Defending the Project Management Profession

Project management is not just something you do when you cannot get a real job. Project management is a profession and project managers are professionals. I am probably preaching to the choir here, but having recently seen ads for fast, cheap and simple project management training and tools, I felt the need to state firmly my position on this matter.

Project managers must possess a wide range of skills that include technical knowledge, organizational ability, seeing the big picture and most importantly, they must communicate effectively. A project manager achieves job satisfaction through directing others. Project managers must lead, motivate and provide an effective work environment. Behind the scenes, the manager plans, observes, assesses and solves problems both technical and people-related. It is a not a job for the faint of heart.

Becoming a Project Manager
If you aspire to be a project manager, preparation is essential. Most of your project management education will happen outside of an academic classroom. However, in addition to technical classes, a future manager benefits from formal instruction in communication, systems thinking and business intelligence. And, a couple general business classes won’t hurt.

Once employed, pay attention to the behavior of managers you respect and those you do not. Try to find commonalities in skills and personality traits. Compare the skills you admire with your own abilities and seek to enhance areas that are weak.

Learn from practitioners. This can include joining local project management groups, taking PMI or vendor sponsored classes, and reading articles and blog posts by project managers. Beside Fear No Project, I think you will find useful information from the bloggers I have listed on my Blogroll. (also see My favorite project management links and websites)

Because effective communication is essential to project managers, look for opportunities to practice including writing articles and proposals and giving presentations. Ask for feedback and work to improve your communication skills.

Learn to use PM tools including planning, scheduling, costing, tracking and report writing.

Seek out opportunities to practice managing. You can volunteer to lead a special project, assist the lead engineer or PM or even manage projects outside of your work environment. You need to develop the mindset of “thinking like a manager” instead of thinking like a contributor.
Preparing for becoming a professional project manager takes time and seasoning. Most small project managers have 3 – 5 years experience and those managing complex programs often have more than 10 years in the field, at least half of which involved project management of smaller projects.

Whether you pursue a PMP certification or not, be aware and appreciate the skills that define the field. In addition to formal academic and experience requirements, PMPs pass an examination of knowledge on all aspects of project management including initiating, planning executing, monitoring and control and closing a project. In addition, each PMP meets the requirements for continuing education hours in the field.

So whether you want to be a project manager or you are seeking to hire one, do not be mislead by false claims that becoming a project manager is fast, cheap or easy; it is not.

3 Responses to “Defending the Project Management Profession”

  1. Rosemary Wycherley Says:

    I agree totally that the profession of project management often fails to attract the respect that it should. In my experience, project managers are rarely in the formal hierarchy of the organisation so are treated as outliers rather than acknowledged leaders in their field. Furthermore, some project managers do not expand their skills and knowledge to the depth and breadth demanded by the highly pressured environment of project management. And let’s face it, there are some project managers who fail to display the professionalism that is expected. Like any management function, there are good and bad and incredibly able project managers. But the adoption of cheap tools as an alternative to strong leadership, smart decision-making and exceptional team management is a non-starter. One thing that does help to develop professional project managers is a blog like this one; fast tracking their experience by sharing yours. Great post Bruce and Merry Christmas to you.

  2. Lydia Says:

    I think that project management is a very valuable endeavor and really admire people who take on the role of project manager, like it and do it well. For my part, I do not think it is for me – just thinking about being a project manager scares me – managing many people, trying to plan for the unpredicatable, being held responsible for an unknown outcome. Not my cup of tea. Although I do wish I was not afraid of it.

  3. PM Hut Says:

    Hi Bruce,

    Apparently there are still many project managers out there who believe that project management is not a profession and never will be! (read the comments by the way on that article, they are interesting).

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