Project Management Career Paths

Mark E. Mullaly has posted a great article over at Gantthead about the obstacles a project manager may face in moving up the corporate ladder. He states that, “The project manager is a role unto itself, with no entry point and no graceful exit.”

The problem, as Mark describes it (registration required), is that the traditional project manager was simply someone who had a specific role in the corporation with the project management activities being treated like a side job. When the project manager was due for promotion it was tied to the PM's regular operational role. So a lead developer that was also doing project management work would be promoted to technical architect or perhaps a technical management position. At this point the project management responsibilities would disappear.

Now, the project manager is valued sufficiently in the corporation that it has become a role unto its own. As Mark puts it, “Project managers are hired primarily from the outside, and are assumed to come ready-made and pre-built with all of the skills necessary to do the job at hand, and do it well. Project managers aren't developed, they aren't groomed, and in many cases, they receive no training.” The obvious result from this is huge turnover as interest fades in the role regardless of the successes that a PM may have and despite the value that business units may receive.

Mark offers some suggestions for organizations on how to reduce the turnover:

  • Identify existing employees that are interested in the project manager role and also have the skills and knowledge to be good ones.
  • Continually offer challenges that increase in difficulty. Like others, PMs need to be challenged to remain interested in their work. Eventually, dangling a bigger project won't be enough. Instead, look for other ways to motivate your project managers perhaps by putting them in to training or mentoring roles.
  • Make sure that a path to the executive suite exists. If one doesn't, then expect the most senior and probably the most effective member of the PM team to walk away with all the company expertise acquired over the years.
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  1. I agree with much of the article. I checked to see when it was posted. In large organizations where there is a formal Project Management Office there appears to be a project managemen career path. An entry point (beginner) and a top-level. At that point, it is either stay there (cap out), move to another organization (internal or external).

    At one of my previous employers, you had to move into Executive Management or move out of the company once you capped out at Senior Project Manager level. There was no "up" from there. And generally, once you max'd out the salary admin band, you were just stuck salary wise too.

    The thing about project management, is someone who has attained Senior Project Manager level and has worked at it long enough to max out a salary band generally has the skill set to move into executive management.

    I love being a project manager. It's my niche.

  2. While some of the generic challenges are listed above, I personally feel that PMs themselves can make a difference. I extended my working hours in my project a year back and started looking at the PM tool, the documentation created, the areas of concern by lack of experience on my fellow Project Managers and made a confidential report and gave it to my reporting manager. I was later allowed to provide training, inducted me into the PMO. Some very qualified consultants over a periond of time become complacent and are very comfortable coding than lead a team and at the same time, complain that the PM is inexperienced or lacks all the skills needed. The situation above is more obvious in IT function of any organization.

  3. I have to agree with your points on this article. There is no sole PM work in my company. You can be titled a PM but the bulk of your work is based on your functional expertise in operations. PM activities are a small portion of what you do. It has a lot to do with the corporate culture and how PM is perceived.

  4. Interesting article. I became involved in the project management field about a year ago as a college graduate. I agree that many of the day to day project management tasks performed go unnoticed in larger corporations. Luckily I have landed myself a position in a construction and development management company where project management is our main job and not a side job. I find myself learning something new every day.

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