Oh.. I started my Project Management Career at a very Young Age as a struggling African whose interest was bent towards doing things right. My Deep passion led me into pursuing a career in this noble field well celebrated in Africa. I was 22. A young Graduate who was left with a decision to choose what was good and right for a future so foreseen. It wasn’t an easy decision because I graduated as a Medical Physiologist from the higher institution and i am not sure you know what it means to drop everything medicals for another new management career. But Passion Sustained me.
Now, i am surviving the quest as one of the youngest project manager in Nigeria and a well respected Project Management Entrepreneur and Vast Trainer.. It amazes most people when they see me in class with few experiences not in those mega, multi-million projects but a brilliant understanding of what project management teaches. I stand tall in my career; not in the climax yet.
Hence, i feel impressed to share my pathways and strategies with young project managers and aspiring Project Professionals.
There are many questions and challenges to face, and they are different- based on your particular background and situation.
People who struggle with this come from various backgrounds:
Project Kids – You might be a recent graduate or switching careers. If you have no experience whatsoever with working on or managing projects, it can seem almost impossible to get your foot in the door.
Technical Savvy – You have been on project teams and been “in the trenches” getting things done. Now it seems that managing these projects is your calling, but you have to go through a paradigm shift and learn new skills to make the transition.
People Managers – You have been managing people and are good at it. Now you want to expand your horizons and switch from the day-to-day management of functional teams to the dynamic environment of delivering unique projects.
I would implore you to follow through my advices and let me get your feet on board.
Hard and Soft Skills
I am sure you want to start from the right point. You need to work on yourself. Natural aptitudes vary from person to person, but you can acquire a level of competency for nearly all project management skills through education and experience.
Hard Skills refer to competency with the tools and techniques of formal project management. If you are analytical by nature, hard skills are relatively easy for you to acquire and master.
Soft Skills or “people skills” include competency in communication and relationships with other people. Outgoing “people persons” have a natural aptitude to be comfortable in this arena, but can also engage in many ineffective approaches when lacking in knowledge and experience. Do not confuse personal attributes with soft skills. I cannot influence personal attributes and aptitudes, but I can teach soft skills.
Regardless of which group you belong to, you will need to expand your knowledge base. Before I prospecting the field, I committed myself to hard study. I read and read and did it again. I study hard. That is the only leverage you have over the big guys; studying gives you an edge.
Technical Gurus will likely pick up the hard skills quickly, but many of the soft skills practices of managing people effectively and politics may be somewhat new. People Managers will find soft skill nuances in project environments and many of the hard skills will be new territory.
Project Babies may be familiar with some of the theories in project management, but are going to need a lot of real-world knowledge, experience, and coaching to land that first job and formulate their project manager career path.
I read blogs and read articles. I studied write ups and also follow Project Managers on Twitter. I enrolled for classed, free online trainings and also formed study groups. There is no substitute for Knowledge.
Finding a Mentor and Gaining Experience
A mentor is a huge boon to you if you can find one. You can find mentors by networking locally or online, but be sure you approach them in the right way and offer benefit to them in exchange for their wisdom. Your goal should be to offer valuable assistance to potential mentors, with the hope (but not expectation) they will reciprocate by sharing their lessons learned. This is difficult in Nigeria. Everyone is busy and trying to make a living. It isn’t easy saying ‘Mentor me, please.’ So, I did lots of volunteering. I did lots of side works with my mentors without an expectation but a hope.
Do not just ask to “shadow” them. What value are you offering them? Ask if there are tasks (mundane as they may be) that you could do for them, to free their time up. If you are a project team member, ask if you can help compile the status report or take meeting minutes during project meetings. I offered to go out with some Project Management trainers; at least that gave me an opportunity to stay in some few executive classes. I added a few of these guys on Linkedin and followed them up. I met some of them in person and offered to work with them for free. Funny? Not very easy.
Donate your time; this is in addition to your current responsibilities. Whether volunteering for another organization or within your own company, this is a great way to gain experience. Within your own organization you should let it be known you are interested in project management; not just through words but by your daily actions.
What You Need To Grow
Is the organization you work for now a good environment for your desired career path?
Does your company make money by delivering successful projects, and/or do they respect Project Management as a formal discipline worth investing in? If so, you will likely see opportunities for entry-level positions in project management that provide specialization such as: Project Controller, Project Coordinator, Project Assistant, Project Analyst, Project Scheduler, Junior Project Manager, and Assistant Project Manager.
Other organizations may have a progression of technical or management roles through which you can pass and eventually start managing your own projects. Whatever your situation, put yourself into the best environment possible, and plan out your career path ahead of time so you have a roadmap with goals to follow.
Find your feet around the major goal.
Oh, and when you get there, be a mentor for someone else!