Q&A Project Management Careers: Do I Go for a PM Role?

I have a couple of years of experience working as a junior project manager for a utilities company but no formal project management qualifications. I do, however, have a bachelors degree in engineering and a masters in town planning. I recently started working for a local council in London in their planning department in a relatively ‘low-level’ admin position to get my foot in the door in the ‘planning’ sector but I really want to get back into project management, ideally in the planning/development/built environment field. I’m not sure if I should get some more experience in planning and try to improve my technical planning knowledge before pursuing a project management qualification, or would getting my APMP or Prince2 qualification help progress my career. Basically I’m worried that if I get a project management qualification now without a solid technical background first I may not have the depth of knowledge needed to confidently excel in this field. Or, if I get my project management qualification, could I go down a project management career path without having to first gain in-depth planning experience?

Also at this stage in my career, do you recommend I go for the APMP or Prince2 course, and from your experience, do people who choose the self-study route tend to do alright, or do you recommend taking a taught course?

My feelings here are that you know the planning/development/built environment better than me – when they have project managers, do they expect their PMs to have a strong technical background too? I say this because not all organisations would see this has a pre-requisite – they prefer their PMs to concentrate on leading and delivering the project and leaving the technical aspects to people within their team. If your gut feel is that good PMs in the planning/development/built environment have a solid technical background I think that answers your question. They were good at the technical bit before being promoted to PM so I would suggest that if this is the case – keep concentrating on the technical side for a few more years. Having said that, I can’t imagine that anyone working in this kind of environment couldn’t benefit from using basic principles of project management in their work – therefore out of the two – APMP or PRINCE2, it’s APMP that would be more beneficial to you. APMP is much more in use and recognised in the planning/development/built environments than PRINCE2.

For self-study vs taught class – it’s personal preference but I opt for taught class because I get much more out of it than self-study – the added benefit for me is speaking to other delegates and having the opportunity to learn about the real world application as well as the theory. I think this might be beneficial to you too because I think your thinking about PM is too black and white – people’s careers in PM are in the grey somewhere, mainly because so many organisations have a different take and slant on how projects get delivered in their business. You’re trying to map out a career in PM and I really believe that it’s about building good foundation stones first (both PM and your “domain”) and then keeping your eyes and ears open for opportunity – which believe me comes from the most unexpected places.

In terms of where you are now – I would also be looking around for opportunity too – local councils do have project management roles – so how about a “low-level” admin position but within a project environment? Just a thought.

photo credit: Paolo Margari

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  1. Good questions 🙂 In my opinion technical background for project manager is crucial. It helps to communicate with the team and sometimes it’s useful in negotiations with customer or project sponsor. On the other hand It’s also necessary to gain solid project management qualification. I would also choose APMP and taught class. Taught class gives more opportunities to exchange experiences and solve common PM issues within the teams which are natural ecosystems for project.

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