For Graduates (Part 1): So You Think You Can Be a Project Manager

State of the profession

Growth

Good news when it comes to the growth rate of the profession. There is a high demand for project managers. The Project Management Institute’s Growth Forecast indicates that by 2020 an impressive 15.7 million new PM jobs will be created worldwide and across 7 project-intensive industries (Manufacturing, Business Services, Finance, Oil & Gas, Information Services, Construction, Utilities).

Salary

This high demand in project management professionals is reflected in above-average salaries, and more importantly, salary growth. If you’re interested in becoming a project manager then now is actually a good time. The average starting salary in the US stands at $54,953 across all industries. (Source)

Character traits

What personality and character traits should a project manager have? A project manager needs to…

…be extroverted to a certain degree

If you want to be a project manager then you need to be at least somewhat extroverted. If the thought of interacting with a lot of people terrifies you then this might not be the best job for you. If you want to be a good project leader, you need to be open and approachable and need to actively communicate with others, otherwise you face the risk of projects constantly failing because of a lack of communication.

…be highly motivated and enthusiastic

A project manager has to have the necessary ‘hard skills’ such as tracking metrics and improving processes. But to be a good team leader, you also need the necessary ‘soft skills’. A good PM is motivated and enthusiastic about their work. Only then will the project team follow their lead and as a result put in the extra effort to complete the project successfully.  

…have a positive outlook

The most important thing to remember is that a project manager is not a perfectionist. Striving for perfection can often hinder productivity and do more harm than good because you invest more effort than is actually necessary. What a project manager should be is an optimist mixed with a sufficient amount of pragmatism. The task of a PM is to deliver a project successfully and creating value for a business. For that, they need to have a vision and the firm belief that they can do anything.

…be stress resistant

If you can work highly effective under pressure and endure a lot of stress, then project management is the right job for you. No matter how well you plan, there is always a fair chance that changes are made unexpectedly or something unforeseen happens. This can lead to extreme stress for project managers who have to deal with these changes and keep the project on course without overrunning the budget or delaying the end date of the project.

Knowledge and Skills

PM Methodologies and Certification

More often than not, companies use a specific project management methodology and process optimization method. So if you want to be a successful project manager then you should know how methodologies such as the traditional Waterfall method, Agile (e.g. Scrum, Kanban), Lean, Six Sigma etc. work.

A project manager needs at least a bachelor’s degree, usually in business management, but also in more specialized fields such as engineering or IT. However, more and more companies also highly recommend or even require a project management certification from their prospective project managers. Particularly as a recent graduate with little to no project experience, you should consider earning a certificate in order to show your future employer that you have the necessary PM skills. All around the globe there are PM institutes and organizations that offer such certification. In the US the PMI certifications are highly valued.

Leadership

The most important part of a project manager’s job is to lead their team so that they can work more effectively and efficiently. To do so, you need to have good leadership skills. Being a good leader has little to do with your technical know-how. For example, a great software developer might very well turn out to be a terrible project manager, because they lack the skills to lead and motivate people. Good leadership skills can facilitate innovation and creativity in team members and create added value for the business. So if you have often taken the role of the leader in school projects or group presentations, then chances are high that you will do well as a project leader.

Planning

The second main task of a project manager is to plan. You will rarely find a project manager who says “Huh, that wasn’t planned!” or “What a surprise! I didn’t anticipate that!”. The reason why planning is the project manager’s most important asset is that they need to juggle a lot of things: they have to deliver the project on a certain deadline, within a certain budget and within a certain scope (product/ service requirements of customers or stakeholders). This can only be achieved if you have a clear project plan from the very beginning. The project plan also needs to anticipate risks and include plans to mitigate them. To plan a project successfully, a project manager needs to have task management, time management, change management, risk management, resource management as well as  so called soft skills.

Communication

Being able to communicate effectively is the most essential soft skill for a project manager. A PM needs to manage and lead their teams, as well as negotiate with senior management and important stakeholders. Effective communication means that you’re able to explain the tasks, project goals and possible risks concisely so that everyone knows what they have to do and when. This does not just include oral communication, but also written communication.

If you’ve read through this nodding your head and checking boxes in your mind, then go ahead and start writing up your applications for project management positions. 

Stay tuned: In Part 2 we will provide tips on how to adjust to your new job as a PM