3 Effective Professional Development Opportunities
No pain, no gain. What does that mean? This phrase is typically associated with exercise and body building, and means that unless you feel the ‘burn’ during and after your exercise sessions then you are not really making any progress.
Your muscles need to be torn down in order to not only be built up again but to be made even stronger. A more severe variation of this message is, “that which does not kill you makes you stronger.”
You may be wondering what exercise, body building, and sore muscles have to do with professional development as a project manager. It means the same thing…that to really benefit from professional development you may need to experience a bit of pain.
In order to develop professionally as a project manager will require you to push the envelope, deal with some discomfort and ambiguity and immerse yourself in some painful situations in the short term. However, these uncomfortable situations can make you tougher and better equipped to deal with adversity that is thrown your way in the future.
What is Professional Development, Anyway?
Professional Development can be defined as the skills and knowledge that are attained for both personal development and career advancement. This can range from degrees that may be earned in college to ongoing coursework and informal learning opportunities.
There are many opportunities for professional development in the project management arena. There are scores of books written about various aspects and disciplines within project management – everything from technical skills like building professional Gantt charts to the softer skills like negotiation and influencing.
Classes that teach project management skills can vary from a 1-day refresher course, to a 1-week crash course, all the way to month long career transitioning classes.
There’s also the opportunity for seminars, webinars, and other project management events that are designed to help you advance your career and hone your skills as a project manager.
One of the most effective methods of professional development is to have a mentor. If you are fortunate enough to find someone that can help you navigate through your personal situations that you are encountering, then this will take you miles ahead in your career path.
What do all of the above have in common? For the most part, there’s no “pain” associated with each activity. Actually, the opposite is true. The above activities are almost, if not entirely, enjoyable.
Who doesn’t like to take a day off every now and then and learn something new? Or, who would find it painful to catch up with your mentor over lunch and discuss how things are going in your world? Nobody!
Professional Development that is Painful (and HIGHLY Effective)
The above activities are great. You can learn a lot from these classes, webinars, and conversations with friends. However, there is no better teacher than Personal Experience. And, there is no better teacher than Personal Experience when something has gone wrong that will be indelibly etched onto your mind as a project manager.
Think about it this way. You can tell a child that the stove is hot. They can watch a show on TV where they learn that the stove is hot. They may even have one of their toddling friends tell them that the stove is hot.
However, it’s not until they have reached up and touched that stove for themselves do they truly believe that the stove is hot. It’s at this painful point that they have learned that the stove is hot. They will NEVER do that again.
How can you make the most of these painful situations as a project manager? Ironically, to get the most out of your professional development training you may have to put yourself in harm’s way.
Below are three ways you can develop professionally and still live to tell the story.
1. Stretch Yourself Into Uncomfortable Situations
If you’ve been at one place for a long time and you’ve done your job as a project manager, the opportunities for learning come farther and farther apart. You’ve reached your comfort zone. It’s not such a bad place to be. It means you’ve been at your company for a number of years, you know the technology, the people, and the processes for getting work done.
Sure, there may be a situation that comes up from time to time that gets a little tricky, but you don’t stress about the situation. You methodically work through it and you ultimately know it will turn out just fine.
Want to sign up for a professional development plan that will cause you to stretch a bit? Force yourself into uncomfortable situations. Maybe you could tackle a certain type of project you have never come across before. Or, start working your way to spending more time with the executive leaders of your company. Or, volunteer to take on an activity that is way outside what you are used to doing.
Then, prepare to mess up. Not that you’re going to do it on purpose, but it will undoubtedly happen because it’s a new area to you. You’ll do the wrong thing, say the wrong thing, or leave something out entirely.
Good for you! You got 80% right and 20% wrong. That’s 4 out of 5 things right and only 1 out of 5 things wrong. Not too shabby.
Learn from it and apply these lessons to adjusting your course immediately. If you’re a good resource and have brought value in other areas of the company, people will help you through this professional development learning curve. The key is to fail fast, learn, and then move forward.
2. View Things That Go Wrong As Learning Experiences
Project Managers have a tendency to want to be 100% right 100% of the time. It’s our nature and it’s why we are good at what we do. We like to have our facts straight, know where everything stands, and know what needs to be done next. We feel as if it reflects poorly on us if we don’t have the answer to everything that comes our way.
Guess what? You won’t – and don’t – have the answer to everything that comes your way. Nobody does. Everything changes so fast in this turbulent economy that everyone is learning and making mistakes every day.
It’s the person who figures things out the fastest that is going to get ahead of the pack.
Rather than becoming downhearted that you made a mistake, simply chalk it up as a professional development learning experience and move on.
3. Willingly Go Through the Meat Grinder
There are professional development learning “opportunities” that are less than desirable for anyone at any time to go through. These may consist of the 7:30 AM meeting every day with the CEO of the company to talk through the plan for the day to get things back on track. Or, it may be the meetings with lawyers and/or depositions you may have to be involved in to help defend your company against a disgruntled client.
Are these painful experiences? Absolutely. Are they beneficial? More than you’ll know until you’ve gone through them. It is these types of “professional development” activities that put you in the category of really getting a backbone as a project manager.
Until you see that chaos that can result because you let something go that should have been addressed – or a shortcut that was taken that should not have been – you may not speak with the same conviction. It is only until you’ve been through this meat grinder and survived that you can vow to yourself and others that “this will never happen again!” It is by means of these types of experiences that you become wise, experienced, and judicious with the decisions you make.
Professional development is different things to different people. But as a project manager there are no greater lessons learned than through personal experience and those things that have gone wrong. This type of professional development puts you squarely in the path of “been there, done that…and we’re not doing that again!”
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