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Project Management

10 Career Goals for Project Managers

Brett Harned
January 5, 2016

Question: Where will you be in 5 years from now? Yes, the dreaded question. The one that makes you sweat, because you’re a project manager and you’re just not sure. You often can’t think 5 years ahead, because you’re so focused on getting your projects wrapped up successfully. 

That’s well and good—you should focus on your projects—but don’t forget to think about yourself. Whether you’re looking to make yourself a better PM, or you want to figure out where you’ll land in 10 years, you should come up with some actionable goals to check in on.

Where do you want to go?

Before you get to the 10 project management related goals that you can use for short- and long-term improvement, you should take some time to think about where your career is headed, and where you want to steer you think project management is your true calling? Take some time to think about these things:



No matter the answers to these questions, stay true to who you are. If you’re a PM at heart and you want to figure out how to gain more responsibility and grow within the role, that is awesome! If you want to take on a different kind of role long-term, be sure to capitalize on your strengths and find ways to tie them into a future role. 

In the end, you want to be happy—and you’ll be happiest if you’re doing something in your domain of expertise that you truly like. Why? Because it feels easy and you have fun with it—so it never feels like work.

Project management career goals: A starter list

The short-term stuff:

These first 4 goals are ones that ANY PM should adhere to.

1. Finish projects on time

Every PM wants to be on time. It’s a core value for any project management role—probably one that your company is holding you to. Of course you can’t control every factor that will make your projects late, but if you make it a goal to get ahead of those delays, you will find yourself wrapping up projects on time.

2. Control budget and scope

Another core project management value. And, of course, another tough one to control. If you make it your goal to have a better understanding of your budget, scope, AND the impacts that outside factors could have on it, you’ll tune yourself in to the right details to stay on top of scope creep issues.

3. Be a good communicator

It’s been said time and time again that communication is critical to the PM role. If you feel like you might be lacking, make a goal to get better. Devise a plan for how you will make project kickoffs smoother, status reports easier to digest, scrum meetings short and actionable, internal communications frequent and valuable, and so on. If you diagnose a problem and dedicate yourself to fixing it with communications, you can test tactics and eventually meet that goal.

4. Ensure quality

You can and should be a quality check on your projects. If you are truly invested in your projects, you won’t let something faulty go out the door. Sure, it happens sometimes, but if you commit yourself ensuring quality, you will ensure that your clients, stakeholders, and teams are happy with the work that’s being produced.

The long-term stuff:

These final six goals are ones that will help you to not only be a better PM, but help you to design a career path that is exciting for you.

5. Be strategic

If you’re a PM, you should get out of that to-do list mentality. It’s not just about checking tasks off a list—it’s about doing what’s right for a project given the path it (or its team and stakeholders) are taking. Make it a goal to focus on the goals of the project and how you—as a team—can better serve that goal through the project. Maybe that will lead you to re-think process and deliverables, maybe it won’t. Either way, it’ll get you to look at your projects through a different lens: one that will show long-term impacts and decisions rather than the short-term tasks.

6. Understand financial impacts

It’s easy to be the PM and say “we have to meet the budget because it’s what was scoped and is in our contract,” but it is far more meaningful to be able to say, “If we go over budget, it will have X, Y, Z impacts on our business and our relationships with our partners and clients.” That’s right—think about your project as a micro piece of the bigger business. How will impact larger pieces of business in your organization and how can you keep it in tact to help meet company-wide goals? The more you think about the big picture, you’ll gain the trust of leadership and you will be better prepared to move into roles with greater responsibility.

7. Follow your industry

If you want to make bigger career moves, you have to understand what’s happening in your industry. Make it your goal to connect to your industry in ways that will allow you to learn and advance: read trade publications, follow blogs, twitter accounts, and more. Do everything you can to understand what’s happening in and around your industry. Again, having a bigger picture view of your role in the greater organization and industry will help you to carve out your own path.

8. Gain experience and talk about it

You may not think that anyone cares about your perspective as a PM—and you’re wrong! If you’re learning lessons on projects and it’s making you better, why not share them with others? Speaking and writing will elevate your career, and you’ll be able to find your own community. While writing an article here and there may not turn into a major book deal, it will help you to gain respect among your colleagues. It takes guts to put yourself out there, and that says a lot! Maybe make it a goal to start with one blog post and see where that takes you.

9. Be adaptable

Related to #6 and #7, you have to be acutely aware of your surroundings. If you have an eye on your industry and your organization, you’ll be able to sense when things are changing. You can use that information to adapt practices as an individual, or on your projects. Project managers find the most success when they adapt to changes (and, yes, control them within reason), so when you see a change coming, make it an opportunity to pivot toward success. You don’t want to be a total chameleon, of course, but you want to be strategic and find ways to adapt your skills and experience to new opportunities.

10. Focus on leadership

You’ve got to be a good leader to advance your career in any direction. As a project manager, you’re well-suited to do just that. Take some time to discuss what leadership means to your teams, your managers, and your organization. And do some research of your own: what, in your mind, is a great leader. Set a goal to be that leader. Maybe you can find a mentor to help you—or at least help you to find the right opportunities. Remember, this doesn’t have to happen in the office: you can find volunteer opportunities that will allow you to widen your horizons and strengthen your leadership skills.

Where will you take you?

If you set and manage professional goals, you’ll be the greatest catalyst in your career, so do some work on your own to figure out exactly what you want to “be” long-term. 

Project management is a widely-needed role that is showing growth in terms of adoption and respect. That means that growth opportunities in some organizations are bound to become plentiful. The options are truly endless for you, because as a PM, you have skills that are needed and highly marketable. 

Who knows? You may find yourself becoming anything from a better PM to a CEO. Only you can decide on that path. Consider using TeamGantt's free gantt chart tool to visualize your career goals for your first project.

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