Manage your way into a great career

A project manager is someone who is professionally trained and experienced in the field of project management, and their job is to plan, execute and close out commercial or industrial projects. Projects vary in size, from a rollout of new IT hardware in a small accounting firm to large construction projects.

Project managers tend to stick to a particular industry, but, as the basics of running any project remain the same, a good project manager will be able to function in any environment. It just becomes easier to manage a project in a particular industry once you know how it works. So, while it’s possible, you will seldom find a construction project manager suddenly working on an IT project, or vice versa!

Often, a group of project managers will work together on different aspects of one project and report to a senior project manager or project director, who will ultimately be responsible for the entire project. It is a position that carries a lot of responsibility and which requires constant focus. It can be very stressful at times, especially when things do not go as planned! As a result, these positions are also fairly well paid. Most project managers like the excitement and would not do anything else.

The work environment

Project managers can work as permanent employees with one company that constantly run projects, they can work for a project management consultancy that provides services to other companies, or they can work as self-employed project managers for a variety of different clients. There are advantages and disadvantages to all of these.

Working as a full-time employee results in a familiarity with systems, methodologies and the people involved, whereas being self-employed allows for greater variation and flexibility. Full-time employees may become bored in the same environment, while those who as self-employed may struggle to find work during economic downturns.

But what does a project manager actually do?

A project is made up of many different facets – there are stakeholders, actions, limitations, risks, deadlines, synergies, systems, budgets, and processes, and many more, depending on the type of project. The project manager is the person who has to find order in the chaos, and turn all these elements into a finely tuned machine that functions cohesively for the duration of the project. Good planning is key, and good communication is crucial to the success of the project.

Caution: Formal training required!

The key to being a good project manager is the appropriate training. It is almost impossible to do this work without formal training. The ability to manage work streams and stages on the appropriate software is crucial. In addition, certain methodologies such as PRINCE or ISO standards must be followed. A good knowledge of project tools, risk assessment, and communication strategies is extremely important and these can all be learnt through formal tuition.

The methodologies and tools used will usually be determined by the company running the project. Related IT systems are also determined by the company policy and systems already in place. As methodologies and tools develop, additional training is needed, and ongoing formal training is a must in this field.

What type of person makes a good project manager?

There are several characteristics good project managers should have, but possibly the most important one is the ability to command authority naturally. They must have the ability to move people into action in a natural way, without creating conflict. Attention to detail is incredibly important, as there is a constant reshuffling of milestones and everything must be managed and monitored. The ability to manage change with ease, to prioritize well and to recognise potential problems before they arise are all essential. Great communication skills are a must! And, of course, enjoying the job also helps!

About the Author:

Karen McKee is a skilled project manager who has managed a number of large projects in various industries, including IT, L&D and petrochemicals.

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