7 ways to advance your project management career

Project management experts and executive IT recruiters provide tips to project managers on what they can do to give their careers a boost

Everyone wants to get ahead. (Well, almost everyone.) Project managers are no different. Hence the number of certification exams project managers take. But just having PMP (for Project Management Professional) after your name is no longer enough in today's high-tech mobile world.

So what skills do project managers need to get ahead? Dozens of project management experts, executives and recruiters share their top seven project management career tips.

[ Six Attributes of Successful Project Managers ]

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1. Get certified. "There is no getting away from having at least one of the standard PM credentials, e.g., PMP, PgMP, PRINCE2 -- and now the norm is to have more than one," says Courtney Kirschbaum, CEO at CK Consulting and Her Next Move.

"PRINCE2 seems to be more popular in Europe and Canada; whereas PMP and PgMP seem to be favored in the States," Kirschbaum says. And "many technical PMs are getting ITIL certified as well," she says. "If you don't have a credential, you won't be taken seriously no matter what the rest of your resume says."

[ Why Project Management Certifications Matter ]

"I would strongly encourage fellow CIOs, CTOs and their project leads to have a look at PMI's new portfolio management professional (PfMP) credential, which recognizes the advanced experience and skill of portfolio managers," adds Jeff Jackson, vice president of Development, Changepoint, a provider of PSA and PPM for services and IT organizations. "This credential can benefit and facilitate career advancement for PMs and portfolio managers by [helping them] demonstrate their proven ability to manage and align a portfolio of projects and programs that realize their organization's strategic goals."

All that said, though, "get certified only if it complements your experience," says Te Wu, PMP, PgMP, CEO of PMO Advisory, experts in project management. "This means do not go for CAPM when you are already mid-level; in this case, PMP is better. And if you are already a senior project manager, target PMP and PgMP," he says. "Certification enhances one's credential when applied appropriately," he explains. "I have seen too many 'novice' project managers with fancy certifications," he says, who were not up to the task, despite the initials after their last name.

2. Remember that experience matters."Hands-on project experience is more important than certifications," says Chris Mitchell, principal & manager, Technology Contract Staffing, WinterWyman, a recruitment firm.

"Yes, certifications like PMP, Six Sigma, Agile Scrum, etc., are nice to have but most [companies] looks for real world experience geared toward the specific pipeline of work they have," Mitchell says. "So the more experience you have in the area you want to be in, the better your chances of advancement.

3. Speak the language of business, not just project management. "Skip the jargon when dealing with non-PM people who don't live in the world of Work Breakdown Structures, Gantt Charts and Monte Carlo analysis," says Joe McElhaney, director of the accounting firm Aronson LLC.

"Articulate the value, progress and estimates of your project in business terms (e.g., dollars, ROI, payback period, etc.) in addition to the traditional scope/performance, cost and schedule terms most PMs use," McElhaney says. "Nothing will advance your career more than using the terms that the people responsible for your promotion use."

4. Don't be a PM zealot. "Project management zealots are people who believe they must use every best practice or tool included in whatever methodology or body of knowledge they subscribe to, regardless of whether all of those practices are appropriate for the project," says McElhaney. Instead "a PM [should] apply the right mix of project management tools for the individual project."

However, too often, project managers stubbornly cling to a specific methodology -- the one they are certified in -- even when it may not be the right approach. It's "this is a bad habit [that] often leads to the popular misconception that project management doesn't work or isn't useful," McElhaney says

5. Don't shy away from "hard" projects -- or give up (or assign blame) when the going gets tough."As a project manager, don't be afraid to be bold," says David Laing, director of Innovation, LaserJet & Enterprise Solutions Business, HP.

"Be the go-to person for the hardest projects. When other project managers run away, step up and volunteer to take on the toughest assignments," Laing says. "This will help you gain visibility within your company and enable you to drive results."

Similarly, don't give up or blame others when projects get delayed or encounter setbacks. Instead, work with the team to find solutions and keep the project moving forward. Companies look for and promote problem solvers. And an ability to get the job done, despite obstacles, will put you in good stead with senior management.

6. Be clear about your career goals."Actively pursue and communicate your career goals so that your supervisor, your mentor, your peers and coworkers know where you want to be in five years," says Kari Fernandez, PMP, CSM, senior technical manager, Experis Global Content Solutions, part of the Manpower Group.

"Be very clear about your goals and work together with your supervisor to determine how [to accomplish them]," Fernandez says. "Do this through performance reviews and bi-weekly one-on-one meetings to ensure that you are selected for the right opportunities to advance your career."

7. Play nicely with others. "I have seen excellent, technically strong project managers who just rub people the wrong way," says Wu. "Project managers need to remember that the deliverable requires the entire team. Thus, treat people with respect, be firm, but also be nice."

Remember, "everyone you encounter is your customer," Fernandez says. So "treat everyone with the same professionalism, courtesy and service-oriented responsiveness. Ignore titles and roles, and remember that how you treat other people matters," she says. "Your career will flourish as you gain respect and build a network of people who will champion you and your career goals."

Jennifer Lonoff Schiff is a technology writer and a regular contributor to CIO.com. She also runs a marketing communications firm.

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This story, "7 ways to advance your project management career" was originally published by CIO.

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