Building a project management career

Be the architect of your project management career

In this blog, the first of two, Dr Ian Clarkson explores the case for and offers his advice to those looking to build their careers in project management.


Ian Clarkson | 12 January 2017

It is 1990 and Elton John’s ‘Sacrifice/Healing Hands’ was the longest running number 1 single with five weeks at the top, followed by Vanilla Ice’s classic ‘Ice Ice Baby’ which topped the chart featuring among others Partners in Kryme* – who?. Apart from being a ‘classic’ year for music, it was also the year I did my first careers questionnaire at school.

I was 16 years old and wanted to be an architect. I remember answering questions on my interests to match up to my perfect job. Unsurprisingly, architecture came out as my ideal profession. Of course, the very fact I am writing these blogs, means I never made it as an architect. But how many of you reading this filled out a careers questionnaire at school and came out as a project manager? Was project manager even an option at the time?

More recently, I needed to renew the passports of my two children. Knowing a lot of project managers who are also friends, I thought I would ask one of them to countersign the photos – yet, alas, Project Manager is not a ‘Recognised Profession’ according to the GOV.UK website.

So, why is a Project Manager not seen as a bona fide profession? Why wasn’t it an option for me as a teenager? In my career as a professional project management trainer and learning consultant, I have taught thousands of people and engaged with many different organisations on their project management learning needs. Based on this experience, I would conclude that being a project manager is more likely regarded as something a lot of people undertake on ‘on top of their day job’.

The good news is, the world is changing and that makes it an exciting time to get into, or be, a project manager. Never more than now does an individual have options to progress and excel in their chosen career in project management – from Apprenticeships right through to ‘Registered Project Professional (RPP)’. Since 2012, there has been a Higher Apprenticeship framework in Project Management at QCF – level 4. A Trailblazer group, led by Sellafield, has now developed a new Associate Project Manager Level 4 standard, which provides a professional career option for school leavers. Furthermore, development is underway for degree Trailblazers in Project, Programme and Portfolio Management (QCF levels 6 and 7 – Degree and Masters’ levels respectively) which will offer further career progression. Add into the mix professional skills certifications – such as PRINCE2 and The Project Management Qualification - accredited by organisations including: APMG-International, the Association for Project Management (APM), AXELOS, British Computer Society, Project Management Institute, and delivered by approved training organisations such as QA, and there is a breadth and depth of learning for someone to undertake for continuing professional development. Registered Project Professional (RPP) is the highest accolade for a Project Manager and those who attain it have been able to “demonstrate the competence in responsible leadership, who have the ability to manage a complex project and use appropriate tools, processes and techniques”. I can’t comment specifically on the relationship between RPP and any future Chartered standard. However it is expected that anyone holding RPP will have achieved the competence level required for any future Chartered standard. If motivated enough, a career as a Project Manager is waiting!

The APM Body of Knowledge defines a project as “a unique, transient endeavour undertaken to achieve planned objectives” – a vehicle for introducing change, if you like. Project management is the “application of processes, methods, knowledge, skills and experience to achieve the project objectives”, yet I always append the words “in the most efficient and effective way”.

As I say to the people I train, after all, a project is “a journey not a destination”. By this, I mean project management is not the application of processes, methods, knowledge, skills and experience to achieve the project objectives by any means, and at any cost – rather we need to focus as much on the transient aspects of a project as on the delivery of the final output. This requires a multi-disciplinary approach.

Projects are all around us – professionally and personally. Whether upgrading to a new Windows operating system, or creating new organisational processes, or building an extension on your house, these all fit the definition of a project above, and all require some form of management.

And projects are here to stay. As industries and organisations are required to adapt to changing economic conditions, post-Brexit environment, market and competitive forces, legislation, to name but a few influences, the need for competent and professional Project Managers is only likely to increase.

Look out for my next blog in the series which will give you 10 top tips for successful projects.

Visit qa.com/nextsteps to see how we can help you map out your plan for professional development and success in 2017.

*Turtle Power, in case you were wondering!

Related blogs

Digital Transformation- A Key Role for Project Managers >

Benefits of earning a Project Management certification >

12 steps to ensure a successful project >

How to get into Project Management >


QA Training | Ian Clarkson

Ian Clarkson

Head of Project Management

Dr Ian Clarkson is Head of Project and Programme Management at QA, providing business direction and ownership of QA’s portfolio, programme, project and risk management curriculum. Ian is an experienced lecturer, author, speaker and consultant, having delivered programmes and projects in all industry sectors. This extensive hands-on experience coupled with a background in education has made Ian well-known and highly respected in his field. Ian currently works with a team of highly experienced lecturers and consultants helping organisations excel in all aspects of portfolio, programme, project and risk management.
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