I have been in project management for the last 26 years and one of the questions I get asked all the time is “How do I get started in project management?”. That question, I believe, is rooted in a couple different areas and I would like to think that it is around how one becomes a good project manager. Now the term “good” is relative, right? Someone’s good, is someone else’s great while it is another person’s terrible. I don’t want to debate that, I want to focus on what is important and that is the 12 things you can do right away to be a good project manager.

These steps include (In no particular order of importance):

  1. Project Management is not easy and you have to continue to learn. Taking classes and continuing to learn and read about project management will only make you better. Continue to learn.
  2. Get yourself a mentor or someone you can bounce ideas off. I have had two very close friends that I have bounced ideas off for years and you need one too. Get someone quick, and get help on the tough areas of your projects.
  3. Join project management groups and associations. Spend time and learn from other practitioners because they are in the trenches alongside of you and you can learn from other’s mistakes.
  4. Understand the art and science of project management. This is something that you will learn very quickly, that relationships and influencing without authority will be a huge part of running a successful project. Learn this quickly.
  5. Rarely will you have functional teams reporting to you. Your role as project manager will be leading a team from Kick-off to Deployment but rarely do these team members ever direct line report to you. So, you will need to learn to manage a team without having authority over these team members. This makes life very difficult to say to your team “Hey, I need you to work over the weekend” when they don’t report to you directly.
  6. Be known as the SME of whatever methodology your company uses. Get Certified. Project Management is about the end to end experience and don’t let software (Agile or Waterfall) dictate how you will do your job. Development methodologies in Information Technology (IT) do not drive how a project is managed end to end. Remember that!
  7. Project Communications is going to be one of the top things you do on your job. As you get into project management and are around it for a while, you will hear that “90% of a project manager’s job is communications”. Well, if that is the case, then why and what do you think you are doing for most of your day?
  8. Consider the Contracting/Vendor route over being an employee. In Information Technology (IT) for example, an employee project manager is not as valued as a project manager who is a vendor or contractor. Large organizations tend to value these roles in the vendor or contractor capacity.
  9. Project Managers become much more valuable to their project teams when they learn about the projects they are managing. When project managers have the business knowledge and can understand the business problem that is trying to be resolved, they understand much better what is going on and can help deliver a successful project. Project Managers who look wide and not deep lose a huge opportunity to understand the business better and become more valuable to the company. The caveat to this is that most project managers are assigned 4-5 projects at a single time, making it almost impossible to deep dive on any one project.
  10. Projects Fail – Don’t take it personally, use it as a learning opportunity. The percentage of projects that come in on time, on budget, and delivering the value to the business is very low. Expect your projects will fail, but learn from those failures. There is not a project manager out there that has not failed a project or two, but the good ones rise above from the failures and learn from those mistakes.
  11. Collect Lessons Learned information from the start of the project. Stop letting people convince you that you will collect Lessons Learned information at the end of the project because it is never going to happen. Most team members will be long gone and won’t come back to help you collect Lessons Learned information on a project that they are no longer on. They don’t care!! Collecting this information at the beginning of the project and throughout will allow you to make course corrections along the way.
  12. Embrace the role – Being a Project Manager is one of the best jobs in the world! Be proud, not everyone can do it!!

That’s it, just these 12 easy steps and once you master them, you can consider yourself as a project manager. No, just kidding, but if you do follow these steps, you will be setting yourself up to be a very successful project manager.


Tell me your thoughts in the comments and let’s open a dialog. I would be excited to hear other opinions on this topic.

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Bill Dow

Bill Dow

Contributing Author

Bill Dow, PMP is a recognized expert in Project Management by the Project Management Institute (PMI) for specifically developing and managing Project Management Offices (PMOs.)  His extensive experience with Project Management and PMOs have enabled him to co-author several comprehensive books available through Amazon.com.

Bill has taught at the college level for more than 15 years in Washington State, British Columbia and Ontario, Canada, and has worked at Microsoft for more than 10 years.  He has spoken at multiple Project Management Institute (PMI) conferences, breakfasts and events nationally.  


"PMO Lifecycle: Building, Running, and Shutting Down,"  June 2017  (Amazon Link)

“Project Management Communications Tools,” May 2015 http://tinyurl.com/z5yt8mz  Co-authored with Bruce Taylor

“The Tactical Guide for Building a PMO,” August 2012,  http://tinyurl.com/z8y8bym

“Project Management Communications Bible,” June 2008 http://tinyurl.com/j2sn5bd  Co-authored with Bruce Taylor

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