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Ten ways project management can move your career forward

Project managers have skills that most employers are looking for. Michelle LaBross explains what they are and how to use them to get your career into high gear.

Michelle LaBrosse, founder, Cheetah Learning
Michelle LaBrosse, founder, Cheetah Learning

What employers are looking for may surprise you.

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers Job Outlook 2007 survey, employers rated communication skills and honesty and integrity equally at the top of their list of what they look for in potential employees. Following closely behind those were interpersonal skills, motivation/initiative, strong work ethic and teamwork skills.

All of those skills are inherent in project management, but rarely acknowledged. Think of project management as a stealth career accelerator that other people in your field may not be taking advantage of.

Here's how you can use project management to get your career in high gear:

  1. Show results. Project management is the art and science of getting things done. When you improve your project management skills, you know how to get things done quickly, and even more important, you learn how to document the results. In our careers, we are often as good as our last hit. You can't be a one-hit wonder. Instead, you want to keep charting, year after year, with success after success.
  2. Be efficient. When you apply project management principles to your work or your home life, you stop reinventing the wheel. Project management teaches you how to make the most efficient use of resources to generate the best results in the least amount of time. At the end of every project, you capture best practices and lessons learned, creating an invaluable documentation of hits and misses. Sound too good to be true? Good project managers do this on every project, and you can, too.
  3. Create an ongoing dialogue. One mistake I see a lot in project management and on teams is the assumption that there's one meeting and everyone goes away, and then the communication ends, and somehow everything is still going to magically get done. Your communication skills are not about your vocabulary. They are about how you manage your communication. Are you communicating frequently enough and with clarity? Are you communicating what is relevant? Are you communicating your successes?
  4. More information about project management
    Seven ways to keep your software projects in motion

    How project management methods can improve software

    Successful project management: It's the person, not the process

  5. Play well with others. People hear the word teamwork, and they groan or they say that they are, of course, a team player. That's why I like to bring it back to the kindergarten place in our mind: Back to the sandbox. Do you play well with others? Do other people want to be on your project team? Are you respected? Do you listen actively to what others have to say? Good project managers know when to lead and when to get out of the way. When someone is interviewing you, you know what that person is thinking: Can I work with him? Will my team work well with her?
  6. Let your confidence shine. When someone shows confidence, everyone in the room feels it, too. One thing I consistently hear from our students is that the biggest payoff from their project management training or PMP certification is the confidence that they gained. They went back to their job with a solid project management foundation that made them feel more competent and able to project more confidence to their team and their boss.
  7. Keep your commitments. Missed deadlines and projects that slip through the cracks are career killers. Project management skills focus on timelines and results that build your reputation and give team members a reason to trust you. "I know that I can always count on her to get the job done." That quote can -- and should -- be about you.
  8. Get a grip. Good project managers don't have to freak out. They can remain calm and in control because they have a Project Agreement, which has all the critical information about the project in it. They know when all the deadlines are, they know who is responsible for what and when, and they've documented changes. Everyone wants to have someone on the team who can stay calm when a project gets rocky and bring stability to chaos.
  9. Adapt to change. Don't ignore change. Companies change. Deadlines change. People come and go. Good project managers know they often have to adapt their plans and document what has changed and how that impacts the entire project.
  10. Know what you don't know. What are your strengths and weaknesses? What skills do you need to move from the status quo to the next level? Once you have a solid foundation of project management skills, keep building on that foundation. Don't stagnate. Continuous learning and a thirst for knowledge are always attractive to employers and team members.
  11. Lead with purpose and passion. People will follow those who know what they are doing and who can generate results. Project management is a powerful leadership tool because it not only shows us how to keep our eye on the prize and the purpose, but because it's also about the passion to achieve and succeed. Nothing feels better than accomplishment.

Use these 10 tips as a guide to fuel your career and see how far you can go. Buckle up!

"PMP" is a registered certification mark of the Project Management Institute Inc.

About the author: Michelle LaBrosse is the founder and Chief Cheetah of Cheetah Learning. An international expert on accelerated learning and project management, she has grown Cheetah Learning into a market leader for project management training and professional development. Additionally, the Project Management Institute selected Michelle as one of the 25 Most Influential Women in Project Management in the World, and only one of two women selected from the training and education industry.

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