How do I become a Project Manager?

One of the commonest questions I get asked at training and speaking events is “how do I get into project management?” or some variant.

It’s a tricky question, because all of the job ads for project managers expect, at the very least, some real experience.  The people who ask me often have a lot of good experience, but need to find a way to present it, or they have enjoyed a project role, but can’t find a way to create the trust they need, to get a bigger role.

So here is my checklist of ways to become a project manager.  You won’t need to do them all, but don’t anticipate getting lucky if you just do one or two.  Fortune favours the persistent.

Fifteen ways to hook a gig as a project manager

  1. seize opportunities – any opportunities.  Take any chance you can to get involved in a project and then look for a chance to take more responsibility
  2. At the end of every project, reflect on what you have learned
  3. Keep a notebook of useful things you learn – tips, ideas, tools, insights – and keep it with you
  4. Get training – not just in project management, but in any business, management, communications, or personal skills – make notes about what you really learn in your notebook.
  5. Get qualifications.  No amount of formal training and exams will make you a great PM, but they will do two things: they will stretch your thinking, and give you a badge that people will recognise
  6. Read insatiably.  Particularly useful are Project Management magazines, like the APM’s Project, or Project Manager Today, but these days, there is a mass of comment, information, ideas, and formal learning available on websites and blogs.
  7. Connect people together.  By linking people up, you become a valuable team member who is able to get problems solved.
  8. Don’t be a prima donna.  If there is a dull, simple task; take it on with the relish of a major challenge and do it remarkably well.  Get known as someone who can and will do anything to get things done.
  9. Talk to people and ask their opinions.  This will build your people skills and grow your store of ideas and knowledge.
  10. Observe what makes the best of the people you work with great, and what makes the worst so bad.  Model yourself accordingly.
  11. Be curious – investigate the environment you are working in and learn whatever you can.
  12. Review your CV.  A lot of what you have done has contributed to projects, so bring that aspect front and centre.
  13. Volunteer for teams, task forces and working groups at work and in your social life.
  14. Become an expert.  Get known as an expert in something, no matter how detailed.  Once people get in the habit of going to you for one thing, they will want your perspectives on other things.
  15. Focus on quality.  Present your work really well, so that it gets noticed for the right reasons.  People are like moths – we are attracted to the brightest flames.

Not Career Advice

You will notice that very little of this looks like mainstream career advice. That’s because I don’t have much of that to give.  In 1991, I changed my CV to add project management and my then boss (Hi Rob!) told me in no uncertain terms that what I was doing was, in no way, Project Management.  We negotiated, and I ended up with Project Control on my CV.  I’d be proud of that now that I realise how important control of a project really is.

Over the years, I learnt, but I never applied for a job as a project manager.  So how did I come to manage sizeable projects?

Luck, you could say.  I say persistence.

The “so what?”

If you want to be a project manager, stretch yourself in that direction and, since PMs need to be fully rounded individuals, stretch yourself in some other directions too!

The best of the bloggers to help stretch you:

This list is based only on those blogs I know and read regularly.  If I miss a good one, then it is probably because I am unaware of it.  So feel free to add your favourites to the comments section.

… and to round yourself out:

Here is another blog I write on general management issues, that may give you pause for thought or some new ideas.  The Management Pocketblog.



4 thoughts on “How do I become a Project Manager?

  1. Pingback: Fifteen Ways to Hook a Gig as a Project Manager

  2. catharinapin

    Thanks for that article, Mike, it really gave me a lot of ideas. In fact, I even saved it as a pdf to check the items on the list as I make them part of my learning routine. I already do some, but not all of them, and I would really like to take my career to that direction. Again, great, great article!

  3. Pingback: Project Management At Work » Blog Archive » Weekly project management news roundup: How to become a project manager; Responsibilities of a project manager; 20 things that every project manager should know, and other interesting posts

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