How Do You Future-Proof Yourself As a PM or Scrum Master?

So you’ve made it into the ranks of the Project Manager. Excellent! Now what? Well, you do the job you’ve been recruited for and you do it well. But that helps you today and in the near-future. How do you remain relevant to your company and industry in the mid- to long-term future, and just as importantly, how do you maintain your employability?

To future-proof yourself as a project manager, concentrate on your communication skills, especially in writing and with reporting. Keep up with your desired field’s technology and industry knowledge, so that you can understand its effective use, and practice your interpersonal skills. The project manager is a hub of communications, and communications happen between people. Be effective at these skills, and you’ll be relevant all the way to the end of your career.

Your soft skills are arguably more important than your hard technical skills. Certainly, both are important, but being able to communicate effectively and present information in a clear, concise way are what you’re hired for. Keep those skills honed and you are proof!

Concentrate on Communications

The key to all project management is communications. You’re the hub of communications for the projects that you’re a part of. You need to know what’s going on, and you need to be able to effectively communicate that. This includes not only tactical, day-to-day communication (do this, don’t do that) but also reporting (we did this, we are trending towards that).

Strategic communication is important, too. You’ll be asked to present results and trends to large audiences, or to important audiences throughout your career. Being a good speaker, combined with good visual and written materials, will make you stand out as a leader in your field, and put you in demand as a project manager. Senior management, and recruiters alike, look for those that can clearly communicate both in a project setting, but also in an interview. The same skills apply to both.

One trick that can help you is to keep up with current trends in communication tools. Does your company use a tracking and ticketing system, like Jira or Service Now, to communicate tasks? Do you do your project time reporting in the same tool? If so, get good at the tool, or do you create reports in Sharepoint, Powerpoint or even Word? Learn your software’s nuances. Learn how to make the reports look and say what you need them to say. Learn the automation, so that you can do your work with less hassle and less effort, like using styles to remain consistent in titles and headings, or integration tools that can automatically bring in data from your project information.

The Communication Plan is one of the most overlooked plans in the collection of plans required for any project. Even if it’s not required, it’s smart to figure out how to make one and keep it handy. Which stakeholders want what reports and when is vitally important? Do some want to attend weekly meetings, while others simply want a one-pager on Friday afternoon with a simple overview of where we are? Get good at talking to leadership and senior stakeholders in the way that they like to be talked to, and you’ve got your face in front of the right people for the right reasons. They’ll remember that and reward you for a job well done in your future.

Polish Your Interpersonal Skills

Most project managers are people-people. In other words, they’re not afraid of meeting others and communication is second nature. That doesn’t make you immune to making people mad, or rubbing them the wrong way, however.

Keep your professional life professional. Praise your team in public and criticize members of your team only in private and as individuals. Keep your grumbling to yourself. No one likes a complainer, but there are a few times you can bond with your fellow project managers (behind closed doors, mind you) where you can complain about the system. Not the people, mind you. Keep it out of the personal. Remember, if you come up with a way of doing it better, and avoiding some of the pitfalls, you should share your experiences and ideas. Positive thinkers are praised. Negative thinkers are shunned.

And negative thinkers tend to get known around an organization. People like to be around upbeat people, especially leaders. Those that show enthusiasm tend to be contagious and spread their enthusiasm. That’s a good thing, and a good thing to be known for. People far downstream in your career will remember this fact about you, and want to work with you again. Not so much the negative folks out there.

But keep it realistic. You’re the person at the center of the knowledge flow in a project. You know whether a project can succeed, or what needs changing to ensure that it does succeed. So be positive when you can, but be truthful. Those that aren’t are weeded out with a vengeance.

Brush Up On Your Industry Knowledge

Many feel that the project manager skillset is industry agnostic. To some extent, it is. But to be good at your job, you’re going to have to either have knowledge of your industry, or gain it quickly. No one expects you to know it all on day-one of a job. But after a month, you should at least understand the company structure, what they do and how you fit in, and how your projects will improve the company’s position.

Extra effort in this department early on can pay dividends. You’ll be known as a quick learner, and that’s never a bad thing. It gives your leadership confidence that you can be given new or difficult tasks and you’ll be able to learn, adjust and be effective in very short order. Leadership likes keeping those sorts of people around.

It’s good for your team to know that you understand the technical pieces that they’re working on. You may not know the engineering behind some of the technical work being done, but you can learn to understand when a roadblock arises, and how to ask for solutions to get around it. Combine this with your superior communication skills, and you make a great team with your technical crew. They can fix the issue given the tools and time, but they will rely on you to get them those tools, time, and understanding from leadership and stakeholders to be able to do it right.

As you can see, future proofing is an art, not a science. Building a reputation of solid performance and a great work ethic will help you with that. Keep your relationships at the office professional, and you’ll always have advocates in the company, and references for if-and-when you decide to move. But most of all, improve those communication skills and techniques. Get better at talking to people, reporting your projects and learning about the industry you’re in. You’ll last forever with thinking like that.

Related Questions

What is successful project management?

Projects can be measured against their scope (did they do what they were supposed to do), their budget (did it cost more or less than budgeted) and their time (was the project ahead of schedule, behind or right on time?) Successful project management is getting as close to on time, on budget and in scope as you possibly can. It’s very rare that a project is perfect on all three, but it’s the goal!

What are the five stages of project management?

In the Project Management Institute model, the lifecycle of a project has five stages. They are: Initiation stage, Planning stage, Execution stage, Monitoring and Control stage (which should be done concurrently with the work being done in the Execution stage), and the Closing stage.

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