You know, one of the challenges about being a Project Manager is the fact that you stagnate after reaching a certain level.
You simply can’t imagine that you can continue to rise up the career ladder and become a Senior Project Manager.
In fact, I know someone who stayed on as a junior Project Manager for almost ten years, before deciding to switch careers.
To make matters worse, you’ll find folks younger than you getting promoted and starting to overtake you.
All this is enough to make you want to just throw in the towel and give up your Project Management career.
The stark reality is that transitioning from junior Project Manager to Senior Project Manager is in fact a big leap for many people.
That being said, there are some tried-and-tested career steps for you to follow, so you can more easily secure that coveted promotion.
In this article, I’d like to share with you five easy steps on how you can become Senior Project Manager.
Armed with this knowledge, hopefully you’ll be better equipped to make that career leap from Junior Project Manager to Senior Project Manager.
Step 1: Deliver Your Projects
One of the first steps you must take is to make sure your projects get delivered – on time and on budget.
Now, I know this is easier said than done. It’s never easy to smoothly deliver all the project outcomes desired by your stakeholders – scope changes and budget constraints get in the way.
But here’s the thing. You can do a number of things to improve your chances of successful project delivery.
I’d say one of the most important things is to adhere to a strict project management methodology, e.g. all the process steps, templates and guidelines.
And it doesn’t stop there. You should also up the communication frequency to your stakeholders – which helps to build trust and cooperation.
Here’s a real-life example as a reference.
A Project Manager friend of mine could hardly function as a Junior Project Manager – he was often all over the place and in a mess.
When I observed this, I realized I had to help him. So I introduced him to the PMI and formal project management techniques.
Well, then what happened, you ask? He picked up the knowledge and techniques, applied them to his projects and became better and better at his work.
And here’s what happened in the end: My friend made Senior Project Manager in his organization.
If you’re interested in how to successfully deliver your project outcomes and manage stakeholders, do check out this page for more information.
Step 2: Get Management Support
The second thing you need to do is to garner management support for your transition from where you are now to a senior Project Management role.
One of the challenges you may face is the fact that you need to that you don’t have enough “friends” in management to speak up for you, or to support your business case, so to speak.
Over the years, I’ve learnt a secret as to how you can get around this. What you need to do is to find a good mentor – a single person whom you feel comfortable with and is willing to guide and support you in your career.
Also, I think it is crucial to also develop your own career plan and how you intend to transition to a Senior PM – what projects will you take on, how you will deliver and why management should look up and say you’re the correct person for the job.
As an additional point, make sure you play the corporate game nicely – don’t offend people, please – that is the sure fire way to kill your chances of a promotion.
If you’re interested in garner management support for your career do check out this page for more detailed information.
Step 3: Build Up Your Industry or Solution Skills
Ok, on to another important point. You need to build up your industry or solution skills in order to move up your PM career ladder.
The challenge in doing this is that you may not know where to start – how do you pick up banking or specific IT system knowledge? Well, there are a number of things you can actually do.
First, commit to building up your industry skill set.
This is easily one of the most important things you need to do because industry skills are valued by your stakeholders – bankers like PMs who know banking, healthcare professionals like PMs who know healthcare.
Second, try to learn about the solution set in your project – if you’re delivering a core banking project, learn about the core banking software (e.g. Temenos, Finacle, or what have you).
Here’s a practical example I observed over the years.
A Project Manager I knew was very well equipped with all the PM methodologies out there – but did not have a clue about the industry or solution used in the project.
I saw this and I immediately felt I had to give him some solid PM advice – which was to go pick up the domain knowledge, or risk having stakeholders question his credibility.
Well, it turns out that He didn’t want to listen to me and continued focusing on his work plan, scheduling, PM tracking, etc. – ignoring the true business needs and solutioning needed for project success.
And in the end many of the business stakeholders decided he wasn’t fit for the role and booted him out of the project.
If you need to find out more about how to build up your industry or solution skill set, do check out this resource for in-depth information.
Case Study. Here’s a personal story I’d like to share which will be of interest to you.
When I was a junior Project Manager early in my career, I told myself I had to do two things everyday to further my career.
Over time, I realized that taking these steps helped to cement my reputation as a reliable, solid Project Manager who could execute and deliver – allowing me to transition to Senior Project Manager after about seven years of IT consulting experience.
So the key takeaway here is to commit to regular, consistent actions on a daily basis, which allow you to move further in your journey towards PM leadership – don’t take things for granted.
Step 4: Learn About The Formal Process
It’s really, really critical to understand the process by which you become Senior Project Manager – there’s always a “formal” series of steps to take.
You see, one of the problems with us Project Managers (or even employees, for that matter) is that we don’t look up from our day-to-day work.
We don’t really see that there are concrete, formal steps we need to take to get a promotion, e.g. write a business case, get endorsement from two managers.
If you fail to see this, you will necessarily end up in a place where you hope to get promoted to Senior PM but get passed because you didn’t meet the “formal criteria”.
So do yourself a big favor and always find out about the formal promotion process and do the admin work needed.
Also, here’s a good trick I used in the past to help me with this.
I start with the year-end promotion cycle and work backwards – I ask about how soon a business case for my promotion is due, is it six months before, etc. Then I start working on it.
The advantage of doing this, of course, is that you’re really well prepared ahead of time – you avoid last minute surprises like a missing business case or endorsement.
If you need to learn more about getting a business case in place for your promotion, do check out this article for more detailed information.
Step 5: Get A Certification
A good tip for you is to also get a solid Project Management certification, e.g. the PMI has some solid, well-recognized credentials that will put you in good stead for a senior PM role.
However, you should note that it is never easy to get a Project Management certification (especially a good one like the Project Management Professional (PMP)), because there are many pre-requisites.
For example, it may be difficult for you to list down project management experience for the PMP, which asks for detailed histories of the number and size of projects you’ve managed, or people you’ve led, etc. – it’s a whole lot of info to process and write down.
What you can do in this instance is to start early – get your PM experience listed down throughout all the projects you’re involved in right now; don’t wait till you’re applying for a PMP credential before you do it – you’ll forget what you did.
Oh, and here’s an additional secret I have to mention … get a good Project Management practice book if you’re sitting for an exam like the PMP. Many Project Managers (even seasoned ones I know) fail to get the PMP because they mess up the exam – trust me, it’s not easy.
If you need more information about project management credentials or the PMP exam, then do check out this solid resource – it’ll give you quite a bit of information you need.
In summary, I want to leave you with some key takeaways that we’ve discussed regarding how one can become a Senior Project Manager.
One very important point you must bear in mind is that you need to do the hygiene stuff – deliver your projects successfully, find out about the formal promotion process, because these are things we tend to miss.
The other key thing is to remember that promotions go beyond yourself – yes, you need to build skills and credentials, but always remember to get a mentor and garner management support, that’s almost ALWAYS more in important than your achievements and skill sets.
And that’s it! I hope you enjoyed this article. If you want to learn more about project management and how you can grow in your career, do feel free to check out this link here.