How to Become a Project Manager?

by | Dec 2, 2019

Orchestra conductors. Sports coaches. Movie directors. And the list goes on…

Can you guess what the unifying factor among all these important figures of inspiration is?

We’ll give you three compelling answers:

1. One, they bridge the communication and skills-gap between what’s working and what’s not.
2. Two, they navigate the new while counseling the experienced.
3. Three, they provide a sense of direction in a world where chaos is the order.

In the corporate world, we like to call them project managers.

Whether you’re a first-timer or a seasoned project manager, the offline resources and online project management tools detailed below will pave the way for a rewarding (not stressful) project management experience.

Before we get started, it is essential to know one thing – project managers need to know their stuff if they have to lead a team. Which means you have to carve a niche. You have to pick a core competency and ensure that you work towards making yourself even better. The resources and training methods available to a project management aspirant can be roughly divided into two categories, online and offline.

The Online Route: Project Management Software for Collaborative Working

“A project is complete when it starts working for you rather than you working for it.” — Scott Allen

Today, the terms – leader and manager – are often used interchangeably to address the broad spectrum of roles and tasks a PM must embrace. Since multitasking is a top-requirement, why not let ‘digital’ tools reduce some of the work-load so that you can relax in project management paradise?

The Magic of Project Management Software

There are various project requirement management tools available on the market, and choosing the one that will take your team and projects to new heights is challenging. But a complete project management tool should have the following functionalities that will make your life at work a breeze:

1. Requirement tracking
2. Task delegation and monitoring
3. Real-time collaboration capabilities
4. Document sharing and management
5. Customizable workflows
6. Time tracking
7. Bug, issue, and defect tracking system
8. Reporting and Visualization
9. Ease of use

Out of all of the above, requirements management is easily the most crucial function of project management, given that requirements are the building blocks of your project.

The Xebrio project management tool’s requirements management suite, for example, offers full support for all requirement related activities, starting from their conceptualization and authoring to collaborating with stakeholders and tracking them throughout the lifecycle of the project, thus gaining traceability.

In fact, it is a project management ecosystem with support for task management, collaboration, milestone oriented delivery, bug & issue tracking, software release management, time tracking, and reports & analysis too.

Such tools prove to be an excellent investment. There’s data to show that;

  • According to a survey by Wellingtone, 55% of organizations don’t have access to real-time KPIs because they don’t use project management software.
  • 50% of respondents said that they spend one or more days to manually collate project reports – something that can be very easily obtained using project management software.
  • 77% of high performing organizations use project management software

In addition to using tools for project management, you also need to know the basics of project management and stay updated with project management trends.

You can do the following to absorb as much literature as you can on project management

Go through popular case studies
As I said earlier, project management is one of the oldest and most practiced professions in the world. This means you will find a plethora of interesting and educative case studies that can offer a lot of insight into project management. Not only will you learn from inspirational stories of success and of failure, but also how to rise from failure and recognize what great project managers look like.

Make full use of online resources
Luckily for us, the wisdom of great project managers is available at our fingertips – via our beloved screens. Veteran project managers and thought leaders like Bob Sutton, Lindsay Scott, Elizabeth Harrin, Michael A, Seth Godin, Susanne Madsen, Cornelius Fichtner, and Ricardo Vargas have blogs and social media accounts that will help you learn straight from the source, stay in the loop, and join the project management discussion. Check out this list of the top 85+ resources for project management. Also, you can make the most of social media communities and groups to get in touch with fellow project management enthusiasts.

Look into guided courses offering credits
Many academic institutions offer online courses for credits that can help you get a basic certification, as well. With some research, you can find a solution that will be customized to fit your requirements.
Keep some fixed spare time for reading every day or every week. The more you know, the better you will be able to understand project management.

You should also try to acquire knowledge about leadership, communication, motivation, mentoring, and other disciplines a project manager may be concerned with.

The Offline Route : The Beaten Path

This is one of the more traditional ways of becoming a project manager. Most of the time, this offline path includes the things that are almost absolutely indispensable to being a project manager.


  • Experience : Climbing up the career ladder steadily as you go on collecting experience and knowledge over the years will elevate you to your desired destination. This path is, at times, the longest, especially without certification or a formal degree. But, it assures employers that you have had many hours of practice and enriching experiences, leading to substantial expertise. The road to project management for someone who goes this way varies slightly depending on industry, company, geographical location, culture, and perhaps language, but can roughly resemble this type of progression:

entry level niche position – team leader/project analyst – associate project manager/project control officer/ co-ordinator – project manager – senior project manager – project management head/ senior delivery role/head of the PMO.

  • Certification : A project management certification will leave no doubt that you’re the real deal, you know your stuff and that you are equipped with tried and tested wisdom along with your own experience and intelligence. A certification is a testament to your expertise, can offer your skills global acknowledgment, a salary hike, and can also come in really handy if you’re thinking of switching jobs or fields of practice.

Once certified, there are chances you could even get a job as a project manager without as much experience as say a noncertified project manager may need to have to make it.

According to The State of Project Management Office 2016, almost half of the project managers and PMO members these days have earned their PMP (Project Management Professional) certification.

The following are the most widely known certifications:

1. Project Management Professional (PMP)®
2. Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)®
3. PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)®
4. Certified Scrum Master (CSM)®
5. CompTIA Project+ certification®
6. Master Project Manager (MPM)®

That said, I also believe that most good managers have a mix of passion, education, and practice.

