How To Get Into Project Management Just With What You Have

Hey there! You are currently working in some other position, maybe in engineering, IT or finance, or somewhere else. And you got interested in becoming a project manager?

Now your question is: how can I actually get into project management?

In this article I will show you what options you have to accomplish this career change.

Why experience and character are more important than credentials

Before we dive in deep, I want you to understand that — more than in any other job — experience is key when it comes to project management. Not technical experience, but experience in dealing with complex projects involving many people.

Once you have completed your first project, you are much more skilled than at the beginning. You do another project, and yet another one, and you build up your project management “tool set” along the way. No formal training can help you here.

The second point is character. If something doesn’t go as planned, if somebody barks at you in anger, if someone in your team doesn’t do what he’s supposed to do: How do you react? Do you hide behind your computer and hope the day will be over soon? Or do you deal with the situation and solve it, even if it requires a lot of energy?

The good news is: Companies are always looking for trustworthy, motivated people who execute the project plan and don’t give up when things get rough (95% of people will give up!!!)

In fact, it’s very hard to find such kind of people, because these qualities can only be assessed “on the job” and not by credentials like project management certifications. You therefore have a huge advantage if this description fits you!

The skills you need as a project manager

When it comes to honing your skills for project management, focus on these skills:

  • Managing people
  • Communicate well
  • Plan, coordinate and execute many (complex) tasks
  • Dealing with pressure and stress

How to gain project experience

Now you may ask: “How can I build up project management experience if I’m not a project manager yet?”

That’s a good question!

The key is to look for opportunities at your current company.

There are two main ways:

  • Lead a small project in your department
  • Support an ongoing project as deputy project manager (that’s what I did)

Your first step should be to discuss your plan with your manager. He may not like it at the beginning, because he knows you won’t stay in your current job for long. But if he’s a good boss, he will support the growth of his employees.

Option 1: Lead a project in your department

See if there are any projects coming up in your department which you could lead. It could be something in your current field of work, but it doesn’t have to be!

For example, if you are an engineer and your boss is looking for somebody who can implement a new KPI and controlling system to monitor costs, this would be an excellent opportunity.

Will it be easy? No!

Will you learn a lot from it? Definitely!

Option 2: Start your own project

You could even propose a new project which you lead besides your main job. Of course this cannot be anything major in terms of time commitment, but even from small projects you can learn a ton of things.

What could be the focus of your project? Well, in every area there are things that need to be improved. In software development, teams often struggle to standardize code or to keep documentation up-to-date. In finance this could be small process changes to speed up month-end closing. Think about how your project could help make processes faster and more reliable.

Make a project proposal to your manager, and check if you can get support from within your team. Of course it’s doesn’t make sense if you have to do all the work by yourself.

Option 3: Become an assistant project manager

This is a GREAT way to gain project experience. You are not directly in the “hot seat” of the project manager, but still you work together with the manager in charge and support him in his daily work. Also, you are the first point of contact if he is not in the office.

Tip: Read my article on how to become a project assistant.

You can learn massively from working with a senior project manager and observing his style. And you don’t have the burden of full project responsibility, which may be a lot at the beginning.

How do you do this?

Look for interesting projects in your company and find out who is the . Schedule a meeting with its project manager and let him know about your plans. Project managers are usually overworked people who work long hours every day, so they are always grateful for support.

To make the collaboration easy, there are a few points you should clarify upfront:

  • How you will support
  • Your time commitment
  • Regular communication

How exactly you will support:

Have a clear agreement with the responsible project manager on the type of work you will do. The work should be interesting and serve as a good learning experience for you, and of course it should be something that falls into the category of project management work. Will the work always be interesting and fun? Definitely not. But you should be able to learn a lot and improve your skills.

Here are some examples of jobs you could take over:

  • Following up on tasks
  • Organizing meetings
  • Writing meeting minutes
  • Creating slideshow presentations
  • Writing project proposals

Ensuring that tasks are being completed on time is a core activity for every project manager. It involves calling up people and enquiring about the status of their task. Sometimes you must really push people to get something done, so it’s not an easy job. However, you will learn a lot from it by enduring uncomfortable situations and leading difficult conversations.

Another excellent opportunity for building up status as a project manager is to take care of the minutes. The person assembling the minutes has a lot of power! The actions and deadlines that go into the minutes are written in stone. Second, there is no faster way to understand a project than by participating in project meetings and keeping record of decisions.

How much time you can commit:

This is a question you cannot decide on yourself for as long as you’re still in your original job. Your boss has to agree to all resource commitments and you cannot simply work for another project without his approval. Well, at least not if you don’t want to put in extra time in addition to your job.

How you will communicate:

Communicating well with team members is crucial for project success. This also applies to communication within the project management. I recommend you arrange a meeting once a week or bi-weekly to catch up with each other. This gives you also the chance to discuss your questions.

See what projects are run in other departments

If there is no such possibility, talk to managers of other departments and see what projects are coming up. Have a chat with them over coffee or invite them for lunch. The key thing is to let others know as much as possible that you have serious plans to becoming a project manager.

Once the time is right and assuming you have left a good impression, chances are good that you will be offered a project manager job. It takes patience, of course!

