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How do you get to work in a PMO?

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The APM PMO Specific Interest Group (SIG) wanted to discover how people get into a career in project, programme or portfolio management offices (PMOs). So, project professionals Lizabeth Bohler and Mike Hooper polled 88 professionals via the APM website, LinkedIn and Twitter, asking how they got into PMO. They found that: 

  • The majority of PMO professionals have had a career change or have experience as a project and/or programme manager. This suggests that PMO roles are not the obvious route when starting out in the change industry. 

  • 36% had had a career change, indicating a need for fundamental PMO education.

But it’s what we can learn from the career stories of individuals that gives us a real insight into the route into (and the attraction of) PMOs. For some, it’s a case of accidentally falling into it rather than years of planning and deliberation. 

PMO by stealth 

Jo Candlish, Head of PMO at Metro Bank, for example, says that she discovered the concept of a PMO after she started working in one at Defra. She moved on to a start-up bank of around 500 people, recruited by the chief information officer as an assistant. “What he actually needed was somebody to coordinate bringing together technology, data and change, which I started doing. 

“And at some point, the head of change sat me down and said, ‘In this PMO role that you’re doing…’. I wrote down ‘PMO’ and later Googled it… I realised PMO was a thing. I discovered I could stop making it up on my own and I could actually learn from other people who already did it. That was my first introduction to PMO, slightly by stealth!” 

A desire to fix things 

Emma-Ruth Arnaz-Pemberton, Director of Consulting Services at Wellingtone, says she was also an accidental project manager, falling into the profession by being given a large piece of work (she was a quality manager to begin with). “Once I realised that I was doing project management, I qualified in PRINCE2, then programme and change management, as my interest developed over time. 

“I always wanted to 'fix things' and I heard the term ‘PMO’ following an APM event, looked into it and decided that this work would help me 'fix things' in organisations! At this point I effectively chose PMO, even though it wasn't even a thing yet! I found my niche, joined the PMO SIG and haven't looked back since,” she adds. 

Up for the challenge 

Mike Hooper, Principal Consultant at Atkins, meanwhile, says he was asked by his new employer to lead a growing PMO. “I was up for the challenge but, frankly, wasn’t sure how I would fulfil the role. It turns out that the diversity of my experience – chartered engineer, engineering manager, project manager, programme manager and head of business winning – has provided me with all of the tools I needed to fulfil the role.”  

His advice to those with PMO ambitions is: “Don’t be afraid of difficult issues, relish them; you will learn far more from tackling these than managing business as usual.” 

Career flexibility 

Portfolio Consultant Lizabeth Bohler started her career as a project manager. “After a stressful five years, I went into training project managers in PRINCE2. I got offered an amazing opportunity to set up a portfolio office in 2018 and have gone on to lead four portfolio offices. In between these roles, I returned to training and most recently have moved into the APM Project Management Qualification. 

“My advice is: get trained and work out how to tailor best practice to the situation you find yourself in; this is what employers will value the most.” 

To read the full story, see ‘The journey towards a seat in the PMO’ in Project’s spring 2023 issue 

Check out the APM blogs ‘Answering the most urgent and frequent PMO questions’ and ‘Revisiting the basics of PMO’ 


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  1. Magali Bruna
    Magali Bruna 14 April 2023, 11:00 AM

    I was also an accidental project manager and then went on to portfolio management. It really helps me to have done operational roles prior to project management and PMO. I can relate to the issues easier and have credibility with the teams.