Project Career Moves: PMOs

How can you build a thriving career in a PMO? Become a strategic thinker who can facilitate change and deliver value.

For organizations to evolve and mature in the pursuit of growth, their project management offices need talent that can amplify the PMO’s role as a strategic force for the entire enterprise. While PMOs are still a central source of truth for governance, they also must ensure initiatives drive value.  

“There’s no doubt that there has been a big shift in value,” says Aaron Attwood, PMP, director, engineering excellence & PMO: data and devices, TE Connectivity, Charlotte, North Carolina, USA. “What’s the use of executing a project perfectly if the project isn’t giving any value to the business?” 

Attwood has worked in PMOs for more than a decade and profoundly understands how project professionals can sustain a career in PMOs. “Becoming a strong PMO professional is about understanding what’s coming into the funnel and making sure it’s the right stuff, which never used to be the purview of the PMO.” 

Headshot of Aaron Attwood

Aaron Attwood, PMP, director, engineering excellence & PMO
TE Connectivity

How are PMO professionals achieving that today? According to PMI’s 2022 PMO Maturity report, those who do it best are helping organizations adapt to new processes as they shift to new ways of working—and they’re making sure companies have the capability to lean harder into technology and data.  

While those broader expectations raise the bar for PMO professionals, some responsibilities haven’t changed. Working in a PMO is still about creating a roadmap for an organization’s projects, programs and portfolios. Translation: You’ll need to set up PMOs, staff and manage them and put in place the ecosystem which allows current and future initiatives to thrive.  

Here are three moves experienced and aspiring project professionals can make to establish or elevate careers in a PMO: 

Look Before You Leap into a PMO 

Those with PMO aspirations should ask: Am I ready for change? Any role in a PMO means a deviation in responsibilities—away from project delivery and closer to portfolio and enterprise structure. If that type of strategic shift is appealing, the best way to break through to a PMO is to make connections, Attwood says. Reach out to the PMO leader or someone else in the PMO to learn more about the decisions PMOs make and the strategy and logic behind them. 

“It starts by expressing an interest,” Attwood says.  

PMO roles can be scarcer than delivery roles—and thus, such job openings are less frequent. But there are many ways to build experiences that will position you for PMO consideration when a full-time role emerges: 

  • Seek a PMO mentor: Establish a professional connection with someone at a PMO within your company or externally if your organization doesn’t have a PMO. Monthly discussions with a PMO professional pack a one-two punch—paving an inside track for PMO job opportunities on the horizon while expanding your knowledge of strategy and decision-making. Building those skills will boost performance in your existing role and make you more valuable to the organization—and, eventually, a PMO. 
  • Become a PMO helper: While working in your current delivery role, “reach out to your PMO leader and express a willingness to take on an extra assignment,” Attwood says. PMO leaders might appreciate help to prep for a meeting or record the meeting minutes. They also might need help to gather or analyze metrics. Volunteering for such tasks will give you valuable PMO experience and confirm whether a PMO structure is a good career fit. “I’ve always welcomed anybody from another function in the company who wants to do a stint in the PMO,” Attwood says. “Project management skills are transferrable anywhere, and I think the PMO is the perfect place to nurture and develop those skills.”  
  • Maintain a delivery route: The path to a PMO doesn’t have to be linear. One alternative is to stay in delivery, advancing to program manager or portfolio manager later. What might seem like a PMO detour can be beneficial to developing the enterprise mindset needed to thrive in a PMO. “The experience gained via this route to a PMO is often seen as a big positive, because it ensures that you’ll have a level of accountability, seniority and responsibility required for more strategic roles,” says PMI career columnist Lindsay Scott.  

Learn to Elevate the Power of the PMO

PMOs need talent that can align processes and decision-making with a company’s big-picture objectives. Those who hone power skills—critical leadership abilities and behaviors—will be better positioned to advance along the PMO career track. Two power skills, in particular, are increasingly vital for PMO professionals to develop, Attwood says: 

  • Collaborative leadership: PMO professionals must be capable of forging consensus and ensuring the vision is unanimous across the enterprise. Building a rapport across departments can make collaboration reciprocal. One way to do it: Attwood creates project management communities and invites everyone to share best practices, training ideas and new initiatives. “I spend a lot of time collaborating with the business units outside of my own, and I think developing those relationships and working with them is critical,” he says.  
  • Strategic thinking: Helping drive the organization’s overall strategy elevates the PMO within the company and results in better outcomes. The PMO Maturity report found that 89 percent of the highest-performing PMOs contribute to organizational strategy all the time, compared to just 32 percent of organizations as a whole. Those high-performing PMOs were consistently seen by company senior leaders as valuable strategic partners and were significantly more likely to get C-suite support.  

“Over the last three to four years, senior project leaders and PMO leaders have been much more involved in strategic thinking,” Attwood says. “We’re starting to get the door open for us where we’re one of the functional leaders involved in that. Over time, PMOs have been more involved in those strategic discussions.” 

Become an Agent for Change

PMOs are often at the forefront of disruption. Whether it’s an individual PMO helping to guide an organization’s critical change initiative or a departmental PMO that’s needed to manage the growth of a company’s IT projects or HR strategy—the process can be demanding. However, by building skills that can facilitate change, PMO professionals can carve out a career advantage and help to future-proof their organizations. Two ways to do that? 

  • Master how to manage up. Working in a PMO often means engaging with the C-suite and learning to communicate at a more strategic level. Burnishing your business acumen so you can frame change through organizational value will help ensure that information resonates with leadership—and should accelerate C-suite support.  
  • Encourage everyone to learn. Change and talent development go hand in hand. According to the PMO Maturity report, high-performing PMOs promote a continuous learning culture and offer in-house coaching, mentoring and shadowing. PMO professionals can hasten transitions and make them more seamless by regularly scheduling 1:1 meetings with team members or by leading training sessions.
    Bottom line: PMO professionals who embrace the opportunity to facilitate learning—and empower others to develop a change-ready mindset—will always be in demand.   

Make Your Move in PMOs 

“We need to be value creators, and that requires us to work our way up the chain and have a seat at the table for discussions about portfolios.”
—Aaron Attwood, PMP, director, engineering excellence & PMO: data and devices, TE Connectivity, Charlotte, North Carolina, USA



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