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The PM in perpetual career transition

I previously wrote about the importance of being able to sell as a core competency of the project manager. Some recent news about the prolonged jobless recovery indicates that this skill will become ever more important going forward. For example, an article titled ”Recovery in U.S. Is Lifting Profits, but Not Adding Jobs“ published back on March 3, 2013 by the Wall Street Journal’s online Business Daily in the Economics section, discusses how corporate profits keep growing, yet are doing so by adding very few to no jobs...

This should be a worrying prospect for all of us who work as project managers or for that manner, anyone who works for any large corporation... Because even those are not out of work seem to be constantly worried that they will be out of work and/or feel very stuck in the position they are in and want to transition out of it. This is due to many factors, but the most prevalent are pay that is not keeping up with the rising cost of living expenses, being stuck in a rut with their current job title or area of expertise, working with demoralized and unmotivated teams due to the constant layoffs and career dissatisfaction, etc.

So for those of us who are project managers (as well as program and portfolio managers), you as well as your teams, stakeholders, project sponsors, or pretty much anyone whom you work with in your organization are in a state of perpetual transition whether it is consciously or unconsciously known or not.

For anyone who is a working project manager, I think the best thing to do is acknowledge that this is now the “new normal” and take proactive steps to mitigate and leverage this current and most likely future state of affairs.

What mitigation strategies or plans do you have in place for the inevitable transitions that will take place in your PM career?

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Don, great post and advice. I can remember vividly a company meeting many years ago in which our visiting Divisional Vice President announced the anticipated layoff program which was euphemistically called the Volunteer Transition Program. It was the first time that this company had ever had massive layoffs of this kind. In his address, the Division VP said, "If you do not make the product, sell the product, or service the product; then you're expendable." What happened next? Massive cuts, followed by vastly improved profitability. Were the folks ever hired back or positions cut ever filled? Nope. And the new mantra of the company with respect to staffing levels became, "If you don't make the product, sell the product, service the product, or are highly needed by those that do, then you're expendable!"

Not all PM roles are equally close to the Supply/Value Chain. As a mitigation strategy for PMs with respect to career transitions, it might not be a bad idea to pursue PM work and experience closely to, if not directly in, the Supply/Value Chain.

Great article Don.

I have a little different take on this subject because I have been a contracting or consulting project manager for the majority of my career, going from project to project. I was, at one time, what used to be known as a road warrior. I worked with contracting firms around the country, as well as on my own, to keep the work coming. Many "permanently" employed PMs I knew would ask how I could stand the uncertainty. But the truth is, I was generally more consistently employed than they. These "permanent" employees were frequently being laid off and generally had more trouble finding work than those of us who chose to be contractors.

We were always looking ahead for the next project, marketing ourselves and preparing for the end of our current project. We had our networks built and knew how to use our connections to move on the next project.

For me, the worst experiences, both financially and emotionally, I had were those when I was a "permanent" employee and received a layoff notice. It was always more difficult time work as a laid off project manager than a contract manager between projects. Additionally, when I was contracting, I prepared for possible stretches between projects.

I think it is a matter of mind set and preparation.

Get exposed and involved in projects in different industries may help to broaden the domain knowledge, and therefore greater opportunity to work with different groups of people and widen the professional network.

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"I don't like work - no man does - but I like what is in the work - the chance to find yourself."

- Joseph Conrad