By Yasmina Khelifi, PMP
Are you passionate about a cause? Do you want to lend a hand? Whether you’re interested in volunteering in the project management community or using your project skills to help a non-profit, you may be unsure where to start.
As a newcomer to the volunteer world myself, I had no idea what questions to ask or what to expect. So, to help other project managers, I’m sharing six of the biggest myths and misconceptions about volunteering I’ve encountered—and the key questions to ask to make the most of your experience.
Myth #1: Volunteering is easy.
Volunteering often means learning new skills and delivering projects alongside people you’ve never met before. That’s why building trusting relationships is key to successful engagement in volunteer opportunities—and it’s not as simple as it may sound.
As a volunteer, you’ll likely be entering into an organization with people who have already made connections and collaborated. You’ll have to prove your worth as a member of the team. Depending on the organization and your role, some specific skills are needed. As you pursue volunteer opportunities, take the time to understand the position by asking these questions:
Myth #2: Volunteering requires minimal time.
Many organizations run on volunteer work, which sometimes means a lot will be asked of you. You may even end up spending your weekends or evenings working for the organization, even if at the beginning you promised yourself you’d only work a few hours a week. Set boundaries early on to ensure that both you and the organization are getting your needs met. And ask yourself these questions first:
Myth #3: Commitment is flexible.
Even if it is a volunteer opportunity, you need to commit to deliver or not. Otherwise, your colleagues will be overloaded if you jump ship with short or no notice. For example, I volunteered as a community manager for the LinkedIn group of a local community and when I replaced the former admin, 500 member requests were pending! Not fulfilling your responsibilities as a volunteer damages the association’s reputation and creates added work for other parties involved. Step up or step back!
Myth #4: Communication is simple.
In many work environments, communication isn’t always valued. Volunteering adds another layer of complexity. Volunteers often communicate with teams via emails and instant messenger. Moreover, volunteers don’t always have access to the same team members that full-time staffers enjoy. This can create misunderstandings. Communication—verbal or virtual—must be clear to cut through the static. Ask yourself these questions first:
Myth #5: Only the organization will benefit.
When done well, volunteering should benefit both the organization and the volunteer. Before committing to a role, clarify your goals and how they align with the organization:
Myth #6: There’s no way out.
Life can change in an instant. Your motivation also evolves. Moving on is not a mark of shame, provided you plan your exit properly. Therefore, from the outset, you should enquire:
What are some lessons learned from your own volunteer experiences?
By Yasmina Khelifi, PMP
Are you considering volunteering for a professional association or within your corporate organization? Almost two years ago, I did for the first time by joining the PMI France and PMI United Arab Emirates (UAE) Chapters—and I haven’t looked back since. What a transformational journey! Volunteering has helped me sharpen my leadership skills, unleash my creativity and broaden my professional network.
Whether you’re thinking about becoming a first-time volunteer or hoping to start volunteering again, here are some great benefits of giving your time to a larger project:
1. Volunteer to hone your project leadership skills
In November 2018, I joined the PMI France Chapter’s marketing communications team to contribute to an internal newsletter. Volunteering allowed me to interact with people from different cultures, countries, backgrounds, education levels, ages and professional experiences. I was able to collaborate with a diverse group of people, which is essential for any project leader.
Volunteering has opened many new doors:
2. Volunteer to experiment in a safe environment
Volunteering has pushed me outside of my comfort zone and given me the confidence to experiment in new areas:
3. Volunteer to expand your professional network
Volunteering has helped me to broaden my perspectives and network outside of my enterprise. Having worked almost exclusively in an international environment, I wanted to expand my network more in France. Surprisingly, thanks to the PMI volunteers’ network, I ended up meeting new people within my own company! I now belong to a worldwide and strong project management community: We support each other during this tough time.
Looking back on this incredible journey, I cherish the gifts I’ve received. Volunteering provides an invaluable source of learning and growth.
Leave a comment below sharing how volunteering has benefited your project teams or your project leadership abilities.
By Conrado Morlan
Did you know PMI is supported by volunteers from around the world? I had no idea when I first joined PMI in 2005.
That changed in October 2007 when I joined the ranks of PMI volunteers, a community of practitioners who give their time to work on activities that make a difference around the world. I learned about the many services undertaken by volunteers, including writing PMI standards, preparing questions for certification exams, organizing global conferences and presenting at PMI events. And the list goes on and on.
