Moving through a project management career path

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As we all know the role of project manager is not necessarily one that we are aiming for when we embark on a degree course or even later when we are already working. Very often the role comes via an indirect route – for instance an IT developer may begin managing a team of developers, progresses to managing the whole project and welcomes the opportunity for a promotion and more prestigious job title and also opportunities for training and professional development and the future hope of being in an actual recognised profession.

There are, of course other ways to get on the project management career ladder and, increasingly, much more specific ways with degree courses abounding in the States and degree or Masters courses fairly readily available here in the UK. 

So is it advantageous to have had a "proper job" before becoming a project manager? It will certainly give you an understanding of the "technical" aspects of the work being carried out and of the people on the project team (certainly not an advantage to be underestimated). It may also have helped you establish a broader network of contacts within and outside an organisation

But there are also some disadvantages that might mean you are less able to see the bigger picture because of a tendency to get involved in the daily minutiae of tasks.

We could debate the pros and cons of which route is best for a career in project management but the route is likely to be less relevant than the individual person's skills, attitude and abilities.

So what might be the first step into project management and where could it lead you?
Taking the more traditional route of coming up through the ranks, many people's first introduction to the world of project management is as part of a project team delivering work for a major project and working to some standard approach.

As a team member you would be used to having to work to milestones and deadlines, reporting progress, assessing risk, dealing with change requests so it is not such a big step to move on to being the one forming the plans, managing the change and defining the schedules. With the right training and support this is an easy transition for the right sort of person. 

The early career roles
It can be difficult to tell exactly what a job is going to entail until you are actually doing it and of course it is possible to mould a job to suit once you are established in it, but generally the roles that could be taken in the early stages of a PM career include:

  • Project assistant
  • Project co-ordinator
  • Project management support

Moving onwards and upwards
If you already have a degree or professional project management qualification (see this definitive guide to PM qualifications) you will probably want to move straight in to something more than a supporting role so need to look for roles such as Assistant Project Manager.

In large organisations with many complex and long projects running concurrently the role of assistant project manager may simply mean that your projects are shorter or less complex but could still be challenging projects.

Sometimes a role may not be described as a project manager but essentially is that role so again it's important to find out exactly what a job entails before embarking upon it – look out for a range of job titles such as:

  • Project manager
  • Implementation manager
  • Project leader

Senior roles
Projects come in all shapes and sizes so the logical next step for a project manager is to take on longer, larger or more complex projects as part of their career development. These roles may or may not be assigned the title senior project manager. 

Once you have reached a senior project management role there are several options for further career progression:

  • Management consultant
  • Programme manager 
  • Portfolio manager
  • Head of projects
  • Director of projects

For more on what these roles involve take a look at this other blog post about a career in project management.


This is a project management fundamentals blog written and sponsored by Parallel Project Training. For more about our project management training courses visit our website or visit Paul Naybour on Google+.

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Posted by .pnaybour on 23rd Mar 2016

About the Author
Paul Naybour is Business Development Director for Parallel Project Training. He is a well known speaker in the APM Branch Network, a Project Management Training and Consultant, working for Parallel Project Training. He also runs the PM news site Project Accelerator.

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