Project Management Institute

Five killer strategies to advance your career as a project manager


The key to having a successful career in project management is understanding which of your passions, strengths, talents, and successes that a company or industry values, and then being a master at creating opportunities for yourself. This paper provides the strategies and framework to successfully manage perceptions and put yourself in high demand with your manager, clients, senior executives, industry experts, and potential employers.

Learn how to build a powerful personal brand and create career opportunities in which you are valued and appreciated for all that you have to offer. Specifically, this paper will teach you how to:

Step 1: Define the five core values and characteristics in your own unique personal brand.

Step 2: Shape and manage powerful messages you're sending to employers and stakeholders.

Step 3: Develop a powerful professional network of career influencers who could hire you, promote you, or introduce you to others who could potentially hire you.

Step 4: Strengthen credibility and build visibility with career influencers.

Step 5: Build a career Return on Invest (ROI) dashboard to measure your success.


If you drew a graph or a chart that reflected your career path, would it be a straight arrow that starts in the very bottom left hand corner and then plots across the graph in a straight line going up, and up, and up? Probably not. The reality is that nobody's does. Everyone has dips and valleys in their career. The difference between someone who has a successful career as a project manager (PM) and someone who is in a complacent career is that the successful PM is able to pick him or herself up when he hits a roadblock and go after that next peak!

The key to having a successful career is understanding which of your passions, strengths, talents, and successes that a company or industry values, and then being a master at creating opportunities for yourself. One of the most critical steps is the ability to shape and manage messages that you are sending to your manager, clients, senior executives, industry experts, and potential employers.

Personal branding is shaping the way that others perceive you. It's as simple as that. And when those perceptions are an accurate reflection of your true, authentic self, including your passions, strengths and talents, then you are able to create a career that is truly enriching, and gives you a sense of deep meaning and purpose.

This paper provides the concepts, strategies and tools you need to help you achieve a powerful personal brand and transition into a career that gives you confidence, fulfillment, and immense personal satisfaction.

What is a Personal Brand?

What is “branding”? Think about iPod™, Disney™, Coca-Cola™, and Mercedes-Benz™ Whether you like, dislike, or are indifferent to these companies and products, you still have a perception about each one. That perception has been carefully defined, shaped, and managed by each of these companies.

Branding is about creating an emotional connection to a consumer. Why somebody chooses to drive a Mercedes-Benz™ has as much to do with the functionality and performance of the car, as it does to the feeling one gets by simply owning it. When any product gives consumers an emotional boost, such as making them feel smarter, richer, sexier, cooler, more confident, more glamorous, etc., then a company has succeeded in creating a powerful and memorable product brand.

The art of branding is so critical to a product's success that companies spend millions and even billions of dollars on creating and shaping their brands. The reason they do this is simple: branding drives sales. In fact, every year Business Week magazine publishes its “Top 100 Global Brands” and the estimated dollar value of those brands. For 2007, the top 10 of the top 100 included:

Top 10 global brands in 2007(Business Week, 2007)

Exhibit 1: Top 10 global brands in 2007(Business Week, 2007)

Now let's shift focus and consider the branding of a person. Think about Michael Jordan, Martha Stewart, and Oprah Winfrey. More than likely you have a perception about each one of them because each has successfully created his or her unique, memorable personal brand. It's a perception that they have carefully shaped through personal values, actions, goals, and successes.

Consider Michael Jordan. The way he speaks, dresses, and his work ethic both on and off the basketball court drive his personal brand. When you think about him, what personal characteristics come to your mind? He's a superb athlete and leader. He is disciplined, driven, passionate, and an impeccable dresser. Because of his consistent, deliberate actions in demonstrating each of these qualities, he has successfully created a unique and powerful personal brand.

Michael Jordan was able to extend his personal brand to the retail world and reach a wider audience. He has personally endorsed McDonalds™, Gatorade™, Wheaties™, Hanes™, and has formed a business partnership with Nike™ to sell and distribute his own line of athletic shoes and clothing. He continuously strengthens and promotes his personal brand, which in turn, creates sponsorships and endorsements that lead to more opportunities.

Martha Stewart and Oprah Winfrey have built empires on their personal brand. They've both created highly successful business ventures, including each owning a television show and magazine, because of a strong personal brand. Plus, they both now have their own platform on which to continuously build and strengthen that personal brand, which creates even more career opportunities.

