Top Ten Tips for Becoming a Successful Project Manager

1. Keep up to date on the technical aspects of project management

Staying committed to your profession means investing the time and energy into staying current with new thinking and techniques in project management. It doesn’t need to be full training courses; you will most likely get all the information you need from seminars; trade journals and online resources. Keeping up to date means not only will the new techniques weave their way into your delivery style, it could also mean new opportunities in the future.

2. Take accreditations

Find the right balance between accreditations that the marketplace demands and what you need for professional growth. Project managers get increasingly frustrated when certain accreditations are asked for by employing organisations even though those accreditations are no replacement for real experience. The smart answer is to give your customers what they want whilst paying attention to what you also need.

If you’ve not taken some kind of skills gap analysis in recent years now is the time to take a look at some of the project management competency frameworks (available from Association for Project Management (APM) and Project Management Institute (PMI) for example). The skills gap analysis is likely to indicate some of the more behavioural aspects of project management that need attention so don’t dismiss training courses that address these but don’t carry a formal accreditation status.

3. Keep your mind open to new experiences

The direction your career takes contributes to the success you will achieve. The great thing about a career in project management is that the direction is never really that clear. New products, new services, big business changes can all impact the direction our career could take. Be aware of operating within your comfort zone and actively seek out new opportunities that will provide stretch goals. Equally be open when approached about opportunities that can seem a bit left-field. Dismissing them out of hand without investigating further could be a great opportunity missed

4. Keep a wider view on your industry

Not just from a project management point of view but also your sector; domain and product skill set. The temptation when working on certain types of projects within a sector is rarely lifting your head and seeing what’s happening in other parts of the industry. One of the frustrating aspects of being a project manager is knowing that your skills would be transferable to other types of projects. So when one domain dries up it stands to reason that you could easily turn your hand to new domains. Unfortunately our customers still struggle to see how project management can be transferable when someone doesn’t have previous experience of their domain.

Top Ten Tips for Becoming a Successful Project Manager
The answers are in the grey

5. Expand your repertoire

Being a project manager doesn’t mean your knowledge has to stop at project management. Project managers are working to bring change to an organisation – at a micro level within a product or service based project or at more macro level like business transformation. It stands to reason that a project manager who has more understanding of the business and of where their project fits into the bigger picture of an organisation will deliver more successfully. Areas such as benefits realisation, business analysis; corporate strategy and business planning are areas that should be explored further.

6. Active career management

Taking a more proactive approach to managing your career rather than letting it just happen can bring both objective and subjective success. Rate increases, contract after contract, will depend heavily on success in the last contract and how you use that success to gain the next contract at a higher rate. Active career management is about planning your freelance career, using steps 1 to 5 to increase your saleability, to head off competition and position yourself as “the cream of the crop”. Active career management also means focusing on the other aspects of your life that led you to freelancing in the first place. Building in adequate work/life balance plans so the goals you want to achieve professionally and personally are covered.

7. Be self-aware

The importance of the behavioural aspects of a project manager’s job are well documented. Your personality and approach to the work you do has far-reaching consequences – on your immediate team; stakeholders and senior management. Being self-aware, understanding how others see you and how you influence their work is one of the first steps to getting better at communication and people management. This naturally leads to understanding more about the complexities of people…

 8. Get interested in psychology

As a project manager you know that often the difference between success and failure on a project is down to the people aspects. Understanding more about human behaviour and more specifically occupational psychology can help us perform better with the people on which our success depends. Psychological models are already underpinning a lot of the management techniques we use to negotiate; influence; motivate and instigate change. Find out more about current and emerging models and see how they help you both professionally and personally.

9. Develop listening skills

A successful project manager is one that knows the truth of the quote, “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” Epictetus. It shouldn’t need explanation however it is a reminder that the project manager is the facilitator of project success and how can they hope to build a realistic picture of what needs delivering from others if they’re talking all the time?

 10. Remember the answers are in the grey bits – it’s not always black and white

If project management was black and white, all projects and project managers would be successful. The trick to being more successful than others is recognising that it is never that easy or straightforward, that the answers that make the difference are always in the grey areas.

What would be your number 11?


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