These Key 23 Skills Are Required For Project Managers To Advance To Executive Ranks

These Key 23