6 Ways Project Managers Can Advance Their Careers

in a volatile market, impressing top brass becomes more important

April 30, 2023 | Helen S. Cooke

Projects tackle the urgent and important objectives an organization needs to thrive, so project managers tend to hold a special position of responsibility as well as a unique visibility in the work world. As a project manager, program manager or director, you stand in a position of leadership for those who are looking for results. At the same time, the novelty of the project and any lack of access to broader market perspectives can leave project managers feeling like they’re standing in the middle of a host of unknowns.

The recent market volatility has forced executives to continually reassess their strategy. In some organizations; annual strategic planning has been replaced by quarterly planning just to stay level with the market’s changes.

In a volatile market, scarce resources and external competition raise the stakes as well as the risk level of taking action. There is always risk in not acting in time to seize the advantage: first to market often gets the spoils. Furthermore, doing something now may mean the project will cost less if started today than it will if put off into the future.

This means that each project seems more pressing, and your proposed project may face more competition from other priorities. Your initiative stands among many for getting the attention and backing of executives. There may be other candidates to lead the project that you are considering.

When proposing a new project, project managers can find themselves in a complicated position: they want to take the lead and deliver successful projects, yet don’t always have access to the information they need to confidently discuss the potential project with executive management.

The following 6 strategies will build confidence as well as help executives and decision makers view you as the correct person to lead the project:

  1. Seek out the strategic priorities of executive management. If you have firsthand knowledge of who the key decision makers are, develop or strengthen your relationship with them. If you have the opportunity to sit in on relevant meetings or discussions to broaden your perspective, find a way to attend. If not, seek out public association gatherings, discussions, or business meetings where you can capture valuable insights.
  2. Ask intelligent questions, contribute valuable comments or insights, and pinpoint the value your initiative will bring to implementation of the current strategic plan. Consider your opportunities carefully so that your contributions appear natural and timely. You only get one opportunity to create a good first impression.
  3. Read up on business news and keep abreast of relevant market changes. Note the names of key experts or networking options that you might make use of later.
  4. Use your professional communication skills as you showcase your knowledge. Condense your thoughts when citing relevant facts to top management. Use technical concepts when speaking to the experts who may end up working on your project. Remember, you want to look like someone who can be trusted to lead well and deliver results.
  5. Your stance, your voice, your position and your dress must speak to those who want you to take on the leadership role, yet need a little more reassurance before doing so.
  6. If the project looks like a likely “go,” and the results look to be achievable, sit down and sketch out the plan, the infrastructure, the team, the critical path and critical success factors for the project. These details should be on the tip of your tongue as if it were an elevator speech. You never know when you’ll be speaking with the right executive when walking together into a meeting or debriefing on the way out.

Some of the most important characteristics of a good project manager are a flexible mind, a creative problem-solving approach, and the ability to see the big picture as well as the details of what needs to be done. Harness these abilities to plan your strategy, develop your knowledge, and position your capabilities properly.

There are fewer projects launched in a volatile market. Make sure yours is one of them.

  • About The Author
  • Helen S. Cooke is a 20-year project management veteran with experience in Fortune 500 companies, universities, the service industry, manufacturing, government, military and defense. She is a PMP® and a PMI® Fellow, and an experienced management consultant. She has worked on five continents and was elected a Fellow of the Project Management Institute in 2005. Helen was a PMI officer and served six years on PMI’s Global Board of Directors.

    Helen led a profit and loss practice at Deloitte for 10 years, was Senior Principal at American Management Systems, was a mid-level manager in the federal government, and was a university administrator. She headed the Project Management Center of Excellence at McDonald’s Corporation and implemented SEICMM Level 2/3 and a PMO at United Airlines. She has taught project management systems at the graduate level at Keller Graduate School and a PMO course at DePaul University in Chicago. She is the author of several books about project management and organizational project management maturity.