Project Manager Switching Industries? 3 Tips to Make the Change

Share on linkedin
Share on twitter
Share on facebook
Back to top

Many are realizing that a transition to a new industry is an unavoidable consequence of today’s job market. On the plus side, Project Managers have a unique set of transferable skills that allows for entry into new industries. Skills that create opportunities for Project Managers to make valuable contributions, even with their minimal exposure to the new field. Here are three tips from our personal experience, highlighting that with the proper preparation and willingness to learn, any Project Manager can enter a new industry and make a significant impact.

Why Change Industries?

There are many reasons why Project Managers should experience working in new industries. First, the application of Project Management best practices and tools differ from one sector to another. Experience working in different enterprises helps Project Managers develop well-rounded skill sets.

Second, exploring unfamiliar sectors provides Project Managers with new sets of challenges. These challenges help push Project Managers out of their comfort zone and learn to adapt to new environments.

Most importantly, changing industries helps Project Managers to discover their passion. Aligning your career with a passion produces one of the most satisfying work experiences. Few are lucky enough to know their career path from the start, but many others must discover their career passions through new experiences. 

If you need further motivation, here are other significant reasons to consider shifting industries, according to the Entrepreneur magazine.

Transferable Skills

The success of a Project Manager is determined by the level of efficiency in achieving the project’s primary objective, regardless of industry. 

The ability to manage projects effectively often depends on a Project Manager’s core set of skills. For example, a successful Project Manager must be able to identify and mitigate risk, manage challenging stakeholders, and fulfill the project deliverables.

Communication, stakeholder management, and planning in support of execution: these are the essential skills that all Project Managers must either possess or develop regardless of the industry.

Communication

In Project Management, communication is an essential skill for successful project delivery. According to PMI, 1 out of 5 projects are unsuccessful due to ineffective communications.

PMI Pulse of the Profession 2013 Report

Without effective communication, the risk of misalignment emerges, leading to inefficient workflows that can ultimately reduce the project’s value. It is also fundamental in managing relationships and influencing project teams. As Project Managers, we place our highest efforts on continually improving our communication skills, which can facilitate our transition into new industries.

Stakeholder Management

The Project Manager role has expanded from performing technical activities to requiring leadership skills in order to influence others. Stakeholder involvement is critical to the success of any project to ensure it delivers optimal value. Alternatively, the complex demands of stakeholders can produce disruptive scope modifications. 

Deborah Vogwell, in her paper presented at the PMI Global Congress on Stakeholder Management, states that, “It is important that Project Managers strike the right balance between stakeholder involvement and isolation of the project from external influence, to achieve delivery on cost and time, but also to maximize the benefit for the client and stakeholders.

It is important that Project Managers strike the right balance between stakeholder involvement and isolation of the project from external influence, to achieve delivery on cost and time, but also to maximize the benefit for the client and stakeholders.

- Deborah Vogwell

This ability to navigate stakeholder’s influence helps Project Managers enter new industries and promptly provide value.

Planning

Finally, project planning is another transferable skill that supports a Project Manager’s transition into a new industry by discovering and documenting the necessary actions for successful project execution. 

Effective Project Managers accurately identify requirements early in the planning stage to avoid delays and wasting precious resources. Additionally, tracking and reporting project metrics allows the team to monitor the progress of the project. These metrics enable the Project Manager to translate data into actionable items that support project execution. Being skilled in project planning, monitoring, and execution can further facilitate a Project Manager’s shift into new industries. 

However, as with any new role, there are challenges and a learning curve that requires navigating.

Common Challenges

Some of the most common hurdles Project Managers will need to overcome are knowledge gaps and industry standards. These knowledge gaps include technical terminology, strategic perspective, and market conditions. Other common challenges are understanding the most valuable aspects of Project Management practices within the different industries.

These challenges may be daunting and can cause Project Managers to second guess their desire to enter a new industry. While these concerns are valid, Project Managers should know they are still able to change industries and become valuable assets to any organization.  Here are three tips that helped us in making the transition.

Three Tips for a Successful Transition

Research

First, Project Managers should identify and reduce their knowledge gaps within the industry to streamline their transition. A valuable resource Project Managers should leverage is their professional network

Networks can provide key insights not readily available. However, in some instances, you do not have access to the right network. We are here to show you that it’s still possible to make some positive gains towards your goal.

