Growing into an IT project management job

Steven Lefkowitz owes his job as an IT project manager at Partners HealthCare to his 75-pound golden retriever. In 2013 he struck up a conversation with the woman who was going to care for the dog while Lefkowitz and his wife were on vacation. "She knew I was in job search mode," he recalls, and she told him to send her his resume. (Although she didn't work at Partners, she knew someone who worked there.)

"The next thing I knew I was talking to the corporate director of community hospitals" at Partners HealthCare, he says. There was no position for him there, but Lefkowitz was referred to the project management group at Partners. His background included IT-related project management positions at Fidelity Investments and Bank of America and, although he didn't have any experience working in healthcare, his "strong project management skill set" got him in the door as a contractor. Lefkowitz became a full-time employee at Partners in January 2014.

Project management is a position many people segue into from other jobs within IT, such as business analyst, systems analyst or software developer, as opposed to being hired for the job at the outset of their careers, industry observers say.

IT disciplines tend to be more project-centric than other business units, and the nature of the work often requires people to come together and formulate ideas around a request from another department, says Raj Kapur, president of the Center for Project Management, a consultancy that also offers preparatory services for industry certification.

IT staffers are "high performers and very good at what they do and they have skill sets around managing projects successfully," says Kapur.

Even people who work in IT on various projects, but who do not label themselves as project managers, are finding they can evolve into the more formal role, concurs Victor Carter-Bey, director of certification at The Project Management Institute (PMI), a not-for-profit professional membership association for the project, program and portfolio management professions.

Software developers and other IT roles, including programmers and systems administrators, are the top two demographics at the institute, which has 450,000 members globally, and another 700,000 people have achieved PMI's Project Management Professional (PMP) certification, Carter-Bey says.

In addition to technical skills, project management also requires a blend of soft skills, such as organization, efficiency and the ability to influence people, say both Carter-Bey and Kapur. "I can find technical expertise more easily than I can find situational leaders, and project managers are situational leaders," says Kapur, who is PMP certified.

"You have to be able to move through politics, the complexities of how decisions are made, change control on the project as scope changes and ... you've got to influence, facilitate and sell," Kapur adds. You have to be able to present with command and stand up in front of people and deliver proposals."

Project managers are in demand. According TEKsystems' 2015 IT Forecast, project manager is the second most popular job title being sought this year.

Overall, project management is becoming more recognized as a necessary job function. Organizations waste an average of $109 million for every $1 billion invested in projects and programs because of poor performance, according to PMI's 2015 Pulse of the Profession report.

Getting there

Building a project management career requires being very organized and goal oriented, says Carter-Bey. Project managers also need to be "change agents" who can help an organization see what it will get out of a project or program at the outset, and up-front about what can and can't be done, he adds.

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