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Project Manager to Department Manager

By RB_ITProfessional ·
I am a Project Manager looking to take on a higher-level management role within in another company. I have a solid background that consists of experience in infrastructure implementation and support, application development, business systems analysis, and strategic policy governance. In the job descriptions that I am finding, I am able to meet 95% of the requirements. The 5% that I lack comes in the form of:
1) As a Project Manager, I have never had any direct reports. All of my leadership has been in a matrixed environment.
2) Although I have managed multi-million dollar project budgets, I have not had any direct fiscal responsibilities for overseeing the entire departmental budget.
How do I translate my project management skills into the skills and abilities needed to help me meet the other 5% of the requirements needed for a higher-level management role?

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95% of experience

by BFilmFan In reply to Project Manager to Depart ...

If you have 95% of the experience, you will pick up the remainder on ths job.

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If I were the hiring manager...

by DC Guy In reply to Project Manager to Depart ...

and admittedly that position is a bit higher than I have attained... I would look at it this way:

1. Budgeting is easy for IT people. It's heavy on math and analysis. That part of budgeting scales up and down readily. If you've managed a project budget, you can probably imagine pretty accurately what it's like to manage a departmental budget.

What you haven't been exposed to is the political aspect of departmental budgeting. Convincing your boss or your end users that your needs are more important than his lapdog's pet project, which has a 98 percent chance of failure. Getting your subordinates to be realistic about what they need and then figuring out how much to pad it.

If you know some people who have that type of responsibility, ask them about that aspect of it. If not, track down some anecdotes on the web.

At the very least, do some creative visualization and develop some ideas about how you would handle such a job. The kinds of questions you ask in the interview will tell your prospective boss whether you can learn it quickly and then do an outstanding job of it.

2. On the other hand, supervision of direct reports is something that tends to be difficult for most IT people. Even the ones who already have those jobs... I'd suggest asking yourself whether you've noticed that; it will tell you a lot about your own aptitude.

As your hypothetical hiring manager, that is where I would concentrate my scrutiny because almost everything else is either obvious or something I can mentor. IT is still a profession that naturally attracts the socially impaired because they love the opportunity to work with silicon instead of carbon. A few "people people" do manage to get in the door of course, a few more develop their people skills as a natural part of the (often delayed) growing up process, and many others simply recognize the need for the ability and do something about it even if it's not something they're naturally enthusiastic about.

That still leaves about 9 out of 10 IT professionals woefully deficient in the talent, aptitude, temperament, and/or interest needed to be effective hands-on managers.

The big question then becomes very simple: Are you the One or are you just one of the Nine? If you have what it takes and just haven't had the right experience to use it, I'll hire you anyway. If you don't have it, nothing else matters and I won't hire you, at least not for this job.

You can't fake people skills, they come across loud and clear in an interview. But what you do have to decide, and I'm not sure you've thought about this, is whether you really want to do that kind of work. It's difficult, it's draining, and getting to know people from this new point of view can change the way you feel about your fellow humans.

You absolutely can't be an introvert, because introverts need to escape from people to recharge their energy and that's the one thing you'll never be able to get away with. You have to have good communication skills, an even temper, a built-in lie detector, and teaching ability. You have to be able to get along with the people HR puts on your team knowing they're not very good but for political reasons they're not going anywhere.

3. Then of course is the big question of whether or not your boss has good people skills. If she doesn't, then she won't be a good judge of yours. This can work to your advantage if yours are simply not as weak as hers, since you might be able to impress her. But think about what that will mean on the job before you take it. I've been there a couple of times, sandwiched between subordinates who are hard to deal with and a boss who couldn't understand why.

4. It will help greatly if you can interview a couple of the people who will be reporting to you. That will tell you a lot about the company's HR practices, and the people themselves will give you data that will help you decide whether you want the job.

5. The bottom line in a situation like this is: Just because they want you for the job doesn't mean that you want the job. Make your decision carefully. This is a very difficult profession in which to be a manager.

Good luck!

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Eye Opening

by RB_ITProfessional In reply to If I were the hiring mana ...

What an eye opening post. Thanks to you and everyone else who has responded thus far. One of my skills that peers have commented on about me over the years, is my communication and people skills. That has lead to a natural progression out of hands-on support roles, to higher-level business roles in project management, interacting with the business community on a daily basis. I enjoy the work tremendously, but still struggle with the fact that I am a techie at heart. As you and others I have spoken with pointed out, the higher up the chain you move, the less hands-on and technical you become. I'm still doing some serious evaluation on a daily basis to determine what my next move actually will be.

