The Project Notebook

Should I Be a Project Manager When I Grow Up?

By:  Susan Peterson, M.B.A., PMP

Copyright 2011, Susan Peterson, All Rights Reserved

 Whether early in a career or when contemplating a career change, you may wonder if you should pursue project management as a career path.  You probably have already managed projects even if your job title did not reflect that responsibility.  For example, did your manager ask you to “fix” something?  The “fixing” may have involved figuring out the problem, asking others for assistance, and providing a solution to the problem.  In your personal life you have certainly managed projects.  So — you already have some project management experience.  Now the decision is whether you consciously want to pursue project management.

 Skills and Self-Assessment

It is not difficult to identify the skills needed to become a project manager.  A partial list of some of the most critical skills includes the following:

  • Leadership
  • Communication with all levels and respect from all levels
  • Organization, planning and administration
  • Team building
  • Conflict resolution
  • Resource allocation

We could also add some less definable capabilities such as “ability to predict the future”, “being able to do more with nothing”, and “keeping one’s ‘cool’” combined with a strong but not sarcastic sense of humor.

 There isn’t a single project manager who excels in all of the critical project management skills.  The first requirement is to do an honest self-assessment.  If you find it difficult to “grade” yourself, think about those activities that you enjoy doing.  Do you like being responsible for results?  Does guiding diverse personalities through complex situations provide a sense of personal accomplishment?  Answers to these and other relevant questions can assist in identifying whether project management is for you.

“Trying out” Project Management

Training is another avenue to help in determining whether project management is for you.  Project management training doesn’t necessarily occur solely in a classroom or online environment.  Sometimes people ask me how they can get started in project management.  I recommend internships with organizations and volunteering with not-for-profit groups as two possibilities.  While both of these types of situations are generally without financial compensation, they can provide many opportunities to manage projects.  I know some managers who insist that their project manager “wannabes” become active in one or more community groups in order to gain or enhance necessary skills.

 You Can’t Escape

Whether or not you choose project management as a career, you cannot escape being involved in projects.  The key is to find those activities that are most to your liking and to choose career paths that require the related skills that you possess or can acquire.

 Susan Peterson, M.B.A., PMP, is a consultant who manages diverse programs and projects in both the private and public sectors for individual organizations and consortia.  She also conducts enterprise assessments of project portfolio management practices.  Prior to establishing her consulting practice Susan led major efforts for Fortune 100 organizations throughout the United States.  She teaches the Project Management Simulation capstone course as well as the Project Portfolio Management course in the University of California, San Diego, Project Management certificate program and is a member of the curriculum committee.  She can be contacted at

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