Considering how much time project managers spend on the details of planning and stewarding the development process, isn’t it ironic that many PMs are unclear about the course of their own careers? It may be time for a look at where your career is going in the medium term.

Just as you would tackle a project-related issue, make the time to sit down and consider your entire range of options, given your specialized experience. Perhaps you aspire to make the jump to CIO, CTO, or, in Europe, Head of Programmes, yet none of these roles really involve a direct scaling up of the project management skills and mind-set. There is almost never a board-level appointment of a Director of Project Management or Chief Program Officer.

Even though you may not have the skills yet for what you think is your dream job, some appropriate planning can underpin your efforts. You can put your career back on the critical path in three simple steps:

  1. Identify your goals.
  2. Get another opinion.
  3. Improve your skill set.

Step 1: Identify your goals
You have a much better chance of balancing career ambition and job satisfaction if you can outline your priorities. The best way to do this is to be clear about your personal career objectives. Identify your priorities by asking yourself these questions:

  • Do you want to take on increasingly bigger budget projects?
  • Would you prefer to work in a less stressful environment?
  • Do you want more project variety so you have lots of exposure to different technologies?
  • Are you driven to take responsibility for the creation of deliverables that are highly visible to consumers or that have a strategic, long-term significance for your organization?

Step 2: Get another opinion
Once you have taken the trouble to understand your goals, you can begin to mobilize an informal team to help you achieve them.

If your organization offers mentoring or career coaching, don’t be afraid to seek help from people you respect. It’s always a good idea to get an external view of your work from a trusted but reasonably objective source. Therefore, it might be valuable for you to identify and engage your organization’s highfliers in IT project management within your organization.

These peers may help you to quantify or even describe your individual contribution to your team in hard-edged terms. That can be more difficult to accomplish than you might think because projects rely so much on teamwork.

Mentors or career coaches also will help you recognize your many talents without focusing on just hands-on technical savvy. As a project manager, you’re probably a master of these soft skills:

  • Planning and organization
  • Team-building
  • Troubleshooting and “fire-fighting”
  • Verbal and written communication

Step 3: Improve your skill set
Although you’re usually more focused on your development team’s skills than your own, it’s time to turn the attention to yourself and consider your training needs.

I think it’s wise to set aside a personal budget to support your career progression. Any time you join a professional society or obtain a professional qualification, your personal stock goes up. (See “Developers can demonstrate their project management skills with a PM certification” for more information.)

The bottom line is that it’s important to ask yourself what you want to be doing in, say, three years. Although you may have limited control over the changes imposed on your career by external political or economic events, if you use your foresight and aptitude to plan, you can still hope to reach your career goals.