So the question is: How did they do it? And how can you?

The answer is broken down into two key steps. First, they have leveraged their own unique set of passions, strengths, talents, personal characteristics, and successes to create a memorable and very powerful personal brand. They understand the value their fans, or target audiences, want and expect from them. Whether it's great athleticism, recipes for hosting the perfect holiday party, or understanding a deeper level of cultural differences and challenges, there is a specific and unique value that each person provides for their audiences. And through their ability to consistently deliver high value, they have been able to create an emotional connection with their audiences.

Second, they carefully managed their personal brand and created platforms to promote themselves, their passions, and the value they provide to others. Creating a unique personal brand gives you the benefit of having:

  • More control in your career,
  • More career opportunities, and
  • More meaning, purpose, and great personal satisfaction from your career.

Step 1: Defining Your Personal Brand

Everyone has a personal brand. So, what does yours say about you? Your personal brand includes a foundation of your own unique set of personal values, passions, strengths, talents, and accomplishments. Think about who you are as your true authentic self. What do you believe in? What do you stand for? What are your core values? Those values, personal traits, and core characteristics are what make you truly unique. They make you invaluable to the right employer or client. Knowing what these characteristics are enables you to create and shape the best possible personal brand for yourself, and ultimately make career choices that give your life meaning and purpose.

Let's start with a simple exercise. Take out a piece of paper and make five columns. Label them core values, passions, personal traits, signature talents, and accomplishments

What are your core values? Wikipedia's definition of core values is: “The principles, standards, or quality which guides human actions.” They are your beliefs and principals which guide your decisions. They are long term, but could change over time. Some examples of core values include: family, religion, integrity, giving to others, trustworthy, compassionate, ethical, etc.

Passions are the areas of interest that excite you and rev up your personal engine. You are intellectually, emotionally, and physically drawn to these activities. You enjoy reading about them, learning about them, and discussing them with other people. Some examples include: finance, real estate, stock market, technology, marketing, travel, healthcare, politics, business development, the arts, baseball, tennis, and the list goes on and on.

Personal traits are a mix of characteristics that define the essence of who you are. They are a description of your true authentic self. Some examples include: strategic, leader, logical, creative, personable, forward thinker, customer driven, results driven, nurturing, sympathetic, organized, etc. This list gives you a few ideas to help you get started.

Signature talents are strengths that you “own”. They are strengths and talents that you put your own signature on through your unique style or expertise. They can either be advanced skills you have acquired through specialized training or continued education, or they can be natural talents that can be things at which you are naturally good.

Which project management skills or areas of expertise have you developed and shaped that make you unique from other PMs? Examples of signature talents include: stakeholder communications, risk analysis and mitigation, leading teams, quality analysis, public speaking, etc.

Identifying your signature talents is crucial for two reasons. First, they help define who you are professionally. They can provide you with a boost of credibility, confidence, and uniqueness (and that's what having a personal brand is about!). They are the foundation for how you can add value to a company or client. In May 2007, Fast Company magazine published the results of a salary survey stating the average salary listed in nationwide job listings for someone who is seen as a “Self Starter” is $42,000, for someone who is considered a “Go Getter” is $37,000, and for someone who is seen as a “Go to Person,” that starting salary is $63,000. This means that companies pay higher for a PM who is viewed as having signature talents for a particular skill or area of knowledge.

The second reason to identify signature talents is because these are the talents you will promote if you decide to transition into a different role, company, or industry. For example, let's say you want to do something different in your career and break into a new industry. But, you don't want to start at an entry-level position and take a cut in pay. One way you can successfully do this is to leverage and showcase your signature talents to give you the boost you need to secure a new position.

Value model

Exhibit 2: Value model

The final ingredient of your personal brand is to identify your key successes. Record your key professional accomplishments. These are tasks or goals you have completed that were either recognized by someone else (manager, team leader, etc.), or perhaps it just gave you personal satisfaction and pride. Whether you have one or 100 on your list, there is no right number. Just write them all down.

Identifying your personal brand gives you:

  • A complete picture of your true authentic self,
  • A clear understanding of the value you provide to a company or client, and
  • The foundation, or anchor, for your professional career map, showing where you are today.

