One of the reasons that practitioners cite when they describe why they entered the ranks of project management is the opportunity for career advancement.  This is especially true for individuals with a technical background such as engineering or software development.  In some organizations who are not able to offer a clear career path in a technical field, project management offers a stepping stone for these individuals, especially as they’ve demonstrated success on the job.  As such, they decide to take on the role of project manager in search of more opportunities and in the hopes of climbing the corporate ladder.

Interestingly enough though many project managers complain of a glass ceiling of sorts when attempting to climb that corporate ladder.  There are a variety of issues associated with this such as the thinking by some executives that project management is purely a technical discipline.

However, one issue that is important to consider when we look to project management practitioners who are interested in moving up that corporate ladder is readiness.  Considering how few organizations have a career path in project management, the main type of opportunity that becomes available to these individuals is becoming a “people” manager.  Organizations have a variety of roles and titles associated with this type of position.  They could include functional managers who are responsible for a technical discipline or a resource manager who is responsible for deploying resources on projects.  The bottom line though is that these positions require a different type of emphasis when interacting with team members and professionals. As such, if and when that project manager is interested to seek that job change, there will be questions that have to be addressed.  These in my opinion are fair questions due to the different nature of the positions as compared to PM.  They can include:

  • Do they have the right skills to do the job?
  • How has their PM experience prepared them to be a people manager?
  • What will they likely lack in terms of knowledge?

In trying to better understand the differences between the demands on the people manager versus the project manager I believe we have to start by understanding the expectations of the two roles.  A typical project manager is expected to possess some or all of the following skills (pulled from PMI’s career framework):

  • Manager changes to project scope
  • Execute project plan
  • Communicate project plan
  • Establish project deliverables
  • Monitor and control project work
  • Implement approved actions
  • Conduct kickoff meeting
  • Identify high level risks, assumptions, and constraints
  • Speaks clearly
  • Writes clearly
  • Possesses good listening skills
  • Demonstrates high ethics and values
  • Recognizes contributions
  • Supports team building

As I review the items above it becomes fairly clear that many of the skills listed are ones that don’t exactly apply to managing people.  Its not to say that the skill of managing project scope changes is not a transferable skills or one that is of zero value to being a people manager.  However, the issue here is that there are skills that are not included in this list ranging from dealing with people issues to hiring and managing people.

The point that I am trying to make here is that to position a project management practitioner for succes on the corporate ladder we have to consider skills, experiences, and knowledge that is above and beyond that job description for the project manager. This is critical when that person is seeking a people management position where the relationship with the resources that they interact with changes dramatically.

In some organizations there are systems and processes in place that allow PM practitioners, among others to develop a professional development plan to address potential gaps as they explore career advancement.  However, there are many organizations that don’t offer this and as such it becomes incumbent upon the practitioner him/herself to determine where those gaps are and how to fill them.

This is yet another opportunity for the profession to consider in terms of expanding the body of knowledge and various offerings to help advance the careers of practitioners.