Gren Gale is a member of the ProjectManagers.Org community. He shares his story on why he became a Project Manager in the following interview:
Why did you become a Project Manager?
Pretty standard answer, I started off as an IT coder, then moved into managing technical teams and then project management. I guess I like being in charge…and the money was better!
What work were you doing previously?
I worked in very technical project roles, coding in assembler and working on program editors and network drivers, then moved into leading technical teams.
What are you doing now?
I run my own project management consultancy PM Results.
When was the moment you decided to make the change?
Hard to trace a moment. Progression in life is always a mixture of opportunity, ambition and talent. You can have lots of the last two but won’t get very far without opportunities presenting themselves. An opportunity to manage projects came along and I went for it.
Are you happy with the change?
Yes, I am happy with the change. I’ve managed a huge variety of projects and had opportunities to work in some fascinating areas that wouldn’t have presented themselves if I’d stayed on the technical side.
What do you miss and what don’t you miss?
I do sometimes miss the technical work. It was always about problem solving and I find that stimulating. What I don’t miss is work under intense pressure when things go wrong – I worked three months on nights once, because we ran out of scarce hardware in a tight project and to maximise its use we had people working literally day and night!
How did you go about making this career move?
Initially through internal promotion and after that by looking for Project Management jobs in the employment market.
What didn’t go well? What ‘wrong turns’ did you take?
What didn’t go well….. How much time have you got! I found I learned a lot very quickly, usually through pain suffered. I learned that trying to please everyone as project manager rarely works. If you’re too nice and accommodating then further down the line the results of trying to please everyone become apparent and it’s the project manager who comes under pressure! I learned that project management is about persuading, cajoling, encouraging and challenging and the sooner you start, the better!
How did you handle your finances to make your change possible?
This was never a problem. By moving internally into a project management role, I didn’t have to spend time out of work or money on a course, my company covered that.
What was the most difficult thing about changing?
When you change role into any management position, the people working for you expect you to lead, know your job and be confident about what you’re doing. This is hard when you’re new in the job, because you’re bound to be feeling your way into the role and make mistakes. You have to somehow get through this and go again next time better armed than last.
What were other difficulties and how did you overcome them? What help did you get?
I’ve mentored a few project managers in my time and providing support while they’re learning and making mistakes is vital. I received a fair bit of help, but have also worked for managers who just expected results without much support, which is a thankless position to be in.
What have you learnt in the process?
I could write a book on this. I find you’re learning each and every day and if you’re not, then you’re probably not being challenged. Top learnings are about building teamwork, showing leadership, delegating and trusting people but at the same time challenging what you’re told. You need discipline to run projects, but you also need flexibility and soft skills.
What do you wish you’d done differently?
Two projects stand out that were particularly painful ones. My learnings from those are – don’t fall in line because your manager says something is possible and everyone around them is agreeing. If you feel strongly that it isn’t going to work, put on the tin hat and speak up – they’ll thank you for it in the end (as long as they don’t fire you first!), plus when your manager and their manager tells you to remove the contingency or the business case will fail, let them know what contingency is there for and that if it’s not acceptable to include it then maybe the business case should fail. I’ve seen that happen twice in big projects and the subsequent disasters when it was discovered that there is a reason for including contingency!
What would you advise others to do in the same situation?
As above – speak up!