As a project manager, career paths are something you might spend a fair bit of time thinking about. Some businesses have formal job families for project and program-related careers. But many do not, and you are left to plan your own career and to work out what is next after Project Manager appears on your resume.
Well, there are options. If you want to move on from a project management or PMO role, there are plenty of opportunities. Let’s look at a few.
Project Manager Career Paths
Project managers have a whole host of career options available to them. Typically, project managers take on larger and more complex projects. These require similar skills but they are applied on a much grander scale. Think you are good at managing project budgets? When your budget is in the multi-millions your financial management skills will be truly tested!
Alternatively, you can gain deep domain knowledge in a particular industry, becoming an expert in a specific type of project, or a particular technique. For example, you might become the go to expert in the team for scheduling in Primavera P6, or supermarket build projects. When you find something you are good at and that you love doing, that’s the area to dive deeper into.
Certifications can also help you feel like you are constantly developing and bringing something more to the role, so you might want to look at a professional credential.
However, you don’t have to stay in a project management role.
What Next After Project Manager?
The career path after project management is unique to every project manager. There are so many options that you can pretty much define your own career.
The trick is to know what it is you want to do. Many project managers are inspired to move up the career ladder in order to get greater responsibility, more flexibility at work and more pay. Jobs that meet these criteria tend to be the ones that involve direct management responsibility for a team.
Project managers have had team management experience, but in many organizations they are not the line manager for the team. They work in a matrix structure, where the project team resources have a line manager ‘back at base’ and also a temporary link into the project team under the project manager. This is often called a ‘dotted line’ but in reality you are rarely responsible for managing holidays and sickness absence, training needs and appraisals in this role – the day-to-day responsibilities for managing a team at work.
If directly managing staff is something that appeals to you, that area might be where you want to go next after project management.
PMO Career Growth
One option is to move into the PMO. Project Management Office careers are varied and often, at senior levels, very strategic. You could take on line management responsibility for project managers or a team of business analysts. You could be involved in creating a process for project selection or implementing new enterprise project management software tools like Primavera.
The next step on the project manager career ladder is often into a PMO leadership role. As an experienced project manager, you have a wealth of skills you can bring to this role. For example, you can coach and mentor less experienced project managers. You can provide practical insight into the project management processes and the requirements for new technology tools. You can develop training for business leaders and project sponsors. The role of a PMO is wide and specific to your organizational needs, so it’s a fantastic place to tailor your career to the areas that interest you the most.
The PMO is not the end of your career planning. Moving out of the PMO once you have some experience is also an option, and you can read more about that in this article about PMO career paths.
The Program Manager Career Path
If line management responsibility doesn’t much appeal to you, then perhaps taking a program manager career path might be a better fit. Program managers deal with uncertainty and need to be flexible. They often have project managers working for them, but not necessarily with direct line management responsibility.
The career path here takes you into a job where you are overseeing and providing governance for a range of projects that all fit together to deliver a series of changes that together combine to achieve transformative change over time.
Program management tends to be a strategic role, so if you like seeing the big picture this could be a good fit for you. You’ll be working with senior business leaders to identify how to deliver their vision for the future of the company. Your program might be large or small, but overall your goal is to support the projects required to help you get there. There’s a lot of big picture thinking involved in program management but you do need to be able to dive into the detail to support the project managers in your team when necessary.
Again, the skills in this role will be different but aligned to what you did as a project manager. Skills like using EVM to support your program plan become more important, depending on the type of program you are delivering and the expectations of your business.
The Portfolio Analyst Career Path
Finally, an option to consider is portfolio analyst. If you prefer to work with large data sets and to spot trends, taking a role at portfolio level could be interesting.
You can build your skills in a number of technical areas as well, such as learning Project Server and Project Online to be able to better support your team.
The thing about ‘analyst’ roles is that they are as broad as the company wants them to be. You may find analysts in your company who fulfil a junior role. From there, the portfolio analyst could jump into a project management career or move into the PMO to deliver more targeted, practical support to project teams. However, some analysts are going to operate at national or international level, providing strategic support to senior leaders in the business. Project management experience will be useful here, ensuring you understand what is being reported and what those trends might mean for the company overall.
Don’t feel that because a job title means something in one company, it automatically translates to a job of the same level in the corporate hierarchy in another business. They may have a radically different structure. That’s both a benefit and a challenge for project management and PMO career paths! You have to delve into what the exact role requires and where the team fits within the business overall.
Whatever you choose for your personal career plan, PMO career growth is certainly possible and there are many exciting opportunities. You can take advantage of these at whatever level you happen to be working at, making the most of your experience to date. Use opportunities for professional development and networking to discover your strengths and what you love doing, then make a career plan to get there.