How to Become a Project Manager
Do you know what steps can you take to become a Project Manager when you don't have any
The approach I recommend is to use your current job as a launch pad to get your first project management
To do this, there are three areas you need to focus on...
- Be a Rock Star in Your Current Role
- Develop Your Leadership Capacity
- Build Your Project Management Skills
Be a Rock Star in Your Current Role
When you first start thinking about becoming a Project Manager, your first priority is to excel in your
current role. Doing this will demonstrate that you are ready to take on the additional responsibility of
leading a project.
To be a rockstar in your current role, you first need to know what is expected of you in that role.
Your goal is to exceed those expectations.
Start by making sure you understand how your role is defined. At a minimum, you need to make sure you
are able to fulfill these requirements. Make sure you include informal requirements that may not be part
of your "official" job description.
Once you understand the role requirements, you want to make sure that you are clear on what the successful
accomplishment of each of those requirements looks like.
You can do this by answering the "Reporter’s Questions" for each requirement...
- What needs to be done?
- Why is this needed?
- Who needs this?
- Where is this needed?
- When is this needed?
- How does this need to be done?
Now that you understand what is expected, the next step is to use a systematic approach to ensure you
exceed these requirements day-in and day-out.
Using a two-step planning process, you can make sure that every job requirement is fulfilled and, at the
same time, become the most effective and productive person on your team.
Step 1: Plan Your Week
Every Sunday, identify the key deliverables you need to complete and any meetings you need to prepare
for during the upcoming week. Create an Action Plan for each of these items that specifies what you need
to do and when it needs to be done.
Step 2: Plan Your Day
Every night, create a plan for the next day. Review the Action Plans you created during your weekly
planning session and schedule time for any actions that need to be completed the next day. The key is to
be proactive instead of reactive.
Understanding what is expected of you in your current role and then taking a proactive approach to
planning your week and your day will enable you to ROCK your current role.
Develop Your Leadership Capacity
The second aspect you need to focus on to become a Project Manager is your leadership capacity.
Leadership is the art of motivating and leading a group of people to accomplish a goal.
there are specific actions you need to take with yourself before you are ready to lead others, and this
is where you should focus your attention for now.
"No man is fit to command another that cannot command himself."
- William Penn: No Cross, No Crown, 1669
You can develop your leadership capacity by having a leader’s mindset and working on your
The Leader's Mindset
Your mindset is the way you think about the world. It will determine how you see and approach the
tasks and activities you are involved in. You want to develop a mindset that will enable you to be an
Three key aspects of a leader’s mindset are...
- Positive Mental Attitude
Ownership means that you accept responsibility and accountability for the outcome of a task.
Taking ownership of any task assigned to you is critical.
In practice, this means you are committed to completing the task successfully. This may mean working
extra hours, finding creative solutions to problems that come up, and basically being willing to do
whatever it takes, within legal and ethical boundaries, to make the task successful.
Owning a task means that you will take the initiative for any actions needed to complete it. You will
be proactive about finding solutions to any issues that come up. You won’t take a wait-and-see approach,
but will drive issues to resolution. It demonstrates that you are results-oriented.
A sense of ownership is one of the most important internal traits of a successful Project Manager.
To lead means to show the way. And to be an effective leader, you must have the self-discipline to lead
You need to have the self-discipline to model the behavior you expect from your project team and other
Consider the actions you consider important for the success of the project, then commit to ensuring
that you set the example that you expect from others. You must demand this level of self-discipline from
yourself before you can expect it from others.
Positive Mental Attitude
Your attitude will determine the way you approach an assigned task.
When a challenging tasks lands on your desk, it is important to approach it with a
positive mental attitude. By framing a challenging task in a positive way, you will be able to achieve
what others consider impossible.
Instead of asking, "Why can’t this task be done?", frame the task in a positive way by asking, "What is
it going to take to successfully complete this task?"
This simple change in attitude will enable you to find solutions where others see nothing but
Command presence is the way a leader presents himself to others. People will notice your command
presence before anything else. It is the basis of the first impression you make on others.
There are four aspects to command presence...
