Leading the team
Precisely what these areas entail varies across the spectrum of roles, from the project coordinator, who has mostly administrative responsibilities, to the program manager, who may manage a hierarchy of contributors and leaders with hundreds of people or more. Regardless of any additional responsibilities, though, the following three areas are required: understanding your project, establishing required processes, and leading your team.
What are the habits of successful project managers?
Effective project leaders have a lot in common with all good managers. In particular, good project managers are people oriented and quickly establish effective working relationships with their team members.
One of the biggest differences between a project manager and an individual contributor is time fragmentation. People who lead projects must be willing to deal with frequent interruptions. Project problems, requests, and other imperatives never wait for you to become unbusy, so you need to learn how to drop whatever you are doing, good-naturedly, and refocus your attention. Project leaders who hide behind “do not disturb” signs and lock their doors run the risk of seeing trivial, easily addressed situations escalate into unrecoverable crises. Between urgent e-mails, phone calls, frequent meetings, and people dropping in, project managers don't generally have a lot of uninterrupted time. You may need to schedule work that demands your focus and concentration before the workday begins, or do it after everyone has left for the day.
This is a crucial part of being people oriented. Project leaders who find that they are not naturally comfortable dealing with others tend to avoid this part of the job and as a consequence may not stick with project management very long, by either their own choice or someone else's. Being people oriented means enjoying interaction with others (while being sensitive to the reality that some of your team members may not relish interaction as much as you do) and having an aptitude for effective written communication and conversations.
Initiation into project management often involves becoming an “accidental project manager.” Most of us get into it unexpectedly. One day you are minding our own business and doing a great job as a project contributor. Suddenly, without warning, someone taps you on the shoulder and says, “Surprise! You are now a project manager.”
Working on a project and leading a project would seem to have a lot in common, so selecting the most competent contributors to lead new projects seems fairly logical. Unfortunately, the two jobs are in fact quite different. Project contributors focus on tangible things and their own personal work. Project managers focus primarily on coordinating the work of others. Novice project managers will need to invest time gaining the confidence of the team, determining their approach, and then delegating work to others.
What is the value of project management certification? What about academic degrees in project management?
- Age and background
- Current (or desired future) field or discipline
Considering project management certification
Project management certification has substantially grown in popularity in recent years, and some form of it or another is increasingly encouraged or required for many jobs in project management. The Project Management Professional (PMP®) certification from the Project Management Institute in the United States—and similar credentials from other professional project management societies around the globe—is not too difficult to attain, especially for those with project management experience. For many project managers, it is often a case of “it can't hurt and it may help” with your career. For those early in their careers, or looking to make a move into project management, or seeking a type of job where certification is mandatory, pursuing certification is not a difficult decision.
For those project managers who are in fields where certifications and credentials are not presently seen as having much relevance, the cost and effort of getting certified in project management may not be worthwhile. For some, investing in education in a discipline such as engineering or business could be a better choice, and for others certification in a job-specific specialty will make a bigger career difference. Even for jobs where project management certification is not presently much of a factor, though, there may be trends in that direction. A decade ago, few IT project management openings required certification of any kind; today for many it's mandatory, and similar trends are visible in other fields.
Considering project management degrees
A related recent movement has been the growth in academic degrees in project management. More and more universities are offering master's degrees in project management, often tied to their business curricula. Such programs may help some people significantly, particularly those who want to move into project management from a job where they feel stuck or wish to transition into a new field. A freshly minted degree can refocus a job interview on academic achievements rather than on the details of prior work experiences.
Embarking on a degree program is a big deal for most people, though. It will cost a lot of money and requires at least a year full-time (or multiple y
ears part-time while holding down a job). Before starting a rigorous academic degree program in project management, carefully balance the trade-offs between the substantial costs and realistically achievable benefits, and consider whether a degree in some other discipline might be a better long-range career choice.
© 2011 Tom Kendrick. Excerpted by permission of the publisher from 101 Project Management Problems and How to Solve Them, by Tom Kendrick, PMP. Published by AMACOM.
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About the Author
Tom Kendrick Kendrick is a project management consultant, formerly with Hewlett-Packard and Visa Inc. He is the author of Identifying and Managing Project Risk, Results Without Authority, The Project Management Tool Kit, and 101 Project Management Problems and How to Solve Them, of which this is an excerpt.