Job prospects for project managers

There’s little that would better enhance a project manager’s career than successfully shepherding a project through the usual litany of problems: unreasonable deadlines, inadequate resources, lack of management support and shifting priorities, to name a few.

Since none of those problems can be resolved solely through the use of project management tools and technologies, the tendency is to say that such setbacks are beyond your control. But the truth is, you can overcome these impediments, partly by focusing on soft skills like relationship-building, collaboration and communication.

Here are three basic tenets that should help any project manager meet the challenge of this change in mind-set and thus achieve a successful career and a better project track record.

1. Serve the client. Project managers have traditionally been held accountable for three things: delivering on time, on budget and according to requirements. But there’s a fourth accountability: client service. As an agent of the client, your job is to provide service professionally, competently and with the best interests of the client in mind. This can be done only by understanding the client’s interests, challenges, history and relationships with others in the business. After all, you can’t provide good service if you don’t know whom you’re serving and why. Sufficient domain knowledge is also essential, in order to provide leadership by asking the right questions.

2. Grow the team. Nurturing a good team is not an engineering project. It’s more akin to agriculture, where you start with good seeds, put them in fertile soil, provide them with water and sunlight and, with a little luck, get rewarded with a successful crop. Take the time to ensure that your relationships with the team are in good repair. Then be ruthlessly efficient with everything else. It’s also important to create an open environment, where team members can broach issues and concerns.

3. Own the project. You need to act with the conviction that the project is a personal reflection of your talents, abilities and values. Without a courageous stake in the project, you won’t be able to make the hard calls that a project often demands.

Fouquet is a senior consultant at Ouellette & Associates Consulting Inc. in Bedford, N.H., and co-author of The IT Professional of the Future, due out this year.

Hot Skills Report

Skills that CIOs most often said they were seeking/portion of CIOs seeking them

— Network administration (LAN, WAN): 72%
— Windows administration (Server 2000/2003): 69%
— Desktop support: 68%
— Database management (Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server): 66%

Source: Robert Half Technology’s IT Hiring Index and Skills Report for the second quarter; survey of CIOs at over 1,400 U.S. companies with 100 or more employees. Multiple responses allowed.

Optimism on Hiring

McKinsey & Co. just put out a survey showing that executives worldwide are worried about economic indicators and inflation. But despite that overall pessimism, they are quite upbeat about the prospects for expanding their own workforces. Here’s how North American executives responded, in both December and January, when asked how they expect the size of their companies’ workforces to change over the next six months:

December 2007

Increase: 40%

Decrease: 23%

Stay the same: 36%

Don’t know: 1%

January 2008

Increase: 47%

Decrease: 16%

Stay the same: 35%

Don’t know: 2%

Base: 1,409 respondents in December; 2,700 in January

Page compiled by Jamie Eckle.

Related content:

Building a project management culture

Survey: 2008 will be tough for IT project managers

Opinion: Pulling the plug on a project

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