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Challenges for career changers entering the project profession and how to overcome them

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We spoke to project professionals who changed careers and entered the project profession after working in a different industry. Here are some of the challenges they faced when starting their new roles and what you should look out for:

Misunderstandings on what project management is

Mark Wemyss-Holden, Project Manager

I entered project management with a small but unique operation as a National Project Manager. A lack of definition and understanding of what exactly ‘project management’ was became apparent quite quickly. There were barely any project management processes in place, nor were these even widely understood in the organisation. It’s a very handy phrase to throw around when looking to recruit ‘someone to make stuff happen’ but in reality, means so much more than it is often treated.

This made it challenging to find my feet as a project manager; my previous employers were looking for a continuous service delivery manager/administrator. Fast forward to my second project management position and all of a sudden, the reality of what I had been doing hit! I was really going to be tested in the new job but stepped up and proved myself in the role of project manager, rather than contort myself to what was actually required.


Gaps in knowledge

George Edwards, Defence Project Manager

The key challenges I faced fundamentally came down to gaps in my knowledge. I’d managed engineering and construction projects within the Army for a couple of years before my first professional project management role. Whilst I understood the premise and the fundamentals, I initially struggled with the terminology and methodology used within the business, but I overcame this through a professional training course to aid in my development. Luckily for me, the organisation I joined was building their own project delivery capability, so I was learning alongside my programme manager and sponsor.


Everything at once

Katie Azulay, Project Manager

All of them! I’m not even sure it is possible to face them all at once, but it felt like it. I accidentally fell into project management as I was part of the team that oversaw an outdoor public paddling pool, and I was asked to project manage the refurbishment. From start to finish, I was faced with challenges whether that was lack of communications with the contractors, poor workmanship, conflict management and negative publicity, severe defects affecting the reopening, and increasing costs associated with defects and resolving the issues.


Getting to know the organisation

Natalie Williamson, Project Manager

Everyone does things differently, and every organisation runs differently. My first project was a technology project to upgrade our telephone solution across Essex County Council’s 10 Contact Centres. The challenges were around understanding the structure of the organisation, what services were in-housed, what were out-sourced, who the right contacts to speak to were to see if they needed to be involved with the project, what internal processes needed to be followed with regards to technology changes etc. But don’t worry! These are all areas that once you learn you will know for the future; you’ll take that knowledge with you for future projects.


Unknown unknowns with new opportunities

Hannah Taylor-Hemingway, Director – Project Management

My first project was coordinating a large planning application, so my initial transition into project management was very smooth and within a few months, I was offered the opportunity to work on a military project overseas as a requirements manager. I had a good understanding of what the requirements were, but I had no previous experience of managing them and with some intense training from my director, I set off on my travels. Initially I was only meant to be overseas for three weeks – I ended up doing three months!

My previous planning role had allowed me to develop my approach to stakeholder engagement, managing information and prioritisation of issues which made for a good grounding in the responsibilities that are part of a manager role. That experience gave me the confidence to meet challenges head on, so much so that when I was asked to return to the project at construction stage, I jumped at the chance and spent a further 10 months in that country.


Key challenges you may face when starting a career project management

  • Conflict management
  • Lack of communication
  • Understanding the organisation
  • New scenarios in new places
  • Confusion over what a project manager does
  • Gaps in knowledge


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  1. Francisco Sopale Lobaha
    Francisco Sopale Lobaha 25 May 2023, 10:40 AM

    I think one of the mistakes that aspiring project managers or fresh graduates make is to assume that a project manager does not need to have prior good understanding or knowledge of the discipline/field of project management they are interested in. As much as they do not need to be subject matter experts, they need to gain some experience in their fields of interest. It is very important otherwise a project manager would be heavily dependent on his project team members and would not provide tangible value to the project delivery. Moreover, they would slow things down and their decisions would be prone to lots of errors and misjudgment.