The rise of the PMO: how to get a job in PMO and what skills you need

Published on: 1 Feb 2024

In the dynamic landscape of modern business, project management has evolved significantly, emphasising the crucial role played by Project, Programme and Portfolio Management Offices (PMOs). The PMO brings deployment support, process improvement and resource flexibility to any project-based organisation.

The rise of the PMO

The escalating intricacies of modern business projects call for dedicated PMOs. They're not just guardians of project integrity but also catalysts for innovation, driving organisational growth amid complicated project landscapes. A 2023 survey conducted by PM Solutions illuminated a staggering trend: 71% of organisations now boast a dedicated PMO, a marked uptick from the 61% reported back in 2017. This rise emphasises the escalating significance of PMOs and the increased demand for PMO professionals.

Different PMO roles

Roles within a PMO are diverse, catering to various aspects of project planning, execution and monitoring. Here's a deeper dive into some key PMO positions outlined by the Association for Project Management:

  • PMO Administrators usually support project, programme, or portfolio teams through administrative and reporting activities. A PMO Administrator also manages variations and change requests.
  • PMO Managers are responsible for maintaining governance structures, monitoring applied governance during the delivery life cycle, and investing in people to develop project management capability for continual improvement.
  • PMO Analysts focus on analysing and reporting project data to support decision-making, creating dashboards, identifying trends and ensuring data accuracy. Strong analytical skills and familiarity with data analysis tools are beneficial.
  • PMO Officers and Specialists support strategic delivery of projects, programmes or portfolios by influencing appropriate governance, developing good practices and investing in people for continual improvement.

PMOs are structured differently in different organisations so the landscape encompasses many varied roles. Here are some other rewarding roles in PMO that you might consider:

  • Business Analysts
  • Risk Managers
  • Resource Managers
  • Quality Assurance
  • Specialists Project Trainers
  • Project Schedulers
  • Project Controllers

As project management evolves, new roles might well emerge within PMOs to address the changing demands of our world and organisations as well.

Competencies and skills you need for PMO

There are many transferrable skills that can align with PMO needs, for example, administration roles where time management and organisation skills are developed; or customer service roles where expertise in communication and stakeholder engagement are vital. Here are some of the skills you need for PMO, that you may have picked up in a previous role:

  • Excellent communication: Effective communication is crucial for a PMO leader to coordinate people across the organisation, share the vision and interact with stakeholders.
  • Strong integrity: Building trust and inspiring confidence in employees and stakeholders, by making decisions with honest and fair processes, is one of the foundations for PMO.
  • Influential leadership and teamwork: PMO members need leadership skills to work in a way that builds credibility in the PMO and enthusiasm about collaboration.
  • Adaptability and flexibility: Being adaptable and open to change is essential for PMO roles, as the nature of projects and organisational needs can evolve.
  • Sharp analytical skills: Analysing the performance of projects in various departments throughout the company is a key responsibility, requiring strong analytical skills.

To be successful in a role in PMO it’s also important to consider your understanding and application of various skills and competencies. These skills and competencies can vary per role, for example a PMO Manager would be expected to know all 29 competencies outlined in the APM Competence Framework, and apply many of these independently in complex situations. Whereas a PMO Administrator would be expected to know and apply some of the competencies under supervision. Here are a few of the crucial competencies for PMO that the APM Competence Framework details:

  • Stakeholder engagement: Working with people, both internally and externally, to build support to achieve intended outcomes.
  • Ethics, compliance and professionalism: Embodying, promoting and maintaining a trusted profession and navigating the cultural, legal and regulatory environment.
  • Resource management: The ability to acquire and use internal and external resources.
  • Risk and issues management: Identifying and monitoring risks (threats and opportunities); planning and implementing responses to those risks; and responding to issues that affect a change initiative.
  • Change control: The ability to manage variations and change requests in a controlled way.
  • Sustainability: Balancing the environmental, social, economic and administrative considerations that will impact a change initiative.
  • Schedule management: The ability to undertake time-based planning with an emphasis on activities and resource.

Getting into a PMO role

The journey to a PMO role differs for everyone and you don’t necessarily have to be a project manager to get into PMO. Some stumble into it unexpectedly, like Jo Candlish, who discovered she was already doing a PMO role while coordinating technology, data and change at a startup bank. Or Emma-Ruth Arnaz-Pemberton, who transitioned from a quality manager to project management and PMO when she realised her knack for 'fixing things’. You can read more about their experiences in this APM blog.

Here are some things you can do improve your chances of getting your ideal PMO role:

  1. Become qualified: Whilst it’s not essential, certifications like the APM Project Management Qualification and PRINCE2 showcase expertise. They’ll help you stand out and give confidence to your employers that you understand the world of projects.
  2. Network and mentorship: Engage with industry leaders and look for mentorship opportunities with experienced PMO professionals. You’ll build your knowledge and might even find your dream job through a recommendation.
  3. Build your experience: Get involved in smaller projects or volunteering within a PMO to get to grips with how PMOs work. You could also start with entry level roles within a PMO or related departments to understand project processes.
  4. Develop your skills: Continuously develop key skills in project management, communication, analytics and leadership. This can be through formal courses, informal training and of course, real life practice.

While formal education or certification isn't mandatory, a combination of relevant skills, work experience, and professional qualifications enhances your prospects in the PMO field. There are also lots of different routes you can take to find a PMO role that suits you, and it’s a growing industry so there are lots of opportunities to look out for. Explore the dedicated careers page and find your dream job.