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How to Move From an Engineering Position To Project Management In 10 Easy Steps
Getting pigeonholed is a killer when it comes to career advancement – especially if you’ve spent the last 5 to 10 years progressing through the ranks in a technical position. Moving into a managerial position seems an unattainable dream, particularly when you consider that only about 20% of major organizations actually operate leadership development programs and a mere 5% concentrate on bringing out the managerial talents of their technical staff.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
If you can learn to:
- Spot gaps in the market
- Apply creative strategies
- Boost your knowledge
… then you can make that move and become a top project manager, irrespective of your particular line of business, background, skill-set or location. Here are the promised Ten Commandments for facilitating the transition.
1. Apply for a Project Management Professional (PMP) certification
PMP certification is the industry standard for aspiring managers as it demonstrates to employers that the holder has attained a high level of relevant education, competency, and experience. During the PMP course, you would be taught how to:
- Manage a project from inception to completion
- Conduct internal interviews and extract key information
- Plan projects in detail and establish the optimum solution
- Allocate your resources in the most efficient and cost-effective way
- Understand contractual and managerial terms and apply them in the proper manner
- Motivate and run your team of staff to achieve their maximum potential
Seeing your PMP certification, potential employers will know that you have been instructed in the correct way to perform managerial tasks and have not picked up the bad habits which are common among self-taught managers. This makes you a much more employable proposition.
Even experienced project managers who want to make their resumes stand out to employers and boost their salaries are also good candidates for a PMP certification. Many project managers have found that the PMP certification not only demonstrates their project management expertise, but also helps correct many of the bad habits they’ve picked up over the years, making them more valuable employees in their present position, and more tempting job candidates in the future.
2. Think EI, not IQ
Your Intelligence Quotient (IQ) has got you where you are today but now you need to acquire something called Emotional Intelligence (EI) as well.
Extroverted social skills are often mislabeled as Emotional Intelligence. However, EI refers to your ability to manage, monitor and regulate your emotions in a balanced and healthy manner in order to achieve your personal and business objectives. EI encompasses the ability to:
- Understand emotions – discover the interrelationships between emotions and gauge how they develop and mutate with time
- Perceive emotions – translate the body language of both real people and image representations
- Use emotions – learn problem-solving techniques and channel your moods and emotions to the needs of your work
- Manage emotions – take charge of both your positive and negative emotions
You were not expected to become the DaVinci of Intelligence Quotient (IQ) in your technical position, nor would you be expected to become the Obama of Emotional Intelligence (IE) in your new job, but you need to acquire the skills to influence stakeholders in order to achieve your project objectives.
As a project manager you will have to rely 10% on your IQ and 90% on your EI. With an appreciation of EI you will be in harmony with your team and thus able to construct highly successful working relationships with them. According to research, unlike IQ, EI can be gained through conscious efforts in interaction with others, through training and sometimes through peak experiences.
3. Interpersonal skills matter
Nobody fancies a project manager who makes a habit of sitting at his/her desk all day, avoiding any interaction with other humans. No man is an island and it’s no good just knowing the theory of how to be a project manager unless you can put it into practice. That means getting others to take instructions and carry them out for your project to the best of their ability, all without any authority or micro-management. Developing good interpersonal skills will not only aid your relationships with those below you, it will also profit your dealings with senior management and help to convince them that you really do have ‘what it takes’.
4. Grow a thick skin
As a project manager, there will be tough times that will truly test you to the limits of your tolerance. However, you must learn to focus on achieving the goal of your project while, at the same time, not letting others undermine your confidence. Only by keeping the big picture in the forefront of your mind will your project succeed, therefore letting others ‘get to you’ and thereby damaging your self-belief is an absolute no-no.
If you’ve been working in a rather technical position, this is almost certainly a significant departure from your normal routines with their typically finite tasks and their predetermined standards. The role of project manager requires a thick skin and the supreme determination needed to batter through to victory.
5. Improve your negotiation skills
Managers are required to negotiate on a daily basis. These negotiations can relate to anything from agreeing minor personal matters with juniors, to negotiating a major contract or a financial package for the company. Such skills take time and practice to learn, and there are online courses which offer intensive training in this area. Signing up for one, you can expect to acquire knowledge of:
- Collaborative and competitive strategies
- Maintaining objectivity by not ‘making it personal’
- Reviving a stalled deal
- Finding the Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA)
- Coping in a hostile environment
- Search for alternatives and win-win solutions
Good negotiators possess a talent that is guaranteed to prove an asset when promotion is being considered. They are always in demand.
6. Lead from the front
If you lead, others will follow – as long as you motivate them, that is. The goal of your project may be all that matters to you, but your workforce will probably have other primary considerations and, as a project manager, you will need to encourage them to brush those aside for the moment in order to seize the day. The analogy with the role of a king before a battle is apt, and while a saber-rattling Shakespearean-type speech might be a bit over the top in an office environment, there still needs to be iron in your words if you want to inspire your troops.
