How do I become a project manager?

Projects of all shapes and sizes are commonplace in business, from an SME migrating over to a new software solution to major structural projects in FTSE 100 companies. In reality, becoming a project manager is not that difficult. Becoming a good project manager on the other hand – well that’s a little harder.

project managerProject managers worth their salt need a solid knowledge of a project management methodology like PRINCE2, but you’ll need to prove this with the requisite qualifications and certificates. But that’s just the beginning. Let’s look at why this is important as a good project manager.

Companies use standard project methodologies

Project management methodology gives structure to the discipline of project management. PRINCE2 in particular (which is both a methodology and a globally recognised certification), tends to be adopted across the board by organisations.

You can imagine the chaos if project managers were allowed to pick their own processes and structures for running projects – and that’s what used to happen. These days, everyone works to a common structure and framework provided by the project management methodology, which is very often PRINCE2.

In order to talk to senior managers, executives and teams, you need to have a common understanding of concepts and vocabulary that shared knowledge provides. The certification provides the employer with the assurance that the individual not only knows the method, but has worked on case studies, to show that they can apply the method.

Interestingly, almost half of PRINCE2 training is funded by individuals paying for themselves. This is because the qualification has a market value and people are willing to pay out of their own pocket to achieve it because they feel they’re investing in their own future.

Skills and personal attributes

However, as any seasoned project manager will admit, getting the qualifications and having the knowledge is only half the battle. Managing projects can be challenging, drawing on all your skills and personal attributes. It’s the combination of formal project methods and softer skills that make a great project manager.

Leadership is one of these. You may have learned how to manage exceptions, plan products, allocate team roles and responsibilities and run a risk log. But in addition to these management tasks, you have to lead the project team. It means believing in what you’re doing and having a vision as to where the project is going.

This is reflected in the typical sequence of questions that crop up in an interview for a project management role. The recruiter may begin with something that tests your understanding of the project methodology the organisation uses. For example, you may be asked what roles you would expect to see in the project structure. If you have a PRINCE2 qualification, you can describe the roles of the Sponsor, Senior User, Senior Supplier and so on.

However, a typical follow-up question may be aimed at finding out about your softer skills, such as the ability to manage and resolve conflict. So you may be asked what you would do if the Senior User and Senior Supplier were having problems working together. The interviewer will want you to show that you’re able to listen to people, find out what the underlying problems are and attempt to resolve them, while behaving ethically and treating everyone with respect.

It’s this combination of theoretical knowledge of a project methodology, linked to a pragmatic, problem-solving approach and an ability to communicate, that distinguishes a great project manager.

The good news is that your previous work experience may have given you a lot of the softer skills you need to work well in the project environment. You may have dealt with staff who were older, younger or different from you. You may have had to communicate in different ways to people at different levels in the organisation.

All of these things will stand you in good stead as a project manager. A great deal of project management is like any other management – motivating people, anticipating problems, planning work, hitting deadlines, communicating and so forth. You’re simply doing this within a project management framework.

Qualifications are essential

So you may be halfway to a project management job already. But it’s essential to get those qualifications. PRINCE2 is probably the best place to start and it offers both a foundation and practitioner certificate. With the foundation, you’ll be able to work in project administration. But for project management, you’re going to need the full practitioner certificate.

You’ll need to commit to doing some hard work – but then no one ever went into project management for an easy life!