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1 of 9 or 1 of 10

by al_cross In reply to If I were the hiring mana ...

You hit it right on the head DC Guy. Excellent Post.

I have struggled as 1 of 9 the realized I was 1 of 10. I had to learn to fight the strong desire to work with the silicon instead of the carbon when things got tough at during projects and everyday support.

People need to be lead in order to achieve common goals. And it is tough when you know how to write the code but your job is now to get others to do it and not yourself.

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Not as tough as you think

by JamesRL In reply to Project Manager to Depart ...

I made the same transition 6 years ago.

1) Direct reports. What you have to manage is all the HR type stuff - evaluations, hiring, firing, timekeeping etc. If you enjoyed your staff interactions as a project manager, this won't be so tough.

2) Departmental budgets. I had one for 2.5 million dollars (Canadian, now about 2 million USD). 90% was labour, so the amount of capital planning wasn't that big, and capital planning was a joint effort between the department managers, the planning group and senior IT management. Wasn't too painful. Today I am a departmental manager with a budget of zero. Someone two levels above me has a budget, and I have to fight for what I need.

There are plusses and minuses, but frankly if you are a good project manager, you will do fine as a departmental manager.


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I had a similar experience

by tfitzpatrick In reply to Not as tough as you think

I can relate to what James is saying. I went from being a Senior Developer/Analyst to Manager of Application Development. I was fortunate enough to already have the people skills required to do the job so the direct reports part was very straight forward to me. It helps to have had experience with hiring, firing and career development, as these are all skills that will be called upon at some point. If you have never done any of these, you may find it tough the first time you have to fire someone or lay someone off.

As for the budgets, I was responsible for contributing to the overall IT budget which meant that I only needed to concentrate on my immediate group. The overall IT budget was handled 2 levels above me. If you have had experience with Project Management, then the budget part should be something you can handle.

My best advice is to build your people skills. The most important asset of any company is their employees and if you want your new team to respect you, you had better be able to relate to them and treat them fairly and with respect.

Good luck.

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Your experience does translate.

by tammysime In reply to Project Manager to Depart ...

I've been a PM, a program manager, a PMO, I've had matrixed teams and direct reports. Your scope of patience, paperwork, and politics sums up the differences.

The determining factor could be your confidence in whether you think you are ready or not. If you dont think you are, then you aren't. If you have to ask, you're not ready. But I firmly believe that if you aren't a little uncomfortable all the time then you are not challenged and growing, and are therefore stagnant and declining. A little fear about your next step is just right.

I agree with the James' post. Y

To your points, a project budget CAN be more difficult than a department. If you actually managed the budget, which many PM's do not, then you are well qualified and will be surprised how similar it is. Often projects have an approved budget and off you go. With departments, you have to fight for yours every year and justify the need. This is where you will use your "influencing" skills, but you may have had to do that with your projects already so again, you may be well qualified. A budget is budget. If you are faithful with a small one, you have the skills for a larger one.

Reports - the benefit of a matrix is if someone doesnt perform you have their manager to go to for assistance. Not to trivialize it, but if you have kids and you are involved in their development, you have most of the necessary skills for direct reports: get to know them, care about them and their career path, gently correct them when they mess up a little, appropriate punishment when they mess up severely, document when necessary, reward as often as possible, encourage, be available to talk to those personalities who need an ear. Recall what you liked and didn't like about your management, make a list, strive to learn from the examples.

Firing is hard and will affect you. Remind them and yourself that it is not a reflection of your opinion but a business decision (if that is the case). If you need to further boost your confidence in capability to manage, find a couple good books and read them and remember that books are the model we aspire to, not the practice we achieve day-to-day. When you fail, admit it, ask forgiveness, and move on. Your team will respect your integrity.

This is a different flavor from other posts, but I hope it helps.

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Some thoughts to ponder

by pmoleski In reply to Project Manager to Depart ...

Moving into an ongoing leadership role is about people. How well you work with your peers, clients, and staff will determine your effectiveness in a managerial role. Project management may prepare you for this role depending on what type of project manager you are. The people skills are key because you will be working with the same people over and over again. Each time you work with them they are making a judgement about how they will work with and for you in the future depending on how you treat them.

