Bob, Julie and Lucy, all project managers, were sitting around the local coffee shop contemplating their future.  It was interesting that all three of them had a completely different view point.

Bob has been a project manager for 15 years, primarily in the IT sector. He loves his work and sees his current role continuing right through to retirement. He is not sure whether that means he is still employed by his current company or he is an independent contractor but, regardless, he sees himself as ‘once a project manager always a project manager’.

Julie, on the other hand, has a different point of view. A project manager for the past 10 years at the same company as Bob, Julie is quite adamant that project management is more a core competency than it is a path to a long career. She sees herself leaving within the next three years to leverage her skill set and competencies into the role of an organizational leader or entrepreneur.

And then there is Lucy. She works for the same company as the other two but comes to the table with less than five years of project management experience.  However, Lucy has been a student of business through University and a recent college program. While she thought the role of the project manager was a great fit, she has quickly identified a new opportunity. She has seen this organization struggle through their strategic planning and execution process and realizes that her skills and abilities to ‘get things done’ make her a perfect fit for a future role in the strategic planning area of the company.

These three people and their view of their futures, pretty well sums up my answer to the project manager’s question “where to now?”

We have options and that is good news. I’m not so sure I would have said this 10 or 15 years ago when we were all sold the role of the project manager as a lifelong endeavor.

Today is different. Project managers have options.

Option one. Be a project manager all your life.  Hang out your own shingle or stay in the corporate world.  Leverage everything you learn from project to project to be an awesome, sought after, project management professional. There will always be room for the best of the best.

Option two.  Recognize that everything you are learning now is building on an incredibly valuable core competency that not many people have. Managing people, risk, schedules and budgets.  Dealing with change and ever moving deadlines.  All this, and more, make you a strong candidate for leadership positions within our organizations, small and large. You do not need to be a project manager all your life.  As the baby boomers continue to retire en masse, leadership positions are opening up quickly. You bring a unique quality to the table – go for it.

Option three.  Position yourself as a strategy execution specialist. I started writing about this opportunity over the last year as I came to the realization that most organizations are having a very difficult time executing their strategic plans. I see the next few years opening up new opportunities for project managers as these organizations realize the strategic plan is, in fact, a very large project, or many projects and thus a program.  When they come to this realization, they will be looking for people who can help them execute and the smart project manager who is interested in this line of business will be standing at the door.

Where to now? As we see with Bob, Julie and Lucy, we have options and that’s the good news.

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