My current occupational title is an Assistant Director and I work in government. I’ve been in this career path for approximately 15 years. At least the last 7 years have been spent on project management-related assignments and responsibilities.
The Career Path Of A Project Manager
As an initial start in project management, my first exposure began as an analyst being assigned some special projects in computer system implementation. My role at the time was to evaluate the feasibility reports and confirm that the project could actually be completed as proposed within the financial plan provided. That experience then developed into larger and larger project reviews and finally a promotion into project management per se.
If I would change anything about that career path it’s that in government too often people rise in their careers in silos and only at a certain high enough level of management do they then get exposure to combined issued. If I had had my druthers, far more cross-training across disciplines would have been very helpful.
My everyday job involves reviewing and double-checking what performance product is being produced while the overall task involves managing a given project to completion. The two are interconnected as the daily tasks and reviews generate the reports that I vet and then move forward to executive management for final buy-off approval for financial commitment or for status updates.
I think one of the biggest myths about being a project manager is that it’s a glorified foreman’s job. The fact is a project manager does far, far more; he is essentially responsible for taking a project from fruition to completion, which means dealing with everything from budgeting, to accounting, to design, engineering, construction or implementation, monitoring, review and audits, and finally close-out. This type of role involves far more than just monitoring a couple of workers to keep them on track with work tasks.
In terms of satisfaction score, the project management side of things probably rates high in the neighborhood of an 8 at least. There is a certain personal satisfaction that comes with knowing a project was brought to completion within expectations and exceeding the original goals set.
On the other hand, the people management aspect probably takes the most time and energy just to keep the human factor on track. Personalities, personnel issues, and opinion differences can create a number of needless obstacles along the way that have to be overcome.
While being a project manager has definitely given my career life a sense of fulfillment, it’s not what I would describe as an all-encompassing life purpose. At the end of the day, project management involves control and influencing others to get work done. If done right, there is no actual construction or production personally performed in the process.
In comparison to actually working with tools and being one of the hands-on creators, the project manager has to sit back and oversee the process instead, monitoring progress to make sure it’s acceptable.
Not that it is necessarily unique to project management versus other types of management, but the skill to learn cross-discipline thinking is critical to success as a project manager. Many times, the primary role of a project manager is not the project itself but rather the negotiation and relationships that need to be built to ensure support and avoid delays.
That comes from soft skills and knowing how to work with others, particularly those in other business areas that may have a shared interest or stake in the progress or results. This is one of the hardest lessons for a new project manager to learn if he is not a people-person already.
Looking back on college in comparison to the work world, I would say to any student now not to think of classes taken as any direct relation to work. There’s just far too much difference from class theory to actual office application. Instead, focus on learning the general principles taught. These will become the basic tools that shape how a person thinks and approaches real problems later on in the office.
Further, don’t assume there will lots of time to prepare for a solution. Many times project managers have to think on their feet and make quick decisions that can make or break a project. This burden of estimated guessing comes with the responsibility of being the one in charge. Success depends on having good people around you to depend on for quality information when making decisions.
That said, people should also be prepared to be surprised. There has been a project I have worked on, put in a lot of time and energy with others, brought it to success only to see executive management then pull the plug on it. It’s very strange to see this happen without any real logical reason as to why. You learn not to take these sort of situations personally, but it can be mentally draining.
In closing, those wanting or in the field of project management always need to remember to take time out to decompress. Physical exercise and time to relax are key as the job’s stress can really eat at you. Each day is a pressure-cooker when a project is really going to keep it on track. If release is not practiced regularly, all that stress gets taken home, causing family problems in the evening.
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