Double the Benefits

Through Co-Mentoring, Older Project Managers Can Gain As Much Knowledge As They Give


By Susan J. Karn, PMP

Like many later-career project managers, I grew into the role from a technical specialization. I was a young scientist in corporate R&D when I started managing projects 27 years ago. In 2008, I earned my Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification, and in 2014 I added my master's degree in leadership with a project management focus.

But nowadays, many organizations are requiring that project management candidates possess a full complement of high-level skills when they walk through the door. Many colleges have responded with degrees designed specifically to train project managers. Although these students graduate with a deep knowledge of theory, most lack the real-world project experience needed for best results.

To help these employees tap into the vast knowledge banks of seasoned managers and navigate the twists and turns of projects, organizations should encourage mentoring. Though it is challenging, mentoring is effective because it involves the formation of complex relationships via informal communication, usually face-to-face, over a sustained period. This is effective for transferring strategies and for nurturing skills.

But knowledge sharing shouldn't be just oneway, from older to younger project professionals. I've found co-mentoring, which recognizes that older and younger workers have much to offer each other, to be highly useful.


Several years ago, I began a co-mentorship with a new employee, a millennial scientist who wanted advice in navigating the politics of his first project. We began to meet at least weekly. I offered insights into the corporate culture and safe opportunities for sharing ideas and experiences. The format was informal, but we usually began with an update and then dug deeper into any specific challenges. It was rewarding to see my mentee develop into a confident, respected leader and reliable team member.

In turn, my mentee enhanced my confidence in working with new technology and my understanding of social connectivity. However, his greatest gifts were a richer understanding of our different cultural views and the distinctive perspectives of young professionals. My enhanced soft skills were an unexpected bonus, as was his encouragement for my returning to college for an advanced degree after I became an empty nester.

While there are now many project managers with specialized degrees who know a huge amount about theory, older project managers have a vast set of skills and acumen gained on large and complex projects. They should seek to transfer this knowledge through mentoring. And by embracing co-mentoring, these older project managers can also develop a fresh outlook. PM

img Susan J. Karn, PMP, is a principal project manager at Waters Corp., Milford, Massachusetts, USA.
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