The ability to motivate is essential for any manager and is a skill which must be acquired. There are a variety of online courses available to teach you how to:
- Become an effective leader
- Run effective meetings
- Provide stability in times of crisis
- Work with difficult people
A good leader will always attract followers. As a result, it’s well worth investing the time and effort to become one. Learning to develop a positive attitude that can be maintained even in difficult circumstances is also one of the keys to successful leadership. Failure to do so can raise the level of uncertainty among team members and other stakeholders. The effects of increased uncertainty on people’s performance will always be negative, but keeping an upbeat attitude is the best way to avoid these problems. During difficult times, the most successful project managers are able to offer an extra dose of stability, direction and hope for their project team by projecting a hopeful and positive attitude. This approach will build team morale rather than tear it down. Project managers who embody a positive attitude in the face of adversity set an important example for others to follow.
7. Don’t try to do it all alone – get a mentor
There’s no reason why you should reinvent the wheel. There are people out there – you probably know some already – who possess the skills that you are striving to acquire. Why not approach one of them with a view to tapping in to their acquired knowledge and experience?
While there are recognized qualifications in mentoring, in reality a mentor can be any person whom you trust and who will guide you and challenge you in your personal development.
The choice of a specific mentor is a very personal matter as what works for one person will not work for another. That said, there are some attributes which should be taken into account when seeking one, and these include the mentor’s ability to:
- Interpret body language
- Maintain high standards
- Set goals for you
At the beginning, you may even attend some of your mentor’s project team meetings or even project reviews sessions with company executives to learn the kind of presentation skills that are expected of you when it’s your turn to be in the hot seat.
Mentors are usually in the fortunate position of being able to offer their services for free however this is naturally a matter to discuss and negotiate before the first session. Meeting once or twice a week is usually sufficient but, as you progress, you may decide to reduce this frequency to the level of an ad-hoc arrangement.
Since you never know when you’ll need your mentor again, you should continue to update them on your progress, even when you have finished regular sessions.
8. Be willing, ready and able of learning beyond your area of expertise
As a project manager, you must possess an understanding of the work of your organization’s other departments, their functions, and their specific requirements. This ‘all-round’ knowledge is the foundation for making balanced and informed decisions and, without it, no project manager can hope to operate effectively.
Learning this experience and knowledge is a part of the PMP course in which you cover a variety of major disciplines such as:
- Finance and accounting
- Information Technology
- Human resources
- Quality management
- Risk analysis
- Procurement & Logistics
Standing still is never an option and a sincere belief that ‘there’s always something new to learn’ is a very sound one. Times change – you need to move with them.
9. Gain experience of projects at all different stages
Projects are typically split into 5 different phases, each of which presents its own specific challenges. Consequently, if you are looking to progress from technician to manager, you will eventually need to be able to handle all 5 of these stages. This means that you must be able to demonstrate a proven track record of having been involved in each of them.
You should always be pro-active in seeking out new projects at any stage of their existence and keep a daily log of:
- Process Groups your were involved in (Initiation, Planning, Executing, Monitoring & Controlling, or Closing)
- What the project was trying to achieve
- Challenges and risks faced by the team and solutions found
- Your particular involvement – what you have done, learned, or suggested
This log, which can contain anything you’ve done that has any project management implications, will prove essential when the time comes for you to make the transition. It is an ideal companion for interviews and exactly what your new employers will want to see. It will also allow you to talk with complete confidence about real-life situations and the solutions that you helped implement.
10. Learn how project management tools are used
While your experience and knowledge of your industry will be essential in helping you make the right decisions as a manager, you will also be expected to utilize the many tools that are available to project managers. To give you a better idea, some of the more common ones are:
- Gantt Charts & Critical Path Analysis
- Earned Value Analysis
- Financial Reporting & Bank Transactions
Look out for these tools and make the effort to learn how they are created and the diverse ways in which they are used. Don’t be afraid to ask for explanations and guidance about them from your colleagues, mentor, or other contacts.
Without a doubt, the most secure way of progressing from a technical role to project management is via the PMP certification route. During your training, you will learn the technical skills necessary to get you to the top and keep you there. Possessing the PMP certificate is a clear statement to both employers and your colleagues that you have attained a high standard in management and that you are theoretically capable of putting what you know into practice.
However, a PMP certificate is only theoretical because being a good project manager is not just about knowing what to do, it’s also about being able to communicate, motivate and delegate. Consequently, working hard on raising the bar on your interpersonal skills and your emotional intelligence will give you the practical ability to convey your PMP instructions effectively and instill in you the ability to be a true leader on your project.
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