Could project management be the career you’re looking for?
Project management is a lucrative and popular career choice. Practically every employer needs people who can effectively manage projects within their organisation.
Project management skills are highly valued, with the result that many people at various stages of their careers consider project management as an option.
Some have just left university or other training, whilst others are thinking of a mid-career change of direction. Whatever stage you’re at, it’s worth taking a serious look at project management.
Getting started in project management
Starting a career in project management can be a typical chicken and egg scenario. Employers are often looking for people with project management experience, yet without employment in that role, you cannot get that experience.
Similarly, employers are desperate to have experienced staff to manage their projects but at some point, an employer is going to have to let inexperienced employees gain experience on their projects.
One solution is a project management apprenticeship, provided by organisations such as training byte size.
Apprentices can study for a level 4 qualification that is highly valued by project management recruiters and gives practical experience as well as knowledge.
There are also foundation degrees and HNDs that provide practical and theoretical knowledge.
Qualifications are accredited by the Association for Project Management (APM). However, they are not sufficient to enable you to walk straight into a project management job. It is more likely that you will start as an assistant project manager and work your way up.
An alternative career path is to complete a technical degree, for example in engineering. It is then possible to progress into project management by taking on technical roles in project teams.
Eventually, you will have sufficient skills and experience to manage your own projects and teams.
The role of a project manager
Unlike the traditional professions such as law or medicine, it can be hard to define exactly what a project manager does.
They are not confined to one particular industry or sector. Project managers can work in construction, architecture, information technology, engineering, marketing, health care and even media and publishing.
We have all come across project managers, but may have not realised who they are. In some organisations, they are called business change managers, project coordinators or project officers. Irrespective of the job title or organisation, they are all fulfilling the same role.
Project managers are required in both the public and private sectors, although smaller companies will probably take on freelance project managers as they need them.
Put simply, a project manager handles the everyday running of a project. They are expected to achieve a defined outcome and this could be a structure, a system, or a product, depending on the sector they are working in.
They work with six aspects of project management, which are defined as scope, schedule, finance, risk, quality and resources. Their task is to complete the project on-time and within budget. Depending on the sector, they may need specialist knowledge as well as project management skills.
Managing a project
In practice, this means that the project manager starts by defining and planning what tasks need to be done. Then they allocate colleagues to those tasks.
The risks associated with the project are identified and systems put in place to manage the risks. Once a task associated with the project is completed, they will check that it is of a high enough standard for the client.
They take on the role of motivating the project team and coordinating the work that different team members carry out. Inevitably, there will be difficulties and changes to overcome, and it is the project manager’s task to deal with these effectively.
Work will be divided into five recognised stages. The first stage is the initiating stage, wherein the project manager will check to make sure that the project is feasible, deciding on a budget, assembling a project team and identifying required resources.
Next comes the planning stage when goals are set, roles are defined and tasks are scheduled. Then the project is executed and the manager is in charge of monitoring and controlling. Some projects can run for years, so this stage can be lengthy.
Finally, during the closing stage, the manager evaluates the successes and challenges and identifies lessons that can be learnt.
A key task for a project manager is to set objectives and then to plan the work so that deadlines are met. Project managers hold ultimate responsibility for reporting directly to the next level of management or to the client for the project.
Required skills for project management
Project management is a rapidly growing profession and project management skills are in great demand. They are also highly transferable and useful in all employment environments.
A skilled project manager will be able to plan, monitor and review effectively, as well as manage resources. They are excellent leaders and can motivate their team and resolve conflicts. They need to be able to make key decisions under pressure and solve problems. They also need outstanding communication skills and must be able to work as part of a team.
A typical project manager loves organising things, including resources and people and is an excellent negotiator.
The career prospects for project managers are excellent. People in this profession possess an impressive set of transferable skills, which means that they can easily progress in any senior managerial role.
Project managers have gone on to take up roles such as head of department, director or chief executive.
Within the field of project management itself, it is possible to progress to senior roles with responsibility for a team of project managers.
There are also openings for project management office (PMO) managers, who ensure consistency across all project work within a particular organisation.
This role requires strong project management skills.
Project management is a growth area with increasing opportunities, and for individuals with the right skill set, it offers an exciting and fulfilling career.