Project Management is a valuable skill-set. Project Management skills enable you to deliver big, complex, important changes. And organizations are prepared to pay for that. This is what makes Project Management a career option.
You may have got the skills of Project Management for a specific Project. Maybe you got them as a part of your overall professional or managerial skill-set.
Or maybe you set of on building a Project Management career, and then discover that this is not the career for you. At this point, you may wonder:
‘How useful will these Project Management skills be, in other areas of my work?’
‘Are my Project Management skills transferable to other domains?’
Without a doubt, the answer is an emphatic ‘Yes’.
Not only is Project Management a core workplace skill that all professional and managerial workers will need… You can take that as read. But the component skills will all make you better at your job. Maybe you are supervising a team in professional services, leading a shift in a factory or warehouse, or managing yourself as a creative solo-entrepreneur. For all of these, and more, Project Management skills will help you be more effective, more disciplined, and more successful.
In a moment, we’ll take a look at ten areas where Project Management skills can contribute to a successful career. Inevitably, the selection will be somewhat subjective. These are Project Management skills I find useful outside of Project Management. I have used them in:
If you are wondering how deeply these skills became ingrained during my years as an active Project Manager, perhaps my writing career is relevant. I have written 14 books of which 4 are unambiguously Project Management books. Of the other 10, all but one are based on skills I learned and developed as a Project Manager.
In amongst this personal list you will find both hard and soft Project Management skills. One thing that strikes me, as I prepare the list: they are neatly balanced between the two. I didn’t plan the list that way, but it does endorse my general view that a balance between these two aspect of Project Management is essential.
People often ask me:
‘How can I create the habit of getting up early to start work in that super creative, hyper productive, early morning slot?’
Glancing at the clock on my Mac, I can see I have been up just over an hour. It is 6:05 am. And I have made a cup of tea, chosen my blog topic, sketched out its structure, and written to here.
People also ask:
‘How can I motivate myself to do something difficult, over an extended period?’
You may want to launch a business, create a book, or deliver a project. The answer to both always includes self-discipline.
As a Project Manager, you will spend you working life looking ahead and struggling with the now. You will combat setbacks as well as bask in success. You’ll need to put on your ‘game face’ for your team and your client. And you’ll need to do all this whether you feel at 100 per cent, or at 20 per cent. If training to serve in the military is not for you, then becoming a Project Manager is one of the best ways in civilian life to learn discipline.
By the way… This may be one of the many reasons why I have found that ex-service personnel so frequently make excellent Project Managers.
One of the essential Project Management skills is the ability to balance a range of different work-loads. Examples include:
Multi-tasking is a poor way to get things done. So Project Managers need to find other ways to be effective. We do. Indeed, my best-selling book is not a Project Management book. It is How to Manage your Time, since you ask. At the heart of this book is my OATS Principle for personal time management. It is based on two things: human psychology, and Project Management principles.
Another of my best-selling books is Powerhouse. In this book, I take the essential steps of managing a project, and apply the principles to personal effectiveness.
For more on personal effectiveness, do take a look at our guide to:
As a Project Manager, you need to be thinking ahead: project planning is one of the core Project Management skills. And if you want to be successful in business; particularly at a senior level, making strategic decisions, this is crucial.
The ability to think ahead and make plans will be a huge asset to you. Did you notice that there are two aspects here? On the strategic side, there is the ability to see what may be coming (which we’ll consider below). On the more tactical side, there is the capability to set in train a series of activities that direct the future. This planning.
Planning often goes wrong, though. So do take a look at our guide to:
And this is what the discipline of risk management will teach you. In risk management, you learn to anticipate a range of possible events (scenarios) and plan for them. We use mitigations to minimise the impact or likelihood of unwanted events. And we use contingency plans to handle them should they occur. But fundamentally, risk management starts with systematically anticipating what could happen in the future. And it does so without the kind of ‘optimism bias’ that gets organizations into long-term difficulties.
As you might expect, we have written a lot of articles about risk management. You can read them all in a convenient Kindle format, or one at a time for free on this site:
Whatever career you choose, your ability to think analytically will serve you an your employer well. They allow you to understand a complex web of influences. And once again, Project Management offers a fabulous environment in which to learn these skills. Your need to monitor your project, evaluate what is going on, and prepare structured, concise, and accurate reports. This is another of the essential Project Management skills.
You also need to be able to understand status and diagnose what is wrong, when things start to slip away from your plan. This leads us to another skill that Project Managers get to practice a lot…
One humorous, but not wholly bogus, definition of a Project is:
A Project is a series of problems which when solved, lead to the creation of something new.’
So, as a Project Manager, you will find yourself solving new problems every day. And that’s as it should be. Because you are doing something new and often complicated and ambitious. For most Project Managers, this is one of the more exciting aspects of our career choice. But it is far from the only career that throws up problems to solve. So problem-solving is another of our highly transferable Project Management skills.
All human endeavor rests on communication. In the mid 1990s, Daniel Goleman published Emotional Intelligence and Working with Emotional Intelligence. Since then, we have understood that our abilities to manage our moods, to get on with others, and to work with and through other people, are more important to our career success than our intellect.
Problem-solving is valuable. But the ability to do it with others is more important than the ability to do it alone. And at the heart of interacting with others is communication. Four of my 14 books are explicitly about communication. And all four build on skills I learned as a Project Manager.
Here is a list of my favorite communication skills books for project managers:
And, you may also like this article from our archive:
One of those four books is about Stakeholder Engagement (The Influence Agenda). In whatever role you find yourself, you will need to be able to hear a range of views, take them into account, and communicate your perspective.
Stakeholder engagement goes beyond consultation, informing, and influencing. It does these things in a planned and managed way. It is that deliberateness will lift you from being a good communicator to a strategic communicator.
Like risk management, stakeholder engagement is another of the essential project management skills. So, as you’d expect, we have a lot of articles about this, and a Kindle format eBook that collates them for your convenience.
If there is one part of the Project Management skill-set that almost defines Project Management, it is this… ‘Imposing structure and control over events’. Organizing activities is the most fundamental of all Project Management skills. It includes:
And it is also one of the most transferable. All of your life – not just work – demands that we can organize events to make things happen. You may be managing a marketing campaign, maintaining equipment, constructing a product, or delivering goods. The list is endless.
Organizing activities is one thing. Motivating and leading people to carry them out is quite another.
Not only is it pointless to organize just the tasks if you can’t lead the people, but tasks are ‘easy’. They do what you tell them to do. It was Tom Peters who pointed out that it is the ‘soft stuff’ that is truly hard, and in my experience, he is right. Getting a grip on how to co-ordinate a thousand activities is nothing compared to motivating your team to deliver them all on time, to budget, and at the quality you want.
Project leadership may be a separate discipline to Project Management. But it is impossible to imagine a successful Project Manager who is not also a great Project Leader.
Of all the Project Management skills, I suspect it is leadership that is the most transferable.
If this is an area where you want to learn more, we really have you covered! We have a lot of articles for you to read:
We also have those articles collated into a handy Kindle-format eBook.
And, we have a hugely popular video course:
Learn more about this course, about which Nadia Panchaud said:
I like that the course was not pretentious and that it focused on concrete situations and aspects of leadership.
When should you use them? This is the subject of an accompanying article to this one called ‘What You Need to Know about When to Use Project Management’. Why not take a look?
Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
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