Certified: Meet Matt Austin, PMP

In diverse industries spanning finance, government, healthcare, marketing and advertising, Matt Austin, PMP, has thrived as a leader. His career demonstrates that project management skills, backed by certification, travel well.

Written by Project Management Institute • 28 June 2024

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This ongoing series celebrates PMI certification holders — exploring their career journeys, sharing their insights and celebrating their achievements.

It could be said that Matt Austin’s 20-year professional journey resembles the evolution of the Project Management Institute this century. Matt started in sectors firmly rooted in traditional project management, working on projects in finance, government consulting and healthcare IT. Later, he took his talents to ad tech and marketing — verticals that more recently integrated project management approaches into their ways of working.

From highly regimented government contracts to creative marketing campaigns, Matt has pivoted and grown as a project leader. But one thing has remained consistent: his belief in the value of project management to any organization, in any industry.

Now vice president of project management at Jellyfish, a global advertising agency, Matt oversees a team of seven project managers in the U.S., supports senior directors in Mexico and Brazil, and shapes project management practices for 60 project managers globally.

Matt sat down with us to discuss why project management is critical in every industry, how the Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification helped his career, and what all project professionals should understand about leadership.

How did you begin your project management career?

After working in the finance industry, I began doing business requirements analysis with a little project management mixed in. I became a true project manager a few years later at Booz Allen, where many of our government clients required a PMP certification to staff someone as a lead project manager on a contract of any size. I knew I needed more formal project management training and that the PMP was the gold standard.

How did you go about getting the PMP?

I had mentors at Booz Allen who were certified, so I was learning the “PMP way” before I ever picked up the PMBOK [A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)]. I had lots of experience, but to pass the exam, I needed to make sure I was using the right vocabulary. I went through a training boot camp to help me prep, and then I passed the certification exam on my first try.

Matt Austin Headshot2

My project management skills have helped me shift industries and have been critical in making sure that I didn't have a disruption in my career.

VP of Project Management

Jellyfish

What led you to marketing and advertising?

I was keen to take the next step in terms of building my leadership skills and running larger teams, and Jellyfish provided that opportunity. I'd been waiting for an opportunity, and my mix of AdTech, consulting, and PM skills made me a great fit.

How have you thrived in such different work environments and industries?

The PMP validates a project management skillset that helps you make a pivot to another industry. Regardless of the industry, you are rarely in a position where you are the expert. To be a good project manager, you need to be able to absorb information about many things and synthesize it to identify risks and make decisions. You need to have the confidence to say, ‘I don’t know’ and ask questions and learn from your experts. That’s a basic project management skillset that works everywhere. My project management skills have helped me shift industries and have been critical in making sure that I didn't have a disruption in my career.

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Are project management skills underutilized in creative verticals?

There are a lot of people working in these industries that have project management skills, but I don't think that the industry is using those skills as effectively as they could be. Not every agency has a formal PMO or project management capability. Mentoring for PMI at Cannes Lions, I had a lot of conversations with project managers who were struggling to get increased organizational support for the project management function.

But that’s starting to change, and a lot of it has to do with education and outreach. One of the things I'm proud of in my own work is the way our team has shown value to senior leadership in the last few years. We've proven that a formal PM discipline can help teams be so much more effective. We've started to use our project management capability as a differentiator when we pitch to clients. I see that resonate and I expect to see that happen more frequently.

What aspects of project management are most helpful for creative agencies?

There is a balance that needs to be struck. On many of our projects, we focus on execution, efficiency, risk management — the fundamental things that project management brings to bear in traditional bastions of project management such as software development. But if you come into a creative environment and focus only on efficiency, you're going to stifle the creative process, and you're going to lose the support of your teams and your key stakeholders.

In a creative environment, the emphasis needs to be on enabling creative effectiveness. Trying to shield the creative team from distractions and allowing them to focus on the work is key. Things change quickly on a creative project, and it's up to the project manager to anticipate those shifts as much as possible and make sure that the creatives have the inputs for their process. This is where the PMP skillset is key — making sure that we're getting clear briefs for the work, ensuring that we're managing stakeholders in an effective way and getting good feedback into the process, and, of course, managing schedules in a proactive way. Creative is very much an agile environment, and without a professional project manager, it can become chaotic.

Matt Austin Headshot2

If you come into a creative environment and focus only on efficiency, you're going to stifle the creative process and lose the support of your teams -- the emphasis needs to be on enabling creative effectiveness.

VP of Project Management

Jellyfish

What would you say to creatives — artists, designers, producers — about how project management skills can help their careers?

Project management skills are useful across a broad range of what we think of as creative jobs, especially when you're looking at smaller agencies. An agency with 15 staff probably doesn't have a dedicated project manager. That's where something like the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) can be helpful. Maybe your producer doesn't have the time to focus on a PMP, but they can still get a lot of benefit on their projects by using some of the basic project management skills that can be learned with less of a time investment. Or maybe you're a bit bigger and you have a project manager, but they don't have others within the agency to learn from. Whether or not your title is project manager, the skillset is applicable.

Any other advice for someone early in their project management career?

Treat leadership like a craft, like something that must be honed year in, year out. One of the great myths is that people are born leaders, that leadership is an inherent talent that you can’t cultivate. You can learn tactical skills about being a manager. You can learn to be a better leader.

Matt Austin

Outside Work

Born and raised in Minneapolis, Matt Austin now calls Baltimore home. He loves live music and record collecting, rides his bikes about 100 miles a week and competes occasionally in road races. An English major, Matt does a lot of reading. He’s also a certified SCUBA diver. The Wire is his favorite TV show, and he enjoys making a cocktail “with more ingredients than is strictly necessary” for his wife and himself after work.

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