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Starting Your Project Management Career

Getting started in project management can be tough. When starting out, there are many questions and challenges to face, and they are different based on your particular background and situation.

People who struggle with this come from various backgrounds:

Project Newbies – You might be a recent graduate or switching careers. If you have no experience whatsoever with working on or managing projects, it can seem almost impossible to get your foot in the door.

Technical Gurus – You have been on project teams and been “in the trenches” getting things done. Now it seems that managing these projects is your calling, but you have to go through a paradigm shift and learn new skills to make the transition.

People Managers – You have been managing people and are good at it. Now you want to expand your horizons and switch from the day-to-day management of functional teams to the dynamic environment of delivering unique projects.

You might be trying to break into project management, or you may be an “Accidental Project Manager” who looked up one day and asked, “What have I gotten myself into?” A project fell in your lap somehow. How do you get good at managing it?

The questions I get most from these groups center around expanding knowledge, gaining experience, and planning your career path. Answers change based on individual circumstances. Your personality attributes and background play heavily into the path forward.

Hard and Soft Skills

Natural aptitudes vary from person to person, but you can acquire a level of competency for nearly all project management skills through education and experience.

Hard Skills refer to competency with the tools and techniques of formal project management. If you are analytical by nature, hard skills are relatively easy for you to acquire and master.

Soft Skills or “people skills” include competency in communication and relationships with other people. Outgoing “people persons” have a natural aptitude to be comfortable in this arena, but can also engage in many ineffective approaches when lacking in knowledge and experience. Do not confuse personal attributes with soft skills. I cannot influence personal attributes and aptitudes, but I can teach soft skills.

Building Knowledge

Regardless of which group you belong to, you will need to expand your knowledge base.

Technical Gurus will likely pick up the hard skills quickly, but many of the soft skills practices of managing people effectively and politics may be somewhat new. People Managers will find soft skill nuances in project environments and many of the hard skills will be new territory. Project Newbies may be familiar with some of the theories in project management, but are going to need a lot of real-world knowledge, experience, and coaching to land that first job and formulate their project manager career path.

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