How to Advance Your Project Management Career

Are you struggling with your project management career? Not sure of how to get from where you are to where you want to be?

Perhaps you are even uncertain about where you want to go.

I recently had the pleasure of spending time with the Stevens family, dear friends of ours. As always, we had great food and conversation. I particularly enjoyed our discussion concerning career decisions for their college-age son, Caleb.

It’s been a delight to watch Caleb and his brother, Colin, grow up to be extraordinary young men.

Caleb described two internship opportunities. One company was a financial consulting company; the other was in the food industry. He asked, “Which company should I pursue?”

Photo courtesy of iStock.com.

Photo courtesy of iStock.com.

I responded, “Your short-term decisions should be made in light of your long-term goals.”

When we are fuzzy about our long-term goals, we will struggle with short-term decisions.

Doing Things on Purpose

What is the difference between purpose and goals? Purpose is what I want to do or to become. It is the general direction toward which you would like to move. Goals are the specifics of what we wish to accomplish.

For example, you may wish to be a mountain climber (purpose). You might plan to climb five 14,000 foot mountains in the next three years (long-term goal). You set a goal to climb one 14,000 foot mountain before the end of this year (short-term goal).

Here is another example: You have been a project administrator for one year. You’ve set your eyes on being a program manager (purpose).

What would it take to become a program manager?

Likely, you would have to be a project manager for a period of years and demonstrate your ability to manage large, complex projects. Define specific, measurable goals that will give you the required experience, knowledge, and credentials.

Your short-term goals should include the specific things you wish to accomplish in order to become a project manager.

Do You Know Where You’re Going To?

People sometimes struggle with this question. I still ask myself what I want to be when I grow up. Here are some clarifying questions for your personal reflection:

  1. What is your sweet spot? When my son Austin was a teenager, he did not know which sport he wanted to pursue. He tried soccer; he tried baseball; he tried golf. Then, he tried basketball. Bingo! You could immediately see that he found HIS game. He was in his element. It came more naturally.

  2. Where do people affirm your gifts? As we perform certain things, we receive genuine encouragement. People say, “That was a super speech. It seemed to be effortless.” Take note of where you people affirm you. This is a good indication that you are in the right place.

  3. Where do you put forth minimum effort and see maximum gain? Some things are terribly difficult for me; it requires a lot of time and energy. Frankly, I don’t see much in the way of results. However, other things are easy. I can do these things will little effort (notice I did not say zero effort). I see huge benefits for me as well as others.

Trying On a Space Suit

When I was twelve, my mother took me and my twin brother to the Houston Space Center. While taking a tour, my brother and I tried on a space suit. This event further peaked my interest in science.

Trying on a space suit is one thing; trying on a different job is an entirely different matter.

How can we try a different job or role when we already have a job? Good question. Here are a few ideas.

First, volunteer to work on projects in your areas of interest. If you work in the accounting department but think you are interested in project management, volunteer for a project that involves both accounting and project management, such as the implementation of an accounting software solution.

Second, take courses in your area of interest. Think you want to be a project manager? Take project management courses. Seek your PMP credential.

Think you want to be a project risk manager? Take a project risk management course. Seek your PMI-RMP credential.

Third, enlist in a “walk a mile in my shoes” program. Some companies offer these programs to allow individuals to gain experience in another area.

Back to the Future

Let me leave you with this: Schedule some time to reflect on this article. Clarify your general aim and purpose in life. Define your long-term goals.

As opportunities come knocking at your door, you will be in a stronger position to make short-term decisions that will propel you toward your destination. Your life is a gift. Make it count!

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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