Project Management Institute

Aiming Higher

Working at a Portfolio Level Involves More than Just Technical Skills


By Lindsay Scott

I've been a PMO manager for years and want to progress further into portfolio-level PMOs, getting involved in strategy execution at a more senior level. What do I need to consider to make this transition?

As you know, there are many types of project management offices (PMOs), so the transition you make will largely depend on the culture, context and type of services provided by your PMO. It will also depend on the type of management-level skills you've been providing in your existing PMO and your experience prior to that. Finally, it depends on your own ambition, personality and interpersonal skills. If we take a look at those, we can start to see how they will impact your transition plans.

It's important that your current PMO experience builds a knowledge base relatable to portfolio management functions and services, such as investment appraisals, prioritization and enterprise resource management. A portfolio management role like this also requires much more business knowledge and experience than what's needed in a “doing the projects right” kind of PMO. Reading PMI's Thought Leadership Series on portfolio management and pursuing the Portfolio Management Professional (PfMP)® certification can help build knowledge.

Focus less on technical project management knowledge and more on leadership skills—inspiring others to perform well.

To develop business experience, your transition plan could involve stepping away from a PMO entirely for a few years to gain wider management and strategy-related experience. And if you don't have direct project delivery experience, that might be worth gaining for a few years. Perhaps a secondment to another business operations department might be an option, too.

But you also should develop strong leadership skills to make this transition—the ability to hold your own, navigate organizational politics and manage others firmly but fairly. These skills are associated with great portfolio PMO leaders. It's never too soon to focus on your managerial style; we tend to neglect such behavioral and softer skills when focusing on professional development.

The bottom line: When it comes to taking a step up the career ladder like this, focus less on technical project management knowledge and more on leadership skills—inspiring others to perform well.

I have to do a video interview as part of a job application. Any advice?
Whether it's a live or pre-recorded interview, the best remedy for giving it your best shot is simple: practice, practice, practice. The interview preparation you carry out for normal, in-person interviews still applies—be prepared to detail the relevant experiences and skills that position you for success.

But during video interviews, what you say can mean less than the overall impression you give through facial expressions, body language and even your backdrop. So make sure that you have the right technological setup: a decent camera and microphone and lighting that literally shows you in the best light. Also know how you'll appear on camera from the waist up. Dress well (and avoid busy patterns), avoid glare in glasses if you wear them, and ensure the camera isn't positioned too far or too close.

Take the time to test-drive the setup: Try out a few outfits, prerecord yourself a few times and watch it back, check your body language, and check your voice tone and speed. Repeat this process until you're happy with the way you come across.

I'm potentially facing a layoff. How should I get a sense of what opportunities are available in project management?
One of the most frequent questions I am asked is, “What is the market like for project managers at the moment?” There's a problem with this question: It's too broad. What you should be interested in is what the market is like for you at the moment—the specific industry, types of projects, location and salary level you are looking for. That means focusing on understanding your segment of the market.

The most important thing you can do today to understand these opportunities is to talk to the people you know—your connections and networks, people you've met in the industry and (hopefully) kept in touch with. This is where the real information about your marketplace is, so make sure you start getting in touch with people—perhaps meeting for a coffee to catch up. Also be sure to widen your network—get into conversations with other project managers wherever and whenever you can. That's the only way someone like me, who works in the recruitment field, ever knows what's happening in the wider marketplace.

Finally, carry out your own research. Pick up the business section of the newspaper and read industry magazines and journals relevant to your industry. Whatever the latest business news is, news about projects is never far behind.

Even if you find out you won't be laid off due to redundancy, carry on with this advice—especially the networking. It is the most powerful way to come across new opportunities. Layoffs are often unexpected. It's always a good idea to keep your network strong. PM


Don't travel down your career path alone. Find advice and direction here. Send job questions to [email protected].

image Lindsay Scott is the director of program and project management recruitment at Arras People in London, England.
This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.



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