My first opportunity as a PMI volunteer came three or four months after I registered as a volunteer: participating in an item-writing session for the Project Management Professional (PMP®) exam in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. At first, I had too many questions and felt daunted. Would I be able to deliver? Am I experienced enough? Would I be called again after this session?
When I arrived in Philadelphia, I put that feeling away and got ready to spend three days with a selected group of experienced project management practitioners from the United States and Canada. The session was quite productive; we shared our personal experiences and produced great material for the next version of the PMI certification exam. The experience was one of a kind; I could not believe everything I learned in three days, and for free.
I went on to participate in sessions in São Paulo, Brazil; Mexico City, Mexico; Washington, D.C., USA; Macao, China; Amsterdam, the Netherlands; and more. I had the fortune to write items for the PMP, Program Management Professional (PgMP)® and Portfolio Management Professional (PfMP)® certification exams.
But that was just the beginning. I kept looking for volunteering opportunities and, on several occasions, submitted papers for PMI congresses in North America and Latin America. Many of my papers were accepted and well received by audiences across the globe.
Through the years, I also have supported local chapters as a keynote speaker or guest speaker in Dallas, Texas, USA; Mexico City, Mexico; Costa Rica; and Nuevo León, Mexico. This has enabled me to share my experiences working with multicultural project teams and meet practitioners from different latitudes.
In 2009, at the congress in Orlando, Florida, USA, I tried something new: writing columns for a special edition of PMI Today. I then co-authored articles for PMI Community Post, have been quoted in several PM Network articles and, as you know, am a frequent contributor to Voices on Project Management.
My proudest moments as a volunteer were when I was selected as a core team member to develop the Implementing Organizational Project Management: A Practice Guide and The Standard for Organizational Project Management in 2013 and 2016, respectively. The opportunity to interact with other project leaders from around the world and contribute to the profession was extraordinary.
If you’re still wondering why I am grateful to be a PMI volunteer, try it for yourself. Take the opportunity to live your profession with passion. See what you can gain by sharing experiences with other colleagues while developing and mastering your skills in a friendly environment.
What are you waiting for? Make your mark and join the local or global volunteer team to grow and advance the project management profession.
By Peter Tarhanidis, PhD
I’ve been fortunate to have a career that constantly challenges me and my team to apply new approaches to achieve an organization’s mission. I believe that adapting these contemporary management practices and innovative operating models has helped me become the project leader I am today.
Below are select project initiatives that have helped me develop my skills:
What themes have you identified in your career? How have you broadened your range?
By Conrado Morlan
“An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.” ―Benjamin Franklin
I’ve heard from colleagues in project management that they don’t have access to professional development opportunities to help them improve and increase their capabilities. That led me to do some research. I found Training magazine's Training Industry Report, which is recognized as the training industry’s most trusted source of data on budgets, staffing and programs in the United States. It found that U.S. companies spent over US$90 billion on training and development activities in 2017, which represents a year-over-year increase of 32.5 percent.
With that information on hand, I took the opportunity to ask my colleagues if the companies they work for are among the organizations spending money on training and professional development.
Some of them were fortunate to work for companies with professional development budgets, but they didn’t take the training due to their workload or personal reasons. In other words, the opportunity was there but it was neglected.
For those who worked for companies without professional development dollars, their main complaint was that the company did not appreciate them and the opportunities to develop more capabilities were so limited.
I asked them: Who takes charge of your professional development? You, or the company you work for? Many of them responded that the responsibility fell to the company they work for, because training would help create a more competitive workforce, increased employee retention and higher employee engagement. I agree on all the benefits the company would get, but ultimately the individual is responsible for their professional development.
I have worked for both types of companies. In the ones with development budgets, I saw former colleagues neglecting opportunities because “they did not have time,” they did not like to travel or simply because they felt it was not needed. In the ones without budgets, I heard the same claims mentioned above.
While working for the latter type of company, I took ownership of my professional development. Instead of seeing roadblocks, I saw opportunities, which led me to do the following:
So do not solely hold the company you work for responsible for your growth. Take charge of your professional development. After all, if you do not invest in yourself, nobody will.
How do you take charge of your own professional development?