Step 2: Shaping and Managing Powerful Messages

Personal branding is about consistently delivering your “promise of value” to your managers, clients, and peers. Whether it's delivering projects on time and on budget–every time–or it's mentoring and leading a high performance team, your personal brand is fueled by the “value” that you consistently provide to your employer or clients.

So what is your promise of value to your employer or potential employers? The answer is in the messages you send out. Defining what the right messages are depends on your current career situation. Let's take a look at three different career scenarios:

Employed and struggling in your current position. Everything you do and everything you say sends out messages to your manager, senior managers, clients, peers, and subordinates. Your words, actions, presentations, reports, and all of your work deliverables, shape the perceptions that others have about you, your personal brand, and the value you provide.

The message that you should be sending out is that you consistently deliver your promise of value. You should strive for others to view you as an expert in a particular area (or areas) who always provides high quality and results. Being viewed as an expert helps you stand out from the crowd and gives you credibility that can strengthen your personal brand. It can also help create an emotional connection with your employer so that the thought of losing you to a competitor makes him or her cringe.

Employed, performing successfully in your current position, and ready to move up to the next level. One of the single most difficult things to accomplish in your career is to convince your current company that you will succeed in a higher position. It is up to you to prove that you can do the job before you get the promotion.

If you want to move into a senior level position, then ask yourself the following questions: Have you proven yourself as a leader who can influence team members, peers, and managers? Do you role-model the corporate culture and embrace the company's vision, objectives, and goals? Do you speak the same language and have the same wardrobe as those in senior positions?

Ready to transition into a different company or industry. If you can do the job, and you want the job, then the message you should be sending is that you are the right and only candidate for the job, and that you will succeed.

One of the ways you can send this message is by developing a resume that sends a laser sharp message that you possess the strengths, accomplishments, and results that are valued by that particular company. Employers or new clients want to see the value and the results you provided in your last work environment, so state your accomplishments in terms of dollars, percentages, and numbers. How have you impacted the bottom line? Have you created new processes that saved the company time, money and/or resources? Highlighting your skills is critical, but stating specific results of your accomplishments will get you the job interview.

Another way to convey your message is through a job interview. The key to a successful interview is selecting stories that demonstrate that you have the right kinds of experience and knowledge to successfully perform the new job, prior to the interview. You need to refer to past experiences, but only those that are relevant to the new position. Quickly and confidently recounting your career highlights, in terms of specific situations, challenges, expectations and goals, as well as what you actually contributed or delivered, is crucial to any successful interview.

Step 3: Defining a Powerful Professional Network

If your career objectives are to be in a work environment that gives you meaning, purpose, as well as a healthy paycheck, then one of your goals must be to work with people who value you, your professional strengths, talents, and accomplishments.

It's people who can help you achieve your end goal, and people who can help you get there. One of the five key steps in building a powerful personal brand and accelerating your career is to identify those in your professional network who value you. People who have an appreciation for your professional strengths and talents can pave the way for you to reach your career objective quicker and more easily by opening up career opportunities for you. They can hire you, help you get promoted, or champion your work and recommend you to others.

As you create your list of target audiences, try to identify career influencers in all four of the following categories:

  • Those who could champion you to others. They spread the good word about you and get you visibility and exposure to other career influencers.
  • Those who have had, or currently hold, a position that you desire. They can provide invaluable advice on which skills and personal characteristics are needed to be successful in that role.
  • Those who can teach you a new skill. They are experts in their field and possess specific knowledge or experience that can help you advance your career.
  • Lastly, there are some people who, just by working with them or being associated with them, can add credibility to your work and give your personal brand a boost. Whether it is being on a board of directors with someone who is well respected within the industry, reporting directly to someone who is well positioned within the company, or picking up a new client who is admired within the industry, your personal brand can be elevated through your association with the right person or company.

Identifying your personal network of career influencers is not only important to give you the strategies, insight, and inspiration to help advance your career, but it also opens your world to meeting new people, creating new opportunities, and forming strategic partnerships that you may not have even considered.

