BLUF: What's the best way to transition from project management to management?

I've been managing IT projects for eight years and would like to transition to management. Over the past three years I've been managing software development and implementation projects at a small software company. The org chart is flat and there's no room for growth.

I think my next move is to join a larger organization that has the growth potential. I'm thinking iI would need to move laterally before climbing up the corporate ladder. Are there alternatives? How have fellow MTers made the transition?

Thanks in advance,


ashdenver's picture


I know you were asking about how to move to a true-manager role but my comments are slightly off to the side of that.

My observation in working within an organization that has both Managers and PMs is that the two roles are quite different.  I'm going out on a limb here and I'm guessing I'll catch a ration of grief somewhere along the way but here goes anyway.  [Please note that this commentary is based solely on my observation over the past several years in an organization which utilitizes both PMs and Managers and has about ten layers from the "trenches to the president."]

The PM role as it exists within a blended organization seems to be focused more on high-level issues (not really having clear understanding of all (or in some cases, any) of the moving parts of the specific project.)  A Manager, though, has a consistent team dedicated to one specific functionality (with umpteen pieces therein) so there tends to be the accumulation of information through osmosis, if you will. 

The PM role also has a very keen eye on timelines and project plans with drop-dead dates whereas managers generally don't have such rigorous confines.  Sure, in some cases "all performance reviews must be submitted by March 31st" types of things come up but by and large, the Managerial role tends to be much more fluid and ever-changing. 

Additionally, the PM role (depending on the organization) tends to have a rotating cast of players.  In some ways this can be a blessing because if there are personality conflicts, the project will be over at some point and the two may not be teamed up again.  In many other ways, this can be a curse because there are new players, new personalities, new work ethics, new everything to uncover and cope with effectively.  Managers tend to have a more stable cast of characters on their teams which means (at least here) that there is a much stronger call for relationship and career development of those team members.  (This is usually why Managers do the performance reviews, not the PMs.) 

Where the PM is the point-person for the client or some other counterpart-team, they are called upon to have solid communication and relationship skills to smooth over issues that may arise, difficult conversations that may need to happen about deliverables, etc. and once that project is complete, the teams can forget you were ever there because everyone likely goes their separate ways.  The Manager, however, is in it for the long haul and therefore tends to have different types of difficult conversations.  The PM can tell the other team / client / own team members "Grin & bear it, we're almost through" whereas the Manager has to actually have a conversation with the offending party, possibly establish a performance improvement plan, follow-through with the disciplinary process, working closely with the HR business partners. 

I started with this company over seven years ago.  They unveiled the PM concept a month after I started.  I've watched this PM program evolve quite a bit and I have seen only ONE person (out of about 65) move from PM to Manager.  In fact, one of my colleagues (in the trenches with me) moved into a PM role thinking it would be a pathway to Management.  Six months later, he moved back to the trenches because he discovered that (at least here) Project Management is a far cry from "regular" management.  The skills are applied in different ways.

That all said, it's entirely possible that PMs can use the MT tools to help strengthen and develop their Managerial side.  There have been countless posts about how to apply the MT concepts in a PM role. 

The reason I've waxed poetic here about the differences (as I see them) between Manager and PM is that:

  • when applying for a Manager position, there may be some bias on the part of the interviewer that PMs "don't really know how to manage PEOPLE so much as projects";
  • when considering the switch from PM to Manager, "the grass is always greener over the septic tank" so be sure you know what you're aiming for;
  • some people have personality types that are not well-suited for one role or the other and it may take a unique individual to excel in both roles;
  • having an awareness of the differences (in general) can help you best position yourself and your experiences (from the past or yet to occur) to land the Management job.

I have no idea if any of this was helpful to you or not but I wish you luck nonetheless in the pursuit of your goals and dreams.  MT is definitely a fantastic place to learn, practice and hone skills!

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