- How You Look
- How You Carry Yourself
- How You Act
- How You Speak
How You Look
Within 5 seconds of seeing you for the first time, people will develop their first impression about you.
The first thing they will notice about you is how you look.
The way you look sends a very strong non-verbal message to others.
In general, you want to present yourself in a professional manner. This includes both the way you dress
and the way you groom yourself.
Presenting yourself in a professional manner will...
- Increase your self-confidence
- Give the people you interact with confidence in your abilities
- Tell others that you take your role in the organization seriously
How You Carry Yourself
Once you have your appearance nailed down, the next thing people will notice is the way you carry
The key here is that you want to appear confident. You do this through your body language.
Some areas to focus on are...
- Having a strong posture
- Controlling nervous habits
- Maintaining eye contact when talking to people
How You Act
Your goal at this stage is to exceed expectations for your role. You want to make sure your actions
reflect this goal.
Some actions you can take that show you are serious are...
- Keep your commitments
- Be punctual
- Be present and focused
People will see what you do, so make sure your actions build up your image and don’t tarnish it.
The actions you take should show you are a dependable and reliable person that others can count on and
How You Speak
What you say, when you say it, and how you say it all affect how others perceive you. How you speak
can strengthen their confidence in you or weaken it.
When you speak, keep the following points in mind...
- Speak at a good pace
- Speak up
- Avoid the use of discounting phrases like "I think..." and "I hope..."
Communication is at the heart of project management. You won’t be able to lead effectively if you
can’t communicate well, so put some thought into how you speak.
Build Your Project Management Skills
The third aspect you need to focus on to become a Project Manager is building your project manager skills. These are the specific technical skills
that Project Managers have developed to help them complete projects successfully.
The Project Management Institute (PMI) has organized these skills into 10 knowledge areas...
- Project Integration Management
- Project Scope Management
- Project Schedule Management
- Project Cost Management
- Project Quality Management
- Project Resource Management
- Project Communication Management
- Project Risk Management
- Project Procurement Management
- Project Stakeholder Management
As you can see, there is quite a bit of information that you will need to learn to be a successful Project Manager.
To make this manageable, I recommend a Learn-and-Apply approach. Over time, this approach will
ensure you have the project management skills you need to lead your projects successfully.
Learn About Project Management
When you are first learning about project management, it is important to get an overall understanding
of what is involved in leading a project. You want to get exposure to the full project management life cycle.
Start by taking a Project Management 101 course. This will provide you with a structured overview
of leading a project from start to finish.
Project Manager's Resource
You should also get a good reference book to complement the course. I recommend "Project Planning, Scheduling, and Control: The Ultimate Hands-On Guide to Bringing Project in On Time and On Budget" by James P. Lewis.
Once you have a good grounding in the overall project management life cycle, skills, and processes,
you should start to broaden your exposure to the profession. The best way to do this is to join the Project Management Institute (PMI).
When you join the PMI, you will have access to PM Network. PM Network is the PMI’s
flagship publication for professional project managers. By reading this magazine, you will start to see
how project management is used across industries and across the globe.
In addition, by being a PMI member, you will also be able to participate in networking events with professional
Project Managers. Not only will you be able to learn from the first-hand experience of professional Project Managers, but one of them may have the perfect opportunity for you to get your foot in the door and become a project manager.
Apply Your Project Management Knowledge
To really build your project management skills you will need to apply what you are learning about
project management to your day-to-day job.
Start by determining how your current organization implements project management and how your current
role fits into that organization. If your organization uses projects or if your current role is part of
a project, look for opportunities to apply what you are learning to your work.
Even if your organization doesn’t use projects, you can still apply what you learn by treating your
assignments as mini-projects. Start to use the knowledge you have gained to rock those assignments.
You can also look at how you can expand your current role to take on more project-related
responsibilities. If you are part of a project organization, see what other aspects of projects you can
help with. If your organization doesn’t use formal project management techniques, you may be able to
lead your team in that direction.
3-Steps to Become a Project Manager
This 3-step approach can help you use your current role to transition into a
project management career.
The key is to Take Action Now by...
- Becoming a Rock Star in your current role
- Developing your leadership capacity
- Building your project management skills
If you take these actions you will be on your way to become a Project Manager.