How to become a project manager (PMP) and a transformational leader?

by Moira Alexander

Are you thinking about going into project management and becoming a truly transformational leader? Do you have these or other questions? What does a project manager do? How to become a project manager? What does PMP stand for? We’ve got the answers. These coveted initials PMP stand for Project Management Professional, and there is a set process to becoming a project management professional (PMP) and landing a rewarding career as a project, program, or portfolio manager. Take the plunge and become a transformational leader.

Here is what you need to get your project management career off in the right direction to being both a project manager and transformational as well.

What is a project manager?

Every company will have a similar but slightly different project manager job description, but in general, the project manager is the key role behind project success. They are responsible for the guidance and support of stakeholders and for leading all of the activities throughout the planning, executing, monitoring, controlling, and closing of projects. Ultimately, they are accountable to stakeholders and sponsors for the success or failure of the project. There are two other key strategic-level project-related functions that should be mentioned, program management and portfolio management.

What does a project manager do?

A project manager, with the help of their team, is charged with multiple responsibilities that span the five project management phases (sometimes called project management process groups) and the ten project management knowledge areas. These are covered further down in this article. At a high level, their goal is to accurately capture all stakeholder requirements and successfully deliver the product or service that has been identified within the project’s scope.

What does a program manager do?

PMI defines a program manager as being “a senior-level practitioner at the forefront of advancing your organization’s strategic goals. You manage multiple related projects in a coordinated way, achieving benefits that could not occur if the projects were handled separately.”

What does a portfolio manager do?

The goal behind this role is to maximize business value delivery. PMI defines a portfolio manager’s role as implementing strategic initiatives to bridge the gap between business strategy and implementation.

Hierarchy: Project managers will report to program managers, who, in turn, will report to the portfolio manager. The portfolio manager will report to an organization’s executive team. Ideally, an organization will have an established Project Management Office (PMO) or a more strategic PMO or Enterprise Project Management Office (EPMO) that oversees all the activities of the Project, Program, and Portfolio Manager. This department can be internal or external and sets and maintains the direction, standards, best practices, and the status of project management across an organization.  

Now that you have a foundational understanding of a project manager, program manager, and portfolio manager, it’s important also to understand what makes you, as a project management professional, a truly transformational leader.

What is leadership?

Someone who inspires, guides, motivates, supports, and shares in the triumphs and tribulations of team members with the goal of enhancing the performance of all members to achieve success.

What is the transformational leader’s style? 

Transformational leaders embrace change and know how to motivate others, even through the most trying times. They encourage workplace synergies and take accountability. They are able to lead and practice servant leadership at the time yet maintain all of the aspects of being a transformational leader.

Qualities of a transformational leader?

What sets a good leader apart from the basic definition of leadership is someone who puts the needs of the team and each individual member ahead of their own in order to bring out the best in their performance. They understand that being a leader is not only about leading but being a servant leader in order to be effective.

Although technical skills are essential, and it is difficult to effectively manage projects without them, there are some soft skills, like exceptional leadership abilities, that will rank much higher as a priority for employers. In fact, according to PMI, 66 percent of organizations rate leadership skills as the most valuable trait of a successful PM. What makes these skills hard to find is the fact that not all project managers are strong in this area.

Transformational leadership qualities and skills are what employers will be on the lookout for and are likely to put you in high demand.

How to become a project manager

PMI currently offers eight project management certifications depending on the career path you plan to pursue. Here’s more about each of the certifications and what you require you to meet domain experience levels, educational levels, or both before you apply.

  1. Project Management Professional (PMP)
  2. Program Management Professional (PgMP)
  3. Portfolio Management Professional (PfMP)
  4. Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)
  5. PMI Professional in Business Analysis (PMI-PBA)
  6. PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)
  7. PMI Risk Management Professional (PMI-RMP)
  8. PMI Scheduling Professional (PMI-SP)

Each of the certification paths requires different experience, training, and exam requirements.

Project management training

Project management training will be necessary if you are serious about becoming a PMP and passing one of the PMI exams. Obtaining project management training from a PMI-registered and approved training provider can help you to prepare not only for passing the PMP exam but also to have the necessary skills and knowledge to be sufficiently prepared to take on your first or next role as a certified project management professional. PMI offers a Registered Education Provider database to help you find an approved option for training.

PMI project management (PMP) certification

It’s estimated that only two out of five people fail their first attempt at the PMP exam. According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), project professionals spend, on average, over 35 hours preparing for the PMP exam, yet this is no guarantee that you will pass on the first try. There are various PMI-approved PM exam prep courses that can help you get ready for the exam. Some offer PMP exam practice questions and PMP practice exams.

After passing one of the PMI exams, the next step is creating or polishing your project manager’s resume to showcase your skills, education, and your newly acquired PMI credentials. It’s important to focus on the elements that will highlight all your directly relevant background. Here are some tips to help you do that.

Project manager resume

Your resume is an extension of you professionally and, to some extent, personally, and because you only have one chance to create that best first impression on paper, make sure it counts. Before you actually get an interview, your resume has to grab an employer’s attention enough to make them want to pick up the phone. Make sure you develop an eye-catching project management resume that first passes the visual test, clearly articulates your specific leadership traits, plays to your own strengths, and lets your project wins shine through.

Now that you’ve created a winning resume for the project manager job that you want, you need to ensure you are fully prepared for the project management interview.

Project manager interview questions

By itself, the title of ‘project manager’ can be a bit misleading in terms of the responsibilities and level of accountability involved. Make no mistake about it, though; a PM is a leadership role, and as such, project managers should think and act as transformational leaders, always factoring in high-level business goals and objectives.

Interviews are a constant source of anxiety for even the best leaders or project managers. Most candidates expect to talk about their strengths, weaknesses, skills, and methodology as a PM. However, to truly be prepared when walking into that next PM interview, be ready to answer these difficult project management interview questions. Going into your next interview fully prepared can help you to stand out from other candidates. Expect to be asked a few broad, complex questions about business strategy, objectives, and leadership.

Once you have been selected as the top candidate, the next step is knowing what your salary expectations should be. Make sure you are able to articulate your worth and, more importantly, why you warrant this rate. Be prepared to negotiate a fair rate. Depending on where you are in your career path, you may not command one of the top project manager salaries, but be patient; this career path can be rewarding. To prepare you for what to expect, here are some project manager salaries.

Project Management Salaries Based on Experience

Becoming an exceptional Project, Program, or Portfolio Manager and a transformational leader takes hard work, focus, education and training, and the desire to mentor, inspire, and help others achieve their goals.  

Find more content about mastering transformational leadership and Project Management Strategy!

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