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Career Advice: How to Succeed in Project Management

Many IT and IT-fueled business are increasingly project-oriented. A skilled project manager can always find work, but you won't learn everything about successful project management from a certification.

Kimpel PM female project manager at whiteboardProject Managers (PMs) are some of my favorite people. Why? Because they are so diverse. With developers, they exist in a “vein.” When it comes to executives, you generally know how they will act, and with network engineers … well, those are my kind of folks.


PMs will act differently across different spheres or even inside different business units. While they can’t fix stupid, PMs sure can fix what stupid does. They have a knack for approaching projects in different ways, and are always on the lookout for improvements. Even with all they do, and all they accomplish daily, there is always room for more improvement.


I frequently hear less-informed individuals say that PMs can cross-function easily. I don’t buy it. PMs are trade-specific, and the people they interact with act differently depending on the trade they deliver. PMs have to be multi-talented when it comes to their jobs. IT PMs especially are required to understand technology, construction, and a host of other processes.


Being a PM requires a great deal of knowledge and experience, almost all of it hard-won. Successful PMs have learned a few lessons about what to do, mostly by doing the opposite. To help you out and save you some time, here are a few guiding principles:


Project Creep


No one likes a creep, and especially no one likes mission creep. Your project depends on not letting the guy who has been with the company for 25 years and “knows where the skeletons are buried” add everything under the sun to your project. People and events always seem to conspire to expand the scope of any project, and typically such expansions result in a loss of momentum and frustration.


It’s just like that old saying, “It’s hard to remember that your goal was to drain the swamp when you are up to your butt in alligators.” As in life, focus is the key. You can have a big scope, it just needs to always be pointed at the bullseye.


Team Members


Always make friends, and try to never create an enemy. IT is one of the strangest business models for a PMO. The people you work with on a project don’t necessarily work for you (sometimes, they hardly work at all). To accomplish your goals, you will need to make friends.


Small gifts, a kind word, or showing an appropriate level of empathy about the challenges faced by team members will help you accomplish your goal. Two key principles to remember when managing a project are cultivating a culture of “git ‘er dun,” and taking it to the next level of workmanship. Be the example — it sounds silly, but it works.


On the business side of the interaction, I prefer “Aggressive Customer Service,” where you anticipate needs, understand things before the business tells you, and actively push the project to the business. If they didn’t want it done, they shouldn’t have turned you on to it. Listen to everyone, and have true empathy. It will show.




The word “communication” gets a bad rap because it is overused. Did you communicate, are you communicating, did he communicate that? It’s really played out.


In my opinion, communicating is simply an outward display, verbally or in written form, of your attitude. For instance, if I have to constantly ask you when I or my business unit are going to receive something, then I know your communication is simply a reflection of your attitude towards my needs.


Positivity breeds completeness, and completeness encompasses communication. Feel great about your assignment, however you can, and deliver Aggressive Customer Service (ACS). Take pride in what you do, and you will love tossing your updates to every Tom, Dick and Harry, even before they ask.