Hi, I’m Renato. I started my Project Management career in Event Marketing, but after three years decided I wanted to explore a new industry. I pursued an opportunity to work as a Project Management Consultant on a R&D team for a biotech client. While excited for the new challenge, I did not have any biotech experience, and the last science class I took was the chemistry of cooking.

To compound, I did not have any contacts to network with in Biotech.  So, I started preparing for the transition by identifying and reducing my knowledge gaps. As I was unfamiliar with the terminology, I started there. I began researching the drug development process and studying the industry vocabulary. 

As a result, I was able to better interact with client stakeholders, promptly providing value and generally feeling more confident in my ability to be a successful biotech Project Manager.  As they say, confidence is key, so anything you can do to help yourself feel more confident is going to help you.

Online Learning

A common challenge faced is understanding how to tailor Project Management practices within different industries.  This skill can only be gained by – you guessed it – changing industries.

Those that have already achieved a certification as a PMP, Agile Practitioner, or Scrum Master have a leg up.  These certifications showcase your expertise in project management practices providing confidence to new employers or clients in your abilities.  

Should you not have a certification yet, don’t fret. Many certifications courses are readily available online to help prepare Project Managers in achieving their base certifications.

In addition, technology or industry-specific online courses can be a valuable resource to help learn about your new industry and develop those specific skills. And in most cases, these can be accessed without investing a lot of time or money.

LinkedIn Learning (among other sites) provides excellent modules to prepare for entering some of the most popular Project Management industries like Healthcare, Construction, and Government

Right now, Harvard and General Assembly are offering free courses to help people acquire new skills.  Check out the links.

Okay – my turn.  Hi everyone, I’m Paul. After five years of working in the nuclear engineering industry as a Project Manager, I decided to make a rather difficult transition into the software development industry. I, like Renato, had limited networking connections, experience, and specific insights into my new field.

An additional apparent challenge – I lacked the critical coding and programming skills necessary to be a successful Technical Project Manager. So, I decided to enroll in a coding boot camp to learn Python and Swift programming languages. By participating in and completing the boot camp, I gained a greater confidence in my understanding of software programming and steps required to publish an application for public consumption. With the help of my newly added skills, I was able to successfully transition into Technical Project Management.

Patience

Lastly, with any career changes comes a learning curve.  You can set yourself up for success with research and online learning, but you should still expect to encounter some difficulties in your transition.  Aside from time and putting in the work, Project Managers will need patience and persistence.

Even with our preparation and transferable skills, we both encountered plenty of setbacks. One of the most valuable pieces of advice we can provide is to begin your transition with the expectation that it will be an uphill climb. 

You will struggle and may even second guess your decision but remember that anything worth achieving requires hard work, patience, and persistence. By pushing through these adversities, we were able to transition into new industries, and so can you.

The Bottom Line on Changing Industries

The journey of successful Project Managers requires overcoming new challenges, continuous learning, and self-motivation.

According to PMI Jump Starts: Switching Industries article by Kate Rockwood, “More than half of professionals who change jobs also change industries, according to a 2015 global survey by LinkedIn. And Project and Program Managers are in a prime position to make the jump because Project Management skills travel so well.”

Despite experience or knowledge, Project Managers can enter new industries and help businesses succeed. Project Managers should not fear the unfamiliarity of new industries and challenge themselves to new projects, products, and environments. Comfort promotes complacency, while immersion fosters growth.

More than half of professionals who change jobs also change industries, according to a 2015 global survey by LinkedIn. And Project and Program Managers are in a prime position to make the jump because Project Management skills travel so well.

- Kate Rockwood

With our core set of skills, proper preparation, and the right mindset, we Project Managers have the unique ability to switch industries and become valuable contributors to any organization. So, if you’re considering an industry change as a PM, don’t doubt yourself. 

Get prepared and make your move!

Renato Sanchez

Renato Sanchez

Project Manager at Quantcast

Paul Robinson

Paul Robinson

Project Manager, SAFe SM
@MI-GSO | PCUBED US

Loved what you just read?
Let's stay in touch.

No spam, only great things to read in our newsletter.

We’re committed to your privacy. MI-GSO | PCUBED uses the information you provide to us to contact you about our relevant content and services. You may unsubscribe from these communications at any time.
For more information, check out our privacy policy