Ready for Tomorrow?

Ready for Tomorrow

Disruption isn’t going away — so safeguarding your career in today’s fast-changing business environment requires more than treading water. Research by the World Economic Forum shows that 35 percent of the skills necessary to thrive in a job today will be different a mere five years from now.

While 22 million new project-oriented jobs will be created through 2027, according to PMI’s Project Management Job Growth and Talent Gap report, project professionals should take nothing for granted. Developing a future-proof career requires a broader view of the project and business landscape.

Project and program managers looking to elevate their careers in the years ahead must learn to adapt to become a critical piece of the puzzle. Here’s how to stay ahead of change.

Take the Digital Dive

Robots, artificial intelligence (AI) and automation are starting to reshape the global workforce and project professionals must devour digital knowledge to better understand how they fit as technology changes their roles. By the early 2030s, 1 in 3 jobs in many developed countries are at high risk of being replaced by robotics and AI, according to a 2017 PwC report. Manufacturing, IT, defense, retail, transportation and construction are expected to be in the top half of sectors experiencing the biggest change.

While project managers won’t disappear, job parameters likely will shift, says Mohamed Khalifa, PMP, PgMP, PfMP, director, project management consultancy, Lifelong Kuwait, Kuwait City, Kuwait. More tasks will become automated, such as updating checklists and verifying data on project budgets — so project managers will have more time to spend on high-level tasks that require critical thinking.

How can you lean into the digital transformation? Start by reading industry news to stay up-to-date on how automation is affecting each sector and try out new technologies as you encounter them, Mr. Khalifa says. And look for opportunities — even supporting roles — for projects that leverage these new digital tools to show you’re eager to evolve.

“Project managers have to go beyond their comfort zone and try new things and new projects,” he says. “This will make the transition to change easier.”

Build a Strategic Perspective

You don’t need a crystal ball to predict the future — just a healthy interest for the business world beyond the project management domain.

“One of the big mistakes that a lot of project managers make is to only connect with other people in the project management community,” says Mr. Khalifa. “But the modern world is very connected, and if project professionals want to be seen as leaders in their careers, they have to stay curious beyond project management.”

Project managers who take a broad view of career development will be better able to adapt to the changing business world — and spot career opportunities ahead of the crowd.

Being open and curious about specific fields — whether finance, IT, healthcare or agriculture — can help you develop business acumen and industry knowledge. Joining specialized LinkedIn groups or attending sector-specific conferences are low-investment ways to shore up knowledge. And they will help set you apart from other candidates during the hiring process and help get you promoted once you’ve landed a gig.

"As much as they're responsible and accountable for managing the project, the real value for project managers comes from understanding how the project fits into the organization’s strategic goals and objectives and its potential impact on the competitive landscape,” says Darpana Vallabh, PMP, program manager, First National Bank, Johannesburg, South Africa.

Fill the Leadership Gap

Project managers with leadership skills are already a hot commodity: 75 percent of CEOs say it’s somewhat or very difficult to recruit people with leadership skills, according to a 2017 PwC survey. And 78 percent of business and human resources executives believe finding leaders is an important trend, according to a 2017 Deloitte report.

“Project managers will increasingly be expected to act as leaders rather than managers,” says Chirine Tanios, PMI-RMP, PMP, technical project manager, Akamai Technologies, Dubai, United Arab Emirates. “It’s no longer just about schedules and budgets, but about seeing the big picture, making the right decisions and getting the maximum out of team members while causing minimum frustration.”

Tomorrow’s leaders must focus on consensus building, creative problem-solving on the fly and the ability to empower teams. While there are plenty of seminars and workshops to help develop those skills, project managers who can show empathy, persuasion and strategic decision-making on the job today can accelerate their leadership curve, Mr. Khalifa says.

“To be really prepared for what’s expected of us in our careers in five or 10 or 20 years, project professionals must start practicing a modern style of leadership for the digital age,” he adds.

Mitigate Economic Risks

Of course, no one knows when the next economic downturn will hit, but you can strengthen your career safety net now, by making time for professional development and networking, says Samir Penkar, PMP, program manager, Projesta Inc., Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.

Mr. Penkar carved out consistent time for networking by joining a monthly mastermind group, where peers get together to share ideas and insights and brainstorm around future opportunities. Whether you prefer a structured group or more informal mixers, “find people you respect or want to learn something from, and get out there,” he says.

The goal is to develop a strong, diverse network that can help quickly identify openings if tough economic times return. And as the gig economy keeps growing, networking can also accelerate the transition to a freelance career. More than 75 percent of organizations now use freelance project managers, according to a 2017 Arras People global survey.

Finally, it’s always a good time to earn certifications, which build skills and help your résumé or CV stand out when job opportunities are tight, Mr. Penkar says.

“From a career perspective, if you’re not learning something new every few years, you’re stagnating,” he says.