Project Management Career Path and Technical Skills

Filed under Career | Posted by PMStudent

project management career path – photo by deanj via Flickr

A member of the pmStudent community contacted me for advice about where she should focus her efforts with the end goal of being a great project manager.? I’ll give my thoughts, and would love to get input for her from the rest of you as well.

“I am wondering if it is better to be a good programmer first, really good specialist (technically) and than become PM, or maybe other way…would be better to gain more experience as a member of IT team as a programmer, then team leader, try to find a job in a big IT company OR to try to gain PM experience in small company with small projects.”

First off, THANK YOU for contacting me with the question!? I applaud your maturity in formulating a plan to reach your career goals!

There are different thoughts on this, and it does depend on the type and size of projects you plan to work on.? I agree with what Bill Duncan has said before here on

“Technically skilled and knowledgeable PMs are fine on smaller, simpler projects where they are as apt to be making technical decisions as management decisions. But as their projects get larger and/or more managerially complex, they will be making management decisions, and their technical skills are as likely to be a handicap as a benefit.”

“I?ve seen many, many, more situations where the PM got into trouble because [he or she] did not have the sense to defer to the technical leads on the project.”

One of the most dangerous things on a project can be a technical PM who thinks they know (or really do know) more than the technical leads and takes on technical decisions when they should not.?? On small projects this can be fine, but as the?project increases in technical complexity and size, there?s an increased risk of bad consequences from having too much power and knowledge in one person.?? The PM should know enough to understand what is going on at a high level technically, but not enough that day-to-day technical decisions are being made by a PM.? The PM should be primarily focused on communication and management as much as possible. ?Project managers can benefit by earning an?MBA online ( or similar master?s degree.

The key is being able to effectively communicate with the techies and business suits?you need a foot in both worlds for this.? Personally, in your situation I would:

  • Continue working as a member of the project team
  • Start asking your project manager (and those managing other projects) what you can do to help them out
  • Show your interest in what the project managers are doing, and ask them questions.? Most people are very happy to help as long as you are tactful and not too demanding or annoying!
  • Be willing to commit your own personal time without pay to gain valuable experience and build relationships with mentors
  • Start thinking about the work you and your team are doing from both the technical AND management perspective

Leave a comment below and let’s get a discussion going here!