How to get ahead as a… project manager

how to get- head as a project manager

Depending on how you view it, transitioning from your current role into a project manager can either be a small step or a giant leap. For some, the move can be daunting despite its rewards, for others it’s a significant but achievable goal that affords numerous opportunities to further your career.


If you’re looking to advance your career, taking on a project manager role, you’d be well served seeking advice from seasoned professionals.  So, with the help of a selection of experts and influencers, we’ve collated a number of tips and insights to give you an extra boost for when you’re thinking about that all-important next step.

The value of soft skills

Increasingly, employers are placing importance on the value of potential project managers’ soft skills. Endless knowledge in your area of expertise is obviously worthwhile, but being able to leverage that knowledge and your team’s talent through a wider skillset will stand you in good stead. This is now often looked on as even more beneficial than industry knowledge and role-specific skills.

Elizabeth Harrin, author of A Girl’s Guide to Project Management, with over a decade of experience in healthcare and financial services, says: “Project management is changing: today it’s less about the technical skills and more about ensuring the company is getting value for money from the work that’s being carried out.”

Elizabeth points to the need for greater communication and delegating skills, saying: “Any experience you can demonstrate that shows your negotiating, influencing and coaching skills will be a huge help, along with examples of where you’ve challenged a decision because it was the right thing to do.”

From body language, active listening and time management, these core competencies are taking precedence over traditional hard skills. Sharpening up the softer proficiencies can definitely help give you the edge.

People at a project management presentation

Giacomo Carli, lecturer in Strategic Management at The Open University and lead educator of the FutureLearn course, Business Fundamentals: Project Management, notes the importance of being a ‘people person’ when it comes to managing projects, especially since you’ll encounter a diverse array of teams:

“You should be adept at recognising not just how to lead your team towards the objectives, but also developing the skills of each team member and leaving a useful heritage of knowledge to your organisation after the project ends.

“This is key to securing yourself a more senior position within the project management world.”

The benefit of training and qualifications

While it’s not mandatory that you have qualifications in order to enter the world of project management, it gives you an undoubted advantage over other candidates come interview time. In particular, you’ll often see the PRINCE2 qualification referenced, so consider enhancing your repertoire with this, as it allows you to apply the PRINCE2 principles to your projects, acting with an informed authority that stretches your project management knowledge further.

Some employers run graduate schemes and internship programmes focused on project management. These could help you take your first steps in the profession.

Giacomo notes: “In terms of qualifications and training, it’s a good idea to regularly revisit the foundations of project management theory, and applying your learnings to projects you’ve been a part of.”

project management team discussing options

Key experience required

Aside from soft skills and qualifications, a good deal of time in the relevant field will stand you in good stead.

Application of theory aside, first-hand know-how of project management in practice is necessary. Giacomo continues: “As a project manager, your role evolves over the different phases of a project; from initiation, planning and execution to closure, it’s key to understand the challenges you’ll face within each phase. These will include: dealing with changes to the project’s objectives, matching others’ expectations against the realities of what can be achieved, getting the necessary people involved from start to finish, and being able to manage risks in a timely way.”

Meanwhile, Elizabeth notes: “The best, most successful project managers – those who make a strategic contribution to the business – are the ones who ask the intelligent questions and aren’t afraid to point out when a project is struggling to achieve the benefits expected. That’s tough to do, but it’s where the most value lies, both for your organisation and your own career.”

getting ahead in career

Other tips for getting ahead and progressing to project manager

How else can you optimise your chances when you’re looking to make that move into the project management world? Dr Mike Clayton, author of five books on project management and founder of is well-versed in offering advice to PM hopefuls. He says: “The biggest question I hear from experienced project managers who are not yet at the top of their career is ‘how can I get more time to think?’

“The solution is simple. Set aside half an hour each week. Book it as a private meeting if that helps. And take yourself off to a quiet place or a café. Take nothing with you but a notebook and pen. And for half an hour, let your mind wander.

“I have found that on around half the times I do this, nothing much comes to me. But it’s the other times that matter. Then, I’ve had valuable insights into things we’re missing. Or notice trends or patterns we need to be aware of. So, my suggestion: create time to see around the next bend.”

Hopefully, these tips will help you plot your move into project management and continue to progress your career. For more helpful information about developing skills and climbing the corporate ladder, please view our other blogs.

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