Project Management

How to Become a Project Manager

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8 mins read
Ben Willmott

If you’re looking to become a Project Manager you have a couple of options to do this. There is the study-heavy path, which could start with a University-based degree followed by various certification courses.

Or you can learn through initial life experiences and then learn on the job supported by certification courses.

Whichever path you take really depends on the type of industry in which you would like to be a Project Manager. Some industries and companies will require the study-heavy education path, while others, if you’re starting out, will be more focused on experience and your approach to problem-solving.

Either way, then look to build up your experience through learning on the job.

So why become a Project Manager?

It’s really important to understand what it takes to become a Project Manager and what it takes to become a really good one. You have to enjoy working with people and have a natural awareness of other peoples’ feelings and needs. You need to be always thinking one step ahead of those around you, whether that’s spotting a potential problem or seeing opportunities to improve.

There are also plenty of personal career benefits why you should become a Project Manager:

  • You get to experience working with many different teams and people across different locations and environments.
  • You get the satisfaction of seeing a project go from nothing through to completion.
  • You experience working with new products and services that, in a lot of cases, aren’t available to anyone else.
  • It’s challenging, which makes every day interesting as there is always something new to learn, fix or improve.
  • There are lots of career options to progress, whether that’s larger more complex projects as your experience grows, or working in different industries and companies.

What do you do as a Project Manager?

Depending on the industry and job type, your responsibilities as a Project Manager will vary.

Typically, the following role responsibilities are standard across any Project Management job. Just the scale and overall ownership may vary. 

  • As a Project Manager, you’re responsible for tracking and monitoring every aspect of the project.
  • You’ll create the overall plan including milestones, project communication approach, project risks approach and reviews.
  • You’ll create the original project estimate and then track the approved budget.
  • You’ll plan and track the team requirements throughout.
  • You’ll monitor risks and create the mitigation plans for these risks.
  • You’ll manage the quality assurance process and support this process in some cases  

Project Management Mindset

To be a Project Manager you need to have a mindset that is focused on continuous learning as no two projects are ever the same. You’ll regularly be discovering new problems or opportunities and will have to adapt how you and the project team work together.

Having this type of mindset is critical, as by treating everything as a learning opportunity, it allows you to spot these opportunities far more easily and deliver them in a calm and assured way.

Plus always improving what you know and do is a really satisfying way to work.

Project Management Skills

You’ll need some particular skills as a Project Manager if you’re going to be successful in this role.

You don’t need to excel in these skills from day one as you can learn and improve as you go on, but you should be able to recognise these skills as something you have even on a small scale at first.

You need to be a good communicator whether oral or written. How you communicate needs to be adaptable as one day you might be communicating to senior stakeholders and the next directly to junior team members. 

Being a team builder and this isn’t just Resource Management but how you create a strong team that works well together and helps each other out.

Finding the right skills but also the right personalities to work together is hard, but recognising the importance of the two can be the difference between delivering an okay project and delivery a fantastic project.

Able to create great team environments. This links to the previous skill but you need a mixture of knowing how to create a great team-working environment and recognising what makes up a great team environment.

Noticing the subtle cues when the team environment isn’t so great, allows you to adapt and improve bit by bit. This could be improvements to the team workspace, such as noticing a team member has a load of books stacked up under their monitor to get it to the right height and then offering to sort them a stand. 

Or it could be recognising that the team are not working well together because of the seating set up, then taking actions to improve it.

People management doesn’t mean telling everyone what to do but recognising each individual’s strengths and weaknesses and taking the right approach to get the best out of them.

You’ll also need to support difficult situations where team members aren’t happy or have an issue with another team member.

Being a good facilitator and listener really helps with solving problems likes these and it’s something you shouldn’t be afraid to tackle

  • You have to have adaptability as no two projects are ever the same. If you’re not adaptable you’ll quickly become frustrated and Project Management will become a slog. Adaptability can also mean doing things sometimes you didn’t think you would be doing but you will need to do whatever it takes to get the project done.
  • A good Project Manager has a calming presence in everything they do. If you’re not calm then this impacts on the team’s mood as the Project will appear out of control. Even in really difficult situations, you need to keep calm, not just because of the team, but its a healthier state of mind for you too plus it’s much easier to think when calm.
  • Being a good multi-tasker is critical and I don’t mean trying to do five things at once as inevitably none of those five tasks will be completed. It’s being able to switch from one task to another and quickly going into the right state of mind to do it. You could be working on a project plan one moment, and then presenting back the status of the project in a workshop the next.

Project Management Tips

There is an endless number of tips for Project Managers as there are multiple project types, team setups, products you can create and approaches you can take. The few selected below are an extract from my blog post Project Management Tips. My Top 10. For more tips just follow the link.

If the task is hard, do it first. As a Project Manager, there is always something to do, which in some cases means you can take the easy route by picking off the easier tasks.

It’s natural human behaviour to procrastinate or put off hard tasks, but by doing this, you’re only making things harder for yourself further down the line or, just as bad, for someone else.

Completing the harder tasks early builds your confidence and frees you to do more. Hard tasks typically take longer if you leave them to the end, as by then other issues may have arisen.

Killing all assumptions is critical for a successful project as assumptions are project killers. Sounds extreme but I know from experience when I’ve made assumptions they’ve come back to bite me further into the project. Find them out early by asking lots of questions, then take the actions to remove them.

Ask lots of questions. Sounds easy to do right, but if you’re in a room with your team and a client, you want to show you’re in control and you know what you’re doing, especially if you’re a Project Manager.

You also don’t want to be interrupting the attendees all the time with questions.

If you have a gap in your knowledge or a nagging doubt about something, then be brave by asking a question but wait for the right time.

It’s always easier to assume that everyone knows what they’re doing and you don’t want others to think you don’t know what you’re doing. But if you don’t ask, then you won’t learn, or worse, a problem may occur further down the line.

Project Manager Training

I’ve added two different training options, the first is for Project Management and the second is for Agile frameworks and approaches.

The latter isn’t Project Management as Scrum, LeSS and some other examples are very different approaches to traditional project management, You can read more about the differences in my Waterfall vs Agile post here.

Project Management Training via APM

The Association for Project Management (APM) is the chartered body for Project Management. Here you’ll find plenty of course options ranging from the anyone with 0-2 years experience through to 5-6 years and beyond. These qualifications are industry recognised and you’ll also find links to degrees, jobs and careers in Project Management. 

APM Project Fundamentals Qualification (PFQ)

APM Project Management Qualification (PMQ)

APM Project Professional Qualification (PPQ)

Agile Frameworks Training

There are many recognised training bodies that provide courses and certifications in various Agile Frameworks. I’ve picked the Scrum Alliance as its one of the most well known.

Certified Scrum Master

Advanced Certified Scrum Master

Certified Scrum Professional

In summary, Project Management is a fantastic career to get into as it gives you so many options to experience different projects, industries and cultures throughout your career. It’s not easy, but if it was, it would be boring as you always need to be learning new things to stay motivated.

Whether you go down the more traditional Project Management route or you’re looking to work for more Agile organisations, there are so many options out there to learn online for free that will support your day-to day-experiences.

Best of luck and please do get in contact if you have any questions.

Ben Willmott
Ben is the founder of the PPM Academy, which provides training and coaching for project managers at all levels of experience.

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