Back in 2006, Elizabeth Harrin was working as a project manager, and realized a discrepancy: there were plenty of women working hard in the field of project management, but not a lot who were speaking and writing about the industry. Craving a female POV, Elizabeth, who’s based in the U.K., jumped in and carved herself a niche, writing books, consulting, and creating her popular blog (among both genders), A Girl’s Guide to Project Management.
We asked her to share her insights and experience about how to foster a successful career in project management.
LP: How important is certification these days for project managers?
Elizabeth: Certification is important, but it’s not the only thing to consider when looking for a new position, or trying to develop new skills. One of the best ways to find out what recruiters are looking for is to talk to project management recruitment firms. Or, check their websites to see the job posts in your sector.
You’ll find that many employers won’t care what credential you have as long as you have one; but some employers and industries will give preference to candidates with particular qualifications. Lots of people end up with multiple certificates from multiple bodies over time, so don’t think that you’re making a decision now that will stop you from going for other credentials later in your career. Whatever route you choose, you have to make the decision based on what you feel employers in your sector will be looking for, what you can afford, and what experience you currently have.
Do you need to specialize as a project manager?
I began project managing in insurance IT. I thought I had some special knowledge – and in reality, I did, but that’s not to say that moving to a new industry is impossible. You can learn the special knowledge of other industries, and my shift to healthcare was relatively easy.
If you want to specialise in a particular type of project management or an industry, you can. I love IT, and I can’t see myself moving into marketing projects or anything else at the moment. But every industry uses IT, so IT project management is a very transferable skill. If I wanted to shift industries again, I could.
How do you see technology changing the role of PMs?
Allied to the use of collaboration and social media-style technology in the workplace, we’ve also seen the rise of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). I’ve had a tablet for a number of years and it has made a difference in how I work. Plus there are literally dozens of apps all proclaiming to help you get things done better/faster/cheaper. It does take a while to find a few you personally like. I think the next step here will be to get some type of portal technology that takes all my favorite apps and social media feeds and puts them together so I don’t have to use multiple systems for project management.
What will happen to the project management role with the rise of collaborative PM tools?
I think there will always be a need for project managers for projects that involve large, distributed teams, high business value and significant spend. But there are more and more people taking on small projects without any formal PM training or experience. I don’t see that as a problem – after all, there is plenty of work to go round and using social PM software gives those individuals a framework for managing professionally with useful tools. And frankly, everyone is a project manager at some level – if you’ve ever organized a children’s birthday party, wedding, family holiday or team sports event then you’ve managed a project.
One piece of advice for a new project manager?
New project managers should show that they’re flexible, willing to put in the time, and able to listen to their team members. If you don’t have much project management experience, look for other ways to contribute such as through facilitating discussions, being great at documentation, being honest and transparent in your communication, and asking the questions that no one else dares to – you can get away with this because you’re new!
One piece of advice for seasoned PMs?
You can’t do it alone. You can’t manage a project by yourself. That’s why we have teams. Delegate everything you can. Find a mentor or a coach. Talk to your manager or project sponsor if you get stuck. We don’t know it all and we certainly can’t do it all. Don’t be a hero – share the load where you can.
In the spirit of vive la difference, have you found gender differences in how men and women approach project management?
No, I haven’t found any gender differences. I don’t think there are particularly feminine qualities, but if you want to be a good project manager you need to be able to communicate, get on well with people, delegate, manage your team, balance the books, take decisions but empower others to do so as well and communicate.
What are you most excited about in the field of project management going forward?
Project management is evolving from a set of processes to a way of working. That’s evident in the new knowledge area in the PMBOK v5 which includes stakeholders. I think that the soft skills – leadership, teamwork, communication – have been overlooked for far too long. I’ve always been interested in these; and while the “hard” skills like scheduling and EVA [Earned Value Analysis] are important, you can’t do projects without people. So, I think we’ll continue to see an evolution towards using these skills more effectively to get things done. I also think we’ll see project managers reframe themselves as project leaders and their work as project leadership.
Elizabeth Harrin, MA, FAPM, MBCS is Director of The Otobos Group, a project communications consultancy specializing in copywriting for project management firms. She has a decade of experience in projects. Elizabeth has led a variety of IT and process improvement projects including ERP and communications developments. She is also experienced in managing business change, having spent eight years working in financial services (including two based in Paris, France). Elizabeth is the author of Shortcuts to Success: Project Management in the Real World, Social Media for Project Managers and Customer-Centric Project Management.