The first questions I ask project managers who listen to my podcast and connect with me by email is this: When it comes to your career in project management, what are your desires, pains and needs? After communicating with hundreds of project management professionals, the answers often seem to gravitate around this one common topic: getting promoted.
So how do you get promoted as a project manager? Here are my four tips.
1. Treat your promotion as a project.
Project managers tend to look at everything as a project. Why not use some of your skills and treat your promotion as a project? The following ideas will help you get started.
- Remember that projects have a beginning, a middle and an end. So does the process of being promoted. Think about your promotion not as an open-ended, vague journey, but instead make it specific and time-bound.
- Be clear about the results you want. What is the promotion you are looking for? Are you a project coordinator looking for your first opportunity as a project manager? Or are you a project manager looking to be assigned to larger projects? Perhaps you’re a PM who seeks a promotion to program manager. In any case, picture yourself in your new dream position and make it as specific as possible.
- Do your homework. What is the natural promotion for you at this point? Look at your current company and learn about its internal career paths. Look at others who are currently being promoted and examine their journey.
- Break it down. Once you know and have a clear picture of where you want to move, break that transition into some milestones. You can start by answering questions like these:
- Would it be important to have a recommendation by your current co-workers on LinkedIn?
- If your dream promotion is to be part of another department, do you have a relationship with anyone there?
- Do you know who your future boss would be, and do you have a relationship with him or her?
2. Learn from the past.
This is perhaps the most important exercise when looking for a promotion. Reflect back on the last time you were promoted and analyze what the process and experience was like. Did you and your boss talk through some detailed negotiations or did he promote you unexpectedly after a special project?
Then, look around at your colleagues and ask the same question: How did they get promoted? See if there are any commonalities with your own previous promotion. (And if you’re haven’t yet been promoted at your current organization, see what you can learn from your team members.)
Finally, look at your boss and the team managers around you. How did they get their current positions? Once you start analyzing how people get promoted within your company, you’ll see some common factors. It could be something as simple as having a good relationship with your manager, or knowing about positions before they’re widely advertised. Perhaps the common thread is that teammates got promoted because they met their performance goals or had a good relationship with a particular individual of influence within the company—or a bit of both.
Whatever you see as a pattern, think about how you can leverage it.
3. Think with the mind of the company.
Your level of seniority and the amount of time you put into your work only goes so far. More importantly, companies reward you for the value that you bring them, and how much it would hurt if you left.
When looking to make a case for your promotion, your company needs to see you not as an employee that is demanding or asking something of them. This can put you on opposite sides of a negotiation.
Instead, think with the mind of the company. What is the company’s mission statement? What is the company’s strategy and what are its goals for this year? Does the company value teamwork in the workplace? What are the company’s greatest challenges at the moment? Think about these issues and goals and then embody them as your own. This will make you a true team member, and someone that is on the same side as the company. Then, when you ask for a salary increase or a promotion, the company will see that as an investment in itself.
4. Invest in yourself.
Finally, as a project manager, you need to always invest in yourself. Many companies offer training for employees. If your company doesn’t, I recommend you take the initiative and create a plan for your own training. There are a number of webinars, video tutorials, and online courses; project management conferences, university extension programs, books, PMI’s resources—the opportunities for learning are almost endless. Find something that works for your schedule and your learning style. And ask around, see what team members and network connections have had success with. Project management is a field that’s always growing and it’s important to keep up to stay relevant.
As a great place to start, I recommend a free video/webinar by career coach Farnoosh Brock called “5 Career Suicide Mistakes that Project Managers Make and How to Avoid Them.”
If you liked this article and want to take your PM skills to the next level, download our eBook, 5 Practical Habits for Today’s Project Manager.