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Setting Your Career Strategy as a Project Professional

By Aoife Mollin 17 Nov 2023
Setting Your Career Strategy as a Project Professional

Are you clear on your personal career strategy? This is being clear on what you want for your career – in line with how you want to live your life rather than what you think you should do or what other people want you to do.  

In today's fast-paced world, career development has become an essential aspect of every individual's life. It is not a one-time event; it's a lifelong process that involves continuous learning, growth, and improvement. When you are clear on your career strategy, you can ensure that your career development aligns with what you want. Whether that is about getting a job and earning a living or building a successful and fulfilling career, that is a part of your identity. You get to decide what career strategy works best for you.  

When you are clear on what you are looking for in your career, your career development becomes easier; decisions become easier. We no longer waste our time and energy wondering or worrying about the what’s if and what else; any time spent on career development is worthwhile and gives you what you want. To get clear on your career strategy as a project professional, consider the following question:  

“When you’ve reached retirement, what would you like to be able to say about your career?” 

When you consider this question, write down all the things that you would like to achieve – it doesn’t matter if you don’t know how you’re going to get there or if you don’t think you could do it. If it’s something that you want to achieve in your career, write it down.  When you have everything written down, go away and revisit it a second or third time and ask yourself, “Is that something that I really want to do?” or “Is that something that I want in my career?” and “Do I want it enough to go for it?”  

When you’ve written everything down, start to build a picture of where you want your career to be in one year, three years and as far as 10 years away. What will your day-to-day look like? And what do you want to say about your career? When you have this picture of what you want your career to look like, you can have more confidence in your decision-making on how to achieve the next steps in your career.  

If, when setting the picture of what you want in your career, parts of it are fuzzy, this is where market research can help in order to understand what options are available to you. As a project professional, there are numerous routes available to you (e.g., project admin, project support, project manager, programme manager, portfolio manager, PMO). Within your organisation, get clear on what the requirements are to progress within the organisation. If you are looking externally, what are the market requirements? Is a project management credential (e.g. IPMA, PMI, Prince2, APM) required to be considered for another role in a different organisation? If you are considering changing sectors, do different sectors validate different credentials? Or is your experience as a project professional sufficient?   

After setting a picture of what you want in your career, including researching the market so that you are clear on what the market is telling you, consider what strengths you currently have / what strengths you work with as a project professional that help you both enjoy your work and make you successful in your career? In project management terms, it could be project management specialist skills such as risk management, scoping projects, budget management or reporting. It could be business capabilities skills such as understanding the business vision and strategy and where the outcomes from your projects fit within that or understanding how you position project decisions in the context of the business. It could be behavioural capabilities skills like people management, leadership, negotiation, stakeholder management or conflict management. Consider what strengths you currently use to a high standard and where you could develop specific strengths. The questions I like to ask my clients are: “What strengths, if developed, would make your life easier?”. You can sense-check whether this is the right area of development to focus on by checking: “Is this a strength that is valued by the organisation?” or “Is this a strength that will help me in my career in the future?” 

When you are clear on your career strategy and clear on where your strengths are now in relation to what might be needed for the future, you can break down your strategy into smaller steps so that you can focus on career development in bitesize pieces. Ask yourself: “What one strength, if I focus on it for the next 90 days, would help me in my current and any future role?” or “What one strength, if I developed it now, would help me in a future role?” This can help you to pick your first next steps in terms of setting your career strategy as a project professional.