Step 4: Strengthening Your Credibility and Visibility with Career Influencers

How can you promote your skills, strengths, and accomplishments to others in a professional and polished manner without sounding like you are bragging? Below are a few ideas to help you deliver your message within an organization where you are working:

  • Write regular project reports and status updates,
  • Write an article for the company newsletter,
  • Make a presentation to a staff or department,
  • Create a new project that showcases your knowledge, skills, or signature talents (i.e., your messages),
  • Lead a project,
  • Facilitate meetings, and
  • Fill in for your manager.

Here are a few ideas to promote yourself externally or outside of an organization:

  • Get published in a print or online newsletter, newspaper or trade publication,
  • Speak at an industry conference, training seminar, or local Project Management Institute (PMI) chapter meeting,
  • Broadcast your message and become a spokesperson on radio, TV, online videos, podcasts, and/or blogs,
  • Teach your message to others through mentoring, consulting, or teaching advanced education classes, and
  • Join a board of directors.

Remember, the goal in creating your own personal promotion plan is to deliver your message to professionals who can potentially help you advance your career. By continuously raising your credibility and visibility within your personal network, you are able to accomplish two things: First, it allows you to create a powerful personal brand by consistently proving that you have a unique and solid set of skills, experience, and personal characteristics. Second, it allows your target audience to form an emotional connection with you that makes them not only want you on their team, but believe they need you.

Step 5: Building a Career ROI Dashboard

Now that you have defined your personal brand strategy, key messages, target audiences, and promotions plan, how will you know if they are working for you? How will you know which of those efforts and strategies are successfully taking your career in the direction you want to go? Getting a promotion, new job, or new client are great indicators that your efforts are on track, but reaching those milestones could take months or even years. How will you know which tactics in your personal branding strategy are actually paving the way to advance your career and worth your time and energy?

A tool to help you measure your results is called a career ROI dashboard. This is easy to create and the benefit is enormous.

First, look at those initiatives listed in your personal promotions plan that you have been doing such as filling in for your manager, volunteering to give a presentation, joining a committee, attending a networking event, writing an article for the company newsletter, etc. Next to each activity, write down the percentage of time you devoted to that career-building task each week. Was it 5%, 10%, or more than 10% of your time? Whatever it was, write it down.

What value or benefit did you gain from doing each of those initiatives? Do you believe that it strengthened your credibility? Did you gain visibility among your personal network? Did you make any new professional contacts? Could it help you get a recommendation for your work that could lead to gaining a bigger client or project? Could it help you get a promotion or a higher salary? Did it help you learn or strengthen a skill such as leadership, risk taking, project management, managing a budget, managing employees, or did it give you a deeper understanding of the product, company, or industry?

Now you should be able to answer the question, “What are you doing that is helping to advance your career?”

As you review your list consider two following questions:

  • Which initiatives are giving you the most value? Think of value in terms of gaining something specific to further your career, as well as the personal satisfaction and fulfillment you received by contributing to the task. These, and future projects like these, are where you want to focus the majority of your energy.
  • Which initiatives are giving you the least value? It's critical to identify and minimize the amount of time you spend on these tasks.

Developing a powerful personal brand is an evolving process, and each step needs to be carefully managed and implemented to get the maximum results that are best for you.

Career smart model

Exhibit 3: Career smart model

Knowing where to focus your time and talents is 90% of the battle. The other 10% is actually doing it! Stick with your plans and measure the results. Getting results takes commitment, persistence, and laser sharp focus. Having a career ROI dashboard can help you identify which initiatives are giving you the biggest results, which are giving you the least results, and if there are any gaps that may be missing all together.

I encourage you to think about your career and what you need to be truly satisfied and fulfilled. Become aware of your personal brand and the messages that you are sending out. Take any necessary steps to strengthen and manage your personal brand so that others perceive you as your true authentic self and recognize you for your professional strengths and accomplishments. Start taking action by writing down your career goals and evaluating the benefits of your current work situation, as well as future opportunities. Create a plan right now so that you can attain a job where others value you and the work that you provide.


Thomas, S. (2007) Career Smart: 5 Steps to a Powerful Personal Brand. United States of America: The 100 Top Brands: Here's how the Interbrand calculates the power in a name. (2007, August 6) BusinessWeek. 59-64

Cliché Watch. (2007, May) Fast Company. 115, 40.

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 or any listed author.

© 2009, Sherri Thomas
Published as part of 2009 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Orlando, Florida



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