Does Your Corporate Ladder Have the Right Project Management Rungs?

Jon Vordermark, PMP, is the managing director and founder of Mavendog, LLC—a management consulting company providing project management, business analysis, and change management leadership. He has advised companies and led a variety of enterprise and global project initiatives for Fortune 500 companies, primarily in the technology sector. His specialization is in project recovery operations, having developed a reputation as a "go-to" leader for salvaging challenged and failing projects.

The trajectory of a project management career (in terms of roles, job titles, pay, seniority, and status) varies by organization. But for the most part, organizations institute a career track that is a rather one-dimensional climb to the top, and that “top” can be quite subjective.

This article is intended to offer (for career-minded project managers and employers alike) a different perspective on project management career advancement. It also recommends an alternative model, one that is more realistic, dynamic, and strength-driven. But before we discuss alternatives, let’s revisit the ladder above and the promotional ranks in more detail:

  • Program Manager: As we follow along with the stair-stepped diagram above, the first career step beyond “project manager” is “program manager.” Program managers oversee multiple projects tied to one larger initiative (e.g., the implementation of a global human resource system); multiple projects tied to a singular department (e.g., all finance department projects); or multiple projects supporting a corporate strategic initiative (e.g., a Sarbanes-Oxley compliance initiative). Program managers are in a senior command position, where project managers report to them (directly or indirectly).
  • Portfolio Manager: Following program management, the next career step is “portfolio manager.&…

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