Becoming a project manager is definitely something that interests me. After spending the last few years working with project managers on a daily basis, I think I have acquired some basic knowledge. However, where I work, the vast majority of project managers come from a technical background. Previously, they were engineers who worked their way up. It makes sense; they know the products and can speak coherently to the customer about specs, processes, etc. So it has me thinking, how can someone like me with an accounting/finance background become a successful project manager?
So I read a few articles online, and it seems that the overall response is that a person does not need a technical background to become a project manager. Well, that’s good news, but how do I overcome the technical deficiencies in order to be successful? The following are a few ideas that I pulled from these articles:
Use your strengths
I mean this in two ways. First, if you are not technically strong, then hopefully it means you have management/leadership skills. Use the “softer side” of management to lead your team. People skills such as managing conflicts, creating a positive, collaborative environment, and motivating are all valuable and useful skills. The second meaning comes from the people themselves. I once was told that being a good manager does not mean that you know all the answers but that you are able to surround yourself with all the right people. The people you are managing are full of knowledge; lean on them to help you through the technical material while you learn the ropes.
So you might not have a technical background, but if you see yourself staying in a certain field for a while, then it might be time to put the student hat back on. This doesn’t necessarily mean going back to school to take a class, but it does mean putting forth an effort to learn. Pay close attention to everything that is going on around you, ask questions when you don’t understand something, and even do your own research.
Admit when you need help
In other words, do not pretend that you know everything. Acknowledge when there is a gap in understanding. Show your team you respect them by not faking it; they will respect you more if you ask for the help when you need it.
Overall, if you can utilize your management skills from previous experiences, put forth an effort to learn your new environment, and work to understand your team, then a program management position can be within reach.
What was your background before becoming a project manager? How has it helped you to succeed?
Have you ever worked with a project manager who did not have the technical background in regards to the project you were working on? How did you feel it affected the project?