Project Manager Specialization?
Due to a life changing event, I was given the opportunity to move to a new state and change industries. As an engineer/program manager for a large automotive company, my initial question was; is it possible to be a successful program manager in one industry and then do the same in another? What does it take to achieve this?
In theory, many of the processes used to manage a project are the same regardless of the industry. However hiring managers often want project managers to have proven expertise in the technical area of the projects they are going to manage. Is this an important aspect of being a good project manager or is there something more to it? Based on my experience, there are some key factors that play into a successful transition between industries.
Personality traits are very important in determining a good project manager. If you possess these traits, more than likely you are a very good project manager and will be successful in transition.
- Honesty – the ability to ask questions and admit to not understanding goes a long way in ensuring your team that you are committed to managing a successful project.
- Integrity – “do what you say and say what you mean” develops your team’s trust. Without their trust you will have a hard time getting them to follow your lead.
- Leadership – the ability to get people to follow your direction without having direct authority over them is key to being a successful project manager.
- Confidence – knowing that you have the skills necessary to be successful, without the cockiness of being a know it all, gives your team faith that their project will be successful.
In addition to the above personality traits, certain key skill sets will go a long way in bridging the gap of being a project manager in a new industry.
- Listening skills – more than likely the new industry will have a new “language” that you will have to learn, paying attention and listening to what is being said is critical to learning that “language” quickly.
- Desire to learn – having a positive outlook about learning something new will encourage your team members to teach you what they know. Everyone loves the opportunity to share something that they are knowledgeable about to someone who is excited to learn.
- Adaptability – being open to change is key to having fun and being successful in your transition.
- Analytical skills – the ability to analyze a problem is the same no matter what the subject matter and is very important to your role as project manager. This skill will allow you to show your team how you can contribute regardless of your industry experience.
- Organization skills – fundamental to being a good project manager and again a way to be a contributor to the team early in your transition. Think contact lists and project schedules, the things that everyone loves to have, but hates to create.
In summary, the answer to my question “is it possible to be a successful program manager in one industry and then do the same in another?” is yes. My experience is proof that this is possible. Having these skills and traits allowed me to take a leadership role as project manager for a variety of IT projects and to gain the respect of my new colleagues in a very short time period.
My transition has also been a great learning experience. It has given me the opportunity to experience a new industry and workplace culture. The best outcome of this experience is the confidence that succeeding in a new industry builds.
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