Project Manager Career Paths

Project Manager Career Paths

The Author:
Oleksiy Shebanov
Oleksiy Shebanov,
Trainer & Managing Partner @E5
Director. Head of PMO @ Intellias
Certified PMP, ICP-APM, TKP

Project Manager Career Paths

Project management is an activity aimed at solving problems and achieving the set goals of the project. In it, the necessary skills, knowledge, techniques and tools are used for the desired outcomes. The field is naturally understood to be a great endeavor for continuous self-development for those involved in it. It’s a subject to continuous training and self-improvement, and sets one up for quite a career growth. Let’s consider what options there are for the career path of a project manager.

The career of a project manager can go several ways. Some PMs leave their profession, instead preferring business analysis, software development, and sometimes they even radically change it to something entirely different and unrelated to the field. But if one decides to develop in any particular direction, he has four paths to choose out of.

1. Project Coordinator/Expeditor → Head of PMO/Project Director

To reach the level of project manager, one ought to consider several steps:

  • Project Coordinator/Expeditor. The position is characterized by very limited authority. For the most part, it’s tracking projects, organizing and holding meetings, maintaining documentation, tracking the project schedule and its volume in the system. That is, it is a technical job it’s important to know the basic tools of project management for; to work with a calendar, the scope of tasks, and have a minimal set of soft skills for teamwork.
  • Project Manager. At this stage, the need for specific soft skills increases, including communication and analytical skills, the ability to model future situations. This is due to the fact that the functionality of the PM is much broader than that of a coordinator. The competence includes risk management, decision-making, working with stakeholders, budget management, and teamwork.
  • Program Manager. According to PMI methodologies, projects are grouped into programs based on their value to the company. For their coordination, knowledge in the field of project architecture development is needed, as well as the ability to present your work results to top managers, and select project managers. Partially fulfilling the duties of the PM for budget planning and calculation of financial indicators, but at a higher level, is a requirement too. The main functional difference from the project manager is the management of external dependencies, the implementation of risk management related to organizations, the connection of the program to the strategic goals of the company.
  • Portfolio Manager. The role involves constant interaction with C-level managers, completing high-level tasks. Abilities to negotiate, carry yourself and the project, work in an international environment, anticipate changes in the company and their impact on the project are of importance.
  • Head of PMO/Project Director. The main task is the organization of PM work. The person decides how project management will unfold in the organization, chooses methodologies and standards to follow for the entire team.

2. Scrum Master → Delivery Director/Head of Agile Delivery

This model is characteristic of Agile teams and involves a path from Scrum Master to Delivery Director. To make it through, you also need to go through several intermediate stages:

  • Scrum Master. The position is functionally similar to a project coordinator. His task includes facilitating the team, supporting the ceremony of Scrum artifacts, and preaching Scrum values. The person is more focused on the team, than on the project.
  • Agile Project Manager. The person must not only telegraph the Agile philosophy, but also know the basics of classic project management in order to synchronize the Scrum masters with each other. Responsible for conducting the Scrum of Scrums, managing the budget, communicating with the business, representing the team.
  • Program Manager. We have already touched on the position: it requires strong communication skills, because it involves communication with C-level managers.
  • Delivery Manager. Responsible for the quality and timeliness of product delivery to the customer. In essence, the person is a CTO dedicated to a specific client.
  • Delivery Director. Can manage a group of delivery managers or a large portfolio of projects/one large-scale project for a specific client. The position is similar to the project manager in the classic structure, but in this case, it is much more about communication with the client. It is the Delivery Director who solves problems when the customer is not satisfied, assembles a team to demonstrate work results, check the concept, etc.

3. Change Manager → Transformation Lead

There is a significant difference between this and the previous directions. In the previous cases, after the release of the project, it is transferred to the operational activity, and it is considered successfully completed. At the same time, the team moves on to work on other tasks. Change management involves a number of processes of preparation for the project and management of its operational results — the so-called post-launch support. A change manager ought to have deep knowledge of project and program management.

4. Center of Excellence Expert

The development path is available to any of the above specialists who have realized they are not interested in simply performing their duties. The alternative for them is to broadcast knowledge, train people, engage in standardization, provide expert advice, that is, develop in the so-called center of expertise.

What’s necessary for a career in project management

To have the opportunity of career growth in PM, first of all, you have to be a professional in the field. This means knowing modern frameworks, standards, methodologies, processes, understanding how PM is organized from the inside. Communication skills and the ability to make decisions, work in limited time frames and in crisis situations are important. It’s necessary to constantly develop, learn and pass certifications. Our Project Management training can help you with this.

Another important point is that the PM should benefit the business. You should not be afraid to participate in complex innovative projects, make interesting suggestions, generate non-standard ideas — that kind of employee will definitely catch the eye of others.

Soft skills should not be neglected: career growth will require experience in working with stakeholders and selling project results. After all, many of them fail, precisely because of the PM’s inability to present his work.

Important advice for those who plan to grow in project management: increase your “visibility”. Communicate with colleagues in informal circumstances, try to let not only your immediate supervisor know about you, but also the manager at a higher level.

Following these recommendations will help you get a successful start in project management and achieve success in your career.

Our training Project Management will help you to systematise your experience and gain an optimal, concentrated set of knowledge for successful project management in any industry, as well as to get acquainted with the specifics of approaches in IT.