Projects: how to progress from administrator to manager
Being a project administrator is a busy and fulfilling job where no two days are the same and you build up some useful technical skills.
But after while, you may feel that you want to progress to a better paid and more challenging role as a project manager. It can sometimes seem as though the gulf between admin and management is a big one and it can be difficult to get people to see you as a project manager when they’ve always seen you as an admin person.
For this reason, one of the things you may have to do in order to get ahead is to move job. But if your employer values your services and doesn't want to lose you, during your next appraisal you could indicate that you want to move into project management and would be prepared to move job in order to do so. That might get things moving!
First step to making a job move: tell people
This may sound almost scary if your manager or team environment isn't supportive of people trying to make positive changes for themselves. However, if you are great at what you do now, there will likely be someone who will be willing to help you. Be that through their own network, mentoring or giving you that confidence boost before an interview.
Qualifications and experience
As a project administrator, you've probably got more project experience than some project managers who have come straight from college. There are many companies who will value this. However, qualifications matter and it's often the case that jobs are advertised with a requirement that you must have either a degree or a relevant qualification at a similar level.
There are NVQ courses that are accepted at degree level and which major in project management as their core subject. Then there is PRINCE2 which has two levels - foundation and practitioner. If you can persuade your employer to send you on a PRINCE2 course, that will get you past the initial filter for a lot of job opportunities.
Point to note: please do not be put off if you do not have the qualifications they ask for. If you can demonstrate the depth of your experience in relation to the role advertised, you may still be invited to interview. It all depends on how flexible the hiring manager is.
Getting that first project manager job
It's clearly important to work with an agency that is advertising the type of roles you would like to do. Explain to them that you have lots of relevant experience and want to move up. They may well want to meet you in person and although they may not have anything immediately, you may well find that they call you a few weeks later with an opportunity.
The project management contract market is almost exclusively controlled by agencies (promise they are not like the mafia.. ) This makes it important to build relationships with recruiters across a few different agencies.
Moving into a Junior PM role
Junior PMs often work with a Senior PM and this is an ideal way to build up your skills and experience. You’ll probably find yourself organising resources for tasks, helping with progress reporting, liaising with stakeholders and taking responsibility for managing smaller and less complex areas of work.
Don't expect to be earning the same amount as an experienced Project Manager from the outset. And if the agency has spoken to one of their clients and you’ve been offered an assignment or a job as a Junior Project Manager, don’t forget to thank them! You may find that you are talking to them in a year or two about your next upwards move.
Find your niche
Some projects require a general approach, others need people who have some experience in the industry. So if you have past experience in, for example, banking, retail, IT or customer service, you can now capitalise on that. When you add it to your project administration experience, you now have a specialism that you can market to prospective clients and employers.
After that it’s up to you. Project managers progress by taking on larger, more complex and more business-critical projects with bigger budgets and teams. It’s demanding but really interesting work and if you have been able to organise the project admin and the project team (often akin to herding cats) you are almost certainly ready to get your teeth into a Junior PM role.