My story: How I became a project manager

My first job was a technical role in IT (SAP). I really loved my work. I got to travel and I was working in an amazing team.

But 3 years in, I didn’t experience anything new. The same projects, the same issues, the same people. Being an eager learner, I wanted to grow and learn something new.

When I approached my manager, he offered me an assistant project manager role in a project that had just been kicked off. I was really excited, not only because of the opportunity to get into project management, but also because I could bite my teeth on new technology.

Initially I could only dedicate a few hours each week to the project. I did all the legwork, like following up with people who were involved in the project. Also, I prepared presentations and I organized status meetings.

After some months I was doing most of the coordination work. I knew every aspect of the project and I did most of the talking with team members and stakeholders.

Once the project manager stepped down I took full ownership of the project and brought it to completion. My first project was a real challenge and I learned many lessons.

With more experience, I took over larger projects, among them several global enterprise software rollouts in countries like India, Mexico and Turkey with large distributed teams.

What do you want to know?

What question do you have when it comes to getting into PM? Post your comment below and I’ll help you.

You can connect with me on LinkedIn.

Best regards,

Adrian Neumeyer

Hi! I'm Adrian, founder of Tactical Project Manager. I created the site to help you bring your projects to success. In the past I've worked as an IT project manager for 10 years.

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9 thoughts on “How To Get Into Project Management Just With What You Have”

  1. Hi Adrian,

    I am Sr. Net Developer with 8+ yrs experience.I am planing to do career move in PMP or Big Data but still confused to choose between them.Can you please help me out.

    Regards’
    Parikshit M.

    • Hi Parikshit,

      Project management and Big Data are two vastly different areas. Project management work is very diverse and requires you to work on your leadership skills. Big Data is a very analytical field which is more about working on the desk, making analyses and of course interacting with other departments.

      What made you choose these two fields?

      Best regards,
      Adrian

  2. Hi Adrian,

    After getting Six Sigma Green Belt certified I spent the my last 3 years in the military as a Project Manager working on and leading various projects. My goal is to start working with small companies and start ups as a Lean Six Sigma Consultant. In your opinion is there anything in the civilian sector or just areas overall that you think I should familiarize myself with before taking on this goal? Any help or advice would be much appreciated.

    Respectfully,
    Nicholas

    • Hi Nicholas,

      This is Adrian from tacticalprojectmanager.com

      Thanks for reaching out!

      Your goal sounds very interesting and I think if you do it right, you can build a very successful business.

      My advice to you isn’t so much about project management related topics but more on the marketing part. I’ve successfully launched a freelancing business on the side (I write marketing materials for industrial companies), so I have some experience in this area.

      1. Choose a specific market
      Avoid the mistake most people make when building a business: Don’t try to please everyone. Instead, select a very specific niche and build a service offering in that niche where you exactly understand the pains your customers are facing. You have worked in the military, so you could target companies who are somehow affiliated with the military sector. Or maybe you want to target another industry and that’s fine, but be specific.

      Recommended book:
      Seth Godin: This is Marketing
      https://www.amazon.com/dp/0525540830/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_U_83VtCbN0SM783

      2. Learn how to sell
      You need to get good in communicating with prospects and getting them to say ‘YES’ to your offer. You will become better over time, but you need to know the right tools and strategies. There are good but expensive seminars which teach selling, but you can also start with a good book. I absolutely recommend you read SPIN Selling by Neil Rackham: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06XB35VCH/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_U_2ZVtCbPZE8D7E

      3. Choose a marketing channel and master it
      LinkedIn is probably the best channel to find new clients in your case but it could also be another platform. Whichever channel you work with, learn how to use it effectively and test it for several weeks / months before you try a new approach.

      Let me know if you have any other questions, and keep me posted on how you plan is progressing!

      Best regards,

      Adrian

  3. Good Morning Adrian,

    Currently, I serve as a Independent contractor supporting Epic EMR applications. My goal is to transition in IT project Management, either in release and deployment or operations. I recently acquired my ITIL Certification to give me a edge in the transition. My question is what other steps can I take to land a PM opportunity. Any insight you can provide would greatly appreciated.

  4. The Job I am doing doesn’t provide any projects currently, what others ways can help me lend a job as a project manager.

  5. Hi

    I am working as a operations manager and I have a total experience of 13+ years. I have decided that I would like to move into project management. I am also doing my PMP and i am expecting to complete by this month. what are options do i have in becoming a project manager ( I also worked as project manager (as a additional role) in both transition and transformation process)

    Cheers
    Prabhu

  6. Hi Adrian,

    I am currently working software support engineer from past 2.5 years. Previous to that I was a Software developer for 3 years. My total experience is nearly 6.5 years in Software industry.
    Currently my role is to identify the issues and reproduce it and provide the timelines to customer on estimation also fix the technical issues
    I have target in my mind to be in position of Project manager at least 1 year from now.

    Can I start learning about project management? Or Can I apply for project management role in future?

    • Hi Haridev,
      Transitioning into a project manager role within 1 year is quite an ambitious goal. I don’t want to discourage you but it might take a bit longer than that. 2-3 years at least. I suggest you work on your leadership and communication skills and gradually take over more responsibility in a project.

      Best regards,
      Adrian

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