PMI's Career Central

8 Career Tips for "Newbie" Project Managers


Not everything new project managers need to know comes from memorizing processes and Knowledge Areas. Sometimes advice from a seasoned colleague can be just as valuable.

We asked the more than 20,000 members of our Career Central LinkedIn Group to impart some words of wisdom to new project managers.

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Presented by the Project Management Institute. Published 13 September 2011.

Too often, ideas are moved forward before all of the risks have been explored. Instead, junior team members should fully investigate the situation at hand and develop possible solutions, says Jay Drew, PMP, facilities project manager, Connecticut General Assembly, the state legislative body of Connecticut, USA.

And be ready to demonstrate those problem-solving skills in an interview.

"Be prepared to describe projects that failed. Don't focus on the failure itself but on how you overcame an adverse situation and, most importantly, what it is you learned that will prevent it from happening again," says Christopher Maddox, PMP, vice president, program management, Legacy Pharmaceuticals International, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.

1. Be a Problem Solver
2. Engage Stakeholders

"Listen to what stakeholders are asking for and validate deliverables to leverage all strengths of the core team," says Mary Georgoulis, PMP, program and project manager, Allstate Insurance, Northbrook, Illinois, USA.

"Build a strong foundation of character, honesty, integrity and collaborative working relationships," she says. "This enables the opportunity to communicate openly and honestly at all levels to manage issues, risks and scope change."

For the best project results, start building relationships with stakeholders from the beginning.

"Start a project right by getting a very clear list of prioritized goals for the project directly from the stakeholders," adds Ubong Ekpo, CEO, Newbie CMS, Sofia, Bulgaria. This helps ensure you and the stakeholders envision the same end results.

And keep in touch — even when things don't go as planned.

"Let stakeholders know what has gone wrong and how and when you are planning to fix it. Be sure to follow up with documentation," says Terri Vail, PMP, consultant and instructor at SmartPath LLC, Seattle, Washington, USA.

"Learn from experience — not only from others, but also from every single day as a project manager. Think about what went well and what you could have done better and implement an improvement at the next opportunity," says Steven Deneir, PMP, managing director, ProOptimize, a professional management services company in Bruges, Belgium.

But don't stop there.

"Earning a PMI credential not only will test your capability to lead a team, but is also a good source of knowledge and connections. It will also improve your marketability once you obtain your credential," says Oliver Aquino, PMP, civil engineering consultant at Urban Development Corp. of Trinidad and Tobago Ltd.

Newbies can also pick up valuable experience by seeking out volunteer opportunities, says Ahmed Maaraba, PMP, enterprise consultant, Digineer, a tech consulting firm in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.

"There are always not-for-profits, charities and government agencies looking for volunteers to manage projects," he says.

3. Gain Experience
4. Find a Mentor

"Identify people around you who can not only help your career advancement, but who can help your personal development," says Mr. Maddox, from Legacy Pharmaceuticals International. "I always have several people who I 'want to be like' and take every opportunity to learn from their triumphs and their mistakes."

Look for an experienced project manager or someone on the project team with extensive knowledge about the project environment, says Justin Rowe, PMP, branch chief, supply chain management, U.S. Air Force, San Antonio, Texas, USA.

Asking lots of questions and engaging with these subject matter experts can help you gain the knowledge on how to — and how not to — perform project management successfully. As time passes by, you'll adapt your management and leadership style to meet the project/team needs, he says.

"Seek help when you need it and give help whenever you can. Projects are a team effort," says Louise Maryfield, PMP, training and special projects manager, L-3 Communications, Washington, D.C., USA.

Leverage the skills of your project team to come up with the best solution, says Michael Mercer, PMP, senior chemistry and environmental specialist at Electric Energy Inc., Paducah, Kentucky, USA.

"When someone asks you a question, turn it back on him or her and ask what he or she would do about the problem," he says. "With the give and take, you'll often end up with a solution better than either one of you would get alone."

5. Don't Forget Your Team
6. Develop Emotional Intelligence

"Read team members' and stakeholders' signs and sense unhappiness and discontent," says Terence Fitzgerald, director of program design and evaluation, International Justice Mission, a human rights organization in Washington, D.C., USA.

"When you sense conflict, do not give in to your inital reaction to avoid it. Have discussions and have other team members explore the source of the conflict to resolve it so it doesn't come up later."

Figure out how decisions get made, how influence works in your organization and who has power — but don't get mired in project politics in the process.

"You need to be open and honest in sharing information and not get involved in any real or perceived differences between individuals and groups," says Richard Lincoln, PMP, project management consultant, Steward Health Care System, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.

"This is not easy, as you will be asked to take sides," he says. "Project managers need to rely on their emotional intelligence and help opposing parties reach an optimal decision."

"Project managers must understand the dynamics that the customer, team and organization will play in their career," says Sundar Shastry, PMP, CTO at Soft Solutions Ltd., Lagos, Nigeria.

"Every decision made on behalf of any of these entities will impact the other entities and, in turn, the project manager," he says. "The success of the project manager depends upon how well he or she can balance the expectations of these three entities."

Armed with that knowledge, you can more readily spot the problems — and the solutions.

"Completely understanding who the true customer is and what they're trying to accomplish will enable you to quickly identify gaps in resources, schedules and scope," says Jon McGlothian, PMP, president, Mt. Olivet Group, LLC, Virginia Beach, Virginia, USA. "Then you can address the gaps and bring about a successful project."

7. Know Your Customer
8. Don't Be a Slave to Process

"Learn everything about how things are done, including both the procedural requirements and the unspoken cultural ones," says John Bachofer, PMP, supply chain project manager, Edison International, a power company in Brea, California, USA.

"Make the connection(s) in your own mind between the textbook knowledge you already have, and its real-world applications," he says.

Never lose sight of the end goal or put too much stock in any particular practices.

"They are simply tools in your toolkit," says Mark Gerow, director, applications and business process, Fenwick & West LLP, a legal services firm in Mountain View, California, USA. "Listen more than you speak, work hard to align all stakeholders' and team members' interests and stay flexible."

What's the best advice you got when you were starting out in project management?

Is there anything you wish you had known as a "newbie"?

What words of wisdom do you have for new project managers?

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