From Project Manager to PMO Leader

Taking on a role in the Project Management Office (PMO) can be a great fit for project managers who want to leverage their skills for broader organizational impact.

Written by Project Management Institute • 13 May 2024

From Project Manager to PMO Leader

As a project manager, it’s likely that you work within the structure of a project management office (PMO). While once perceived as a department focused on governance and compliance, top-performing PMOs are now known for driving strategic value for organizations through technology, culture, and professional development of project managers. They may also have a presence in the boardroom, working with the C-suite to align projects with organizational strategy and a focus on key outcomes.

If you’re interested in applying your project management skills at a broader scale, a PMO role may be a good fit for you. Let’s explore how you can make the shift.

Project Managers vs PMO Leaders

“A project manager typically focuses on the execution and delivery of individual projects. A PMO leader operates at a higher organizational level, overseeing multiple projects or a portfolio of projects within an organization, and designing specific solutions to meet PMO customers' needs and deliver effective value. PMOs can have different roles and functions from company to company. These can range from establishing and maintaining project management standards, processes, and methodologies across the organization, to supporting executives in the portfolio management and strategic decision making,” says Americo Pinto, PMP, PMO-CP, PMO-CC, Managing Director of PMO Global Alliance at PMI.

In short, PMOs serve a range of customers from project managers to C-level executives. They are centers of excellence, empowering project managers and executives to work more strategically, ultimately delivering real value to the business. They bridge the gap between project management and organizational objectives, and offer resources and expertise in financial management, human resources, customer service, and communication. And they create an ecosystem where current and future initiatives can thrive.

Getting started in a PMO Career

“Finding opportunities to transition into PMO roles poses challenges compared to project management positions, given the leadership nature of the role,” says Patrick Brodeur, PfMP, PMP, SAFe, ITIL, Strategic Advisor at Deloitte, who recommends taking a proactive approach to gaining relevant experience.

Here are some steps you can take to pave the way:

  • Network and express interest: Get to know the PMO practitioners within your organization. Express your interest in transitioning to a PMO role and inquire about potential opportunities or projects where you can contribute.
  • Seek development opportunities: Look for internal development programs related to PMO functions. Consider taking on additional responsibilities that align with PMO activities to gain relevant experience.
  • Volunteer for PMO initiatives: Offer to assist PMO teams on specific projects or initiatives.
  • Attain certification: Signify your expertise and commitment with certifications such as the PMO Certified Practitioner (PMO-CP), Project Management Professional (PMP)®, or Program Management Professional (PgMP)®.

Essential skills for PMO leaders

As stewards who ensure that organizational initiatives deliver real value, PMOs need talent with strong strategic and leadership capabilities. Fortunately, many of those skills are transferable from project delivery roles.

“The journey from project management to PMO involves continuous learning, networking, and readiness to seize opportunities. By staying attuned to industry trends and honing technical and soft skills, professionals can position themselves for success,” says Nisheet Saxena, PMP, MoP, PRINCE2, ITIL, Senior Program Manager at Ooredoo Qatar.

What makes a great PMO leader? Leveling up the following power skills will help.

  • Strategic thinking: Ability to align processes and decision-making with an organization’s big-picture objectives.
  • Communication: Ability to frame change through the lens of organizational value, ensuring that information will resonate with the C-Suite.
  • Collaborative leadership: Ability to forge consensus and a unanimous vision across the enterprise.
  • Relationship building: Ability to build strong relationships with stakeholders and team members.

If you’re ready to move into a role where you empower others to deliver change, the PMO might be the right place for you. Follow the advice outlined here to get started on your journey.

* Quotes have been lightly edited for clarity

You Might Also Like…

  • Level Up Your Project Management Career with Continuous Learning—Projectified® Podcast ǀ Listen
  • Wanted: Leadership (Not Just) From the Top—The PMI Blog ǀ Read
  • The Future of Project Work— Pulse of the Profession® 2024, 15th Edition | Learn

 

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Project Management Institute
Author | PMI

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