Congratulations! You’ve got your first job as a project manager. You’ve finally got your feet under the desk and are running your first projects for a great company, working with a fabulous team. It feels like you’ve made it, doesn’t it? Well, you should be very pleased with yourself, but your career doesn’t end with this first job. You will hopefully have many more years of project management to go, so you should start thinking now about your next opportunity.
Even now, early in your career, you can begin to plan where you want to be in 5, 10 or 15 years’ time. And as you have probably learned already, no one else is going to take responsibility for your career plans. If you want to progress, you have to make it happen for yourself – you can’t rely on your boss or colleagues to put you forward for training courses or promotions. Make it clear that you want to move on and move up, and take steps towards getting there yourself.
What’s that? You don’t know where you want to be in 5, 10 or 15 years’ time? That’s understandable. After all, you’ve only just got into project management in the first place and it can be difficult to know where to go from here. Don’t worry – here are 3 career paths that are open to you. Which one will suit you best?
Option 1: Senior Project Manager
At the moment you probably manage small projects with a team of a few people and a limited budget and risk profile. You may well have a number of smaller projects on the go at any one time, so you’re kept busy! A senior project manager typically manages one or two large projects. They may be responsible for teams of 20 people or more and budgets of many millions of dollars. They may be dedicated to one large project for several years and be fully responsible for tracking it from start to finish, setting up an operational department and managing the benefits.
Becoming a senior project manager is the most common career progression for entry level project managers. It involves taking on larger and more complex projects, managing a bigger team and handling larger budgets. It can be a natural progression as you gain experience in running projects and you may find yourself moving into this role without much planning on your part as your company comes to rely on your skills.
Best suited for: People who like being hands on with projects and getting involved with all aspects of project management. People who love the detail and discipline of projects and want to work on bigger and more exciting projects.
Option 2: Program Manager
A program manager looks after (unsurprisingly) a program, which is made up of a number of projects. Each project will have its own project manager, and the program manager co-ordinates the interfaces and dependencies between each project. He or she is also responsible for the overall outcomes of the program. Program managers are often involved in large change initiatives, such as changing the way the company works with new processes or by introducing new software. Programs tend to have an element of cultural change as well as some business-as-usual functions.
Program management is often seen as the logical next step for project managers, but it is a very different skill and not everyone will enjoy it. If you can manage multiple strands of work and get on well with people across a number of different areas then this could be a good option for you. Not all companies manage programs so if you wanted to take this career route you could find yourself looking for opportunities outside of your current employer.
Best suited for: People who can see the big picture. People who are good communicators and able to rise up out of the detail to solve problems across several business areas.
Option 3: Portfolio Office Manager
Many companies have a Portfolio Office (or you may hear it called a Program Office or Project Management Office). This is a department that is responsible for the smooth running of the company’s projects and programs. It manages reporting, looks after software tools, runs training courses and provides impartial advice to project managers about the best approaches for their projects. A portfolio office manager is the custodian of project management templates and methodologies used by the company and is also often responsible for the recruitment of new project managers.
Your project experience gives you a good background and the skills necessary to become a portfolio office manager, or to take another role in the Portfolio Office. Much of this role is administrative and you’ll need good attention to detail as well as the ability to influence others as you won’t actually be in charge of any projects. You may find that in this role all the project managers work for you, but this is not the case in all Portfolio Offices. Some operate in an advisory or ‘Center of Excellence’ capacity.
Best suited for: People who enjoy the process of project management – templates, standards, processes and reports. People who have excellent coaching and interpersonal skills and can advise and support others on best practice approaches to managing projects.
Of course, you could find that none of these suit the way you want your career to unfold, and there are many more opportunities available to people with project management experience including taking an operational or line management job. Your experience running projects will actually give you an excellent grounding in many aspects of business and your industry, so there will be plenty of doors open to you in the future.
Your career is what you make it, so give some thought now to where you want to be in the future and take steps to get those doors to open for you, whatever career path you choose.
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