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Working your way up from entry to strategic roles in project management

Published on: 2 Apr 2024

When you’re starting out in project management and looking to climb the ladder into a senior project role, it can be daunting to understand what you need to do. Moving into a higher-level project management role requires a thoughtful and intentional approach. Luckily, a career in project management offers a variety of opportunities for your personal and professional growth, so you’re already opening lots of doors for yourself just by getting started. Let’s explore some of the key steps you can take to effectively develop your career within project management.

Working your way up from entry to

“Take the time to dream and then figure out how to make it happen”

These were the wise words from Ewelina Kruk, Transformation Director at Instant Group, during her session about career development at the APM Women in Project Management Conference. Before you jump at the next role that catches your eyes, take a moment of self-reflection. Consider what you’re good at, what you enjoy and what your goals are. Focus on what you want to do and how you might be able to do it by creating a career plan for yourself. It’s useful to create a timeline; where you see yourself in five or ten years, and what you should do to get there. When you can understand what you need for the role of your dreams and create a plan of action, it becomes easier to improve your chances of success. Keep an eye on your project career plan and continue to adjust it accordingly.

Hone your project management skills

You’ll need to upskill and advance your project proficiency in order to move up the career ladder. Continuous professional development is therefore vital. Focus on skills that are particularly important for senior and strategic roles, such as effective communication, conflict management, negotiation and problem-solving. When you find a strategic, managerial or executive level role you’re interested in, take a look at the APM Competence Framework and role profiles so you can focus on the relevant areas to upskill. When you take the time to develop the crucial skills and competencies senior project managers need to succeed, you’ll stand out as a candidate.

Make sure you have qualifications

Investing in your technical knowledge is crucial for professional development which inevitably helps you when you’re dealing with hands-on challenges during your career. Not only will a qualification cement your knowledge and juice up your CV, but it also showcases your commitment to project management as a career. Recognition from internationally known association indicates your proficiency, so look carefully at the qualifications that cover core competencies, such as the APM Project Management Qualification. The more senior the role, the more important it is to have certifications, so why not start planning your journey to becoming a Chartered Project Professional? It’ll boost your career opportunities even further!

Join a membership body or association

You can demonstrate your commitment to the project profession by becoming a member of a project management association, like APM. There are so many reasons why being part of a professional network and having a professional membership will enhance your career. It gives you a plethora of benefits that only come with membership to that unique network. You can upskill with resources for continuous development; dive deeper into the world of project management through exclusive publications; and attend discounted conferences throughout the year. Membership with a project management association will give you more exposure into the industry and help you meet industry experts.

Build your network and meet your peers

Building a network is essential for your growth in the project management industry – you might meet someone who is looking for someone exactly like you to take on a new role. Make sure you attend events and conferences as often as you can, even if you feel a little out of your comfort zone. Speaking to other people who do the same thing as you all day is a great way to let off steam and understand the ins and outs of different project work. If you’re nervous, look at the attendee list, plan what you might want to talk about, and set a goal to speak to at least one new person; it will get easier with time. Don’t forget to take advantage of LinkedIn or the APM Community to connect with professionals you meet, share your projects and achievements, and build credibility with thought provoking posts and content.

Tailor your experience

Project management skills are transferable, but it’s a good idea to focus on the field and industry you want to grow into. Industry-specific knowledge is really valuable, because you’ll be able to provide insights into unique challenges and requirements. A great way to stay up to date with the latest project practices relevant to your specific area is to connect with your chosen Interest network that sits within APM’s Community.

Of course, if that’s not possible then don’t worry; working across different projects and phases will broaden your experience. Incorporate new processes you learn and record their efficiencies so you can gain valuable knowledge employers look for. It’s not impossible to transition between industries, but it can require more dedication – this is why upskilling, attending conferences and networking with different people becomes vitally important too.

Be patient

The path from entry-level to a senior strategic role is paved with dedication, continuous learning and the ability to embrace new challenges. And moving into a senior role and becoming a director or executive isn’t something that can happen overnight. You’ll need a few years of experience in successful management, building teams and effective leadership. As you progress in your career, align your strengths and interests to the different roles and responsibilities project management brings.

Quick tips to remember:

  • Review job postings to get a feel for which direction you need to take your professional development.
  • Express your interest and desire in moving to a more strategic and senior role with your manager.
  • Show off your successes and emphasise the positive impact of your strategic contributions when applying for a new role.
  • Don’t be afraid to be seen by your peers. Share your thoughts on industry news, talk about your knowledge and show off those praise-worthy achievements.