Sometimes a project manager is asked to achieve a goal without worrying about how it affects the people involved. The only important thing is the deliverable. That is in most cases a somewhat extreme and simplistic view. However, I use it to illustrate a trap that many project managers fall somewhat or totally into. Because you may not have to work with the project team again it does not matter as much if they would be willing to work with you again. What matters more is delivering the project. For this reason outside project managers are sometimes brought in because the can push harder and be totally focused on the project. They know at the start that burned bridges with staff will not hurt them as much as someone internal, as they will move onto a job at another company when the project is finished. It you employ this type of management style in your projects then you may not be ready for management.

The best project managers work in a way that is focused on completing the project and building relationships. Taking time to build the relationships makes the project go smoother in most cases and also increases the odds of completing the project successfully. When things are clear-cut and the project is mainly straightforward tasks then the relationships may not be as important. If things start to go wrong or the project is more complex, then the relationships are what will help you keep the project team engaged and bring the project to a successful close. However, even the best project managers can wear out their welcome because they often have to push hard on people to get the project done. If you are a project manager that uses strong people skills to build commitment to the project team and to resolve issues along the way then you are building very relevant skills to management. The key to management is leadership, which is all about communicating a vision, and having strong relationships with people so they buy into your vision and help you to achieve it.

Someone can easily learn all of the administrative (note I did not say people skills) parts of management when they a strong process and numbers background.

In terms of scaling experience I view managing a single project to be like managing a work plan for a small unit. A middle manager often has responsibility for the equivalent to multiple projects. In this case each project is a task on a portfolio. At a senior level of management and/or CIO level then you will likely have responsibility for multiple portfolios in an IT shop including development, enhancements, help desk, infrastructure, etc.

IT planning is just like putting a project together. You talk with the business units; figure out what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, the resources required, and the associated budgets to go with it. Then you manage the plan like a project ensuring that everything tracks as per plan.

From experience I know that it can be difficult to learn the people side of managing projects in the same organization that employees you without burning bridges. This is common, as many new project managers know much more about building a timeline than working with people in a leadership role. So I won?t pass judgement on your desire to move to another company as it could be for any number of reasons including the one above.

Experienced managers know that good projects managers with both people and task skills often make good managers because both project manager and manager require a similar skill set. Give some careful thought to what type of project manager you are and then use that as a guide to whether you are ready for management.

All the best

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Don't forget issue management...

by jemwit In reply to Project Manager to Depart ...

As other posts have mentioned, the people skills of a successful PM are the hard part of leadership, the rest is administrivia that is easily learned. Give examples of getting performance out of your team members and of handling sub-par performance issues.

If you have managed large project budgets, give those examples to justify your departmental budgeting capabilities. Especially talk about any examples involving persuasion used to gain or protect those budgets.

However, don't forget one of the key capabilities of the PM--managing project issues from identification to resolution. These types of project tasks involve all of the critical skills of a department manager and are more important examples of your abilities than any others. One way I often think of this aspect of my job as a manager--find a barrier to getting a job done, prioritize it with other barriers, and bust them down in order. Barriers at the departmental level usually involve managing people, budgets, and individual or team performance. Prioritizing them demonstrates the critical understanding of business goals expected of a manager. I didn't invent the barrier busting analogy, but it has served me well over the years since I learned it.

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Look a bit further down the road - what is your value to the business?

by FE In reply to Project Manager to Depart ...

Managing IT folks can be difficult. I agree with the many posts that suggest that a successful career managing projects in a matrix organization can be a successful transition to management. A recent (successful) candidate sold this to me by noting that people clamored to be on her projects because she got things done very effectively while treating people with respect. I was able to independently confirm this assertion. This shows leadership, which is just as important as the ability to manage.

No one has mentioned what is currently being called ?business-IT alignment?. What are your skills in understanding the strategy of the business units you ultimately serve as a manager? If you are going to manage project managers, you really become a portfolio manager of sorts. Getting the work done, staying on budget, and making your team happy and productive are only as useful as the solutions you produce. If you can also offer creative, thoughtful solutions you can stand out.

When I am hiring managers, I am looking for the basic skills you describe as minimum criteria. The future rock stars are those who also display leadership and business acumen. My goal is to advance IT as a strategic, not just tactical asset to the business. Prepare yourself to lead a team in achieving this goal and the sky is the limit.

Best wishes

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