deborah Singerman
Deborah Singerman runs her own writing and editing consultancy. Her Twitter handle is @deborahsingerma.
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