  • Academic Degree : Even though a degree is not necessary, you have to be sure that you know your area of practice thoroughly, and a degree just gives you that legal stamp of approval. Employers will hire you with a degree that guarantees you’re an expert in your chosen field if not for tangible experience. If you don’t have a formal degree or several years of experience, chances of getting such a leadership position are little to none.

Tips, Hacks, and Strategies for Being a Good Project Manager

We are chaos junkies. We are multilingual communicators. We are loveable hardasses. We are consummate learners and teachers. We are laser-focused. We are honest, always. We are pathfinders.” – Brett Harned on the role of a Project Manager in his book ‘Project Management for Humans.’

In this section, we will look at some real-life examples of experienced Project Managers who recall their journey and offer insider insights under an ‘informative’ (and helpful) lens:

Tip 1 : Keep your project stakeholders informed at all times and at all costs (pun intended). Creating a proactive plan of action with possible solutions can get you bonus points when breaking the bad news!

Tip 2 : Focus on your project’s communication (think: language), especially if your team is globally-dispersed) to ensure that your project doesn’t spin out of control due to miscommunication and language barriers. Carl Pritchard, PMP, PMI-RMP, says: “If we control the language, we have a better chance of controlling the culture of our projects.”

Tip 3 : Limit your meetings to once a day and make it virtual as often as possible. This one’s priceless, and your team members will thank you later! (You’re welcome). If you cannot avoid meetings, make them fun.

Tip 4 : Take time to filter out trivial information and pass on information that’s only absolutely essential. No one needs to navigate data mines that lead to ‘confusionville.’

Tip 5 : Talk your senior management’s language for better receptivity to what is being presented. Paul Naybour from Parallel Project Training summarizes this succinctly: “Talk about profit growth, not budget; talk about time to market, not schedules; talk about opportunity, not risk. Research shows that senior management support is one of the most important factors in project success.”

Tip 6 : Take note of the ‘critical handoffs’ in your project journey. Business strategist, Mike McRitchie describes it like this: “Tasks must happen in a particular order a.k.a following the project’s “critical path”, and you must ensure that you tightly manage those handoff points.” A super-handy tip if you ask us!

Tip 7 : Whatever you do, invest in a sound time management project software tool to stay organized, track your team’s performance, and enjoy higher productivity throughout your project’s lifecycle. Make sure to integrate a client-centric schedule template as well. As you may have guessed, this keeps them accountable for the project’s timely progress, as well.

Tip 8 : Drafting a realistic goal, while incorporating a built-in buffer time and a backup plan can completely change the game in your favor.

Tip 9 : Most importantly, invest your time and energy into building a relationship with your team and say thanks as often as possible. Project success is always a two-way street, so you might as well make it a carnival-like celebration! Grayson De Ritis, De Ritis Media says: “Set up a happy hour, dinner, coffee—anything really. Talk about how everything went and what could have been done better. Ask what they thought about your management style.”

Bonus Tip : Rosie Brown, Creative Project Manager at Sterling Communications, offers the following tips to ace scope creep and avoid severe delays :

  • Mentally include another round of revisions, feedback, or some other additional step before you have the client sign off on a budget and scope.
  • Embrace feedback, but define what is and is not on the critical path.
  • Let your clients know when an additional request they have is not in their best interest.

Who Is the Best Suited to Be a Project Manager?

An ideal project manager has certain qualities that make them pearls in open seashells – scarce and valuable. These are the qualities that go beyond your experience, certification, or degree. These are what make you unique, that decide how you will be as a teammate and a leader. These are the qualities an ideal project manager should have.

However, not all of us are cut from the same cloth. Everyone is different, and some are more suited to project management than others. Sometimes, it is not so much of a challenge as much as it is a question of actually being interested in it. If this is you, then you probably should reconsider or give yourself some time before you jump into project management.

1. You don’t work particularly well with people
2. You don’t like to organize processes & functions and document them
3. You work the best following a set of instructions and in a fixed framework
4. You are not someone who will foresee or manage risk
5. You get stressed and overwhelmed easily
6. You cannot multitask efficiently.

What kind of personality is best suited for project management?

Some personality types are better suited for project management than others.
Some sources say that if we were to choose a personality type best suited for project management from the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality test (based on a spectrum of introversion and extroversion), it would be the ISTJ ––introversion, sensing, thinking, judgment.

This is because ISTJs commit to goals, are thorough in research and analysis, love structure, and are strict with their team.

Famous ISTJs include US Presidents George Washington, Andrew Johnson, Herbert Hoover, and George H.W. Bush. Along with, of course, Hermione Granger –– a smart problem solver from the legendary Harry Potter series.

However, considering the dichotomy between a preference for the ability to analyze and infer from observable data and the ability to be flexible, intuitive, and a risk-taker, it is rather difficult to pinpoint which personality from this mere 16 personality set will be the best suited.

In Conclusion

One thing is for sure, becoming a project manager is largely in your hands. The right kind of attitude, passion, and the pluck to take the right steps and seize the right opportunities is what will take you there. If you wish to be a standout project manager, start by internalizing your PM-focused ‘ikigai.’ In Japanese, ‘Ikigai’ literally translates to ‘the reason for being.’ Remember that if the goals you internalize do not scare you or don’t seem ambitious enough, you won’t get the front-row seats to the spectacular show. Are you game?

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