Future-Proofing Yourself as a Project Manager

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 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-future, and just as importantly, how do you maintain your employability?

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). These pieces aren’t going to change.

The trick, however, is to keep up with current trends in communication tools. Does your company use a tracking and ticketing system, like Jira, to communicate tasks? Do you do your project time reporting in the same tool? If so, get good at the tool. Learn its 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.

The Communication Plan is one of the most overlooked plans in the collection of plans required. 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? 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 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.

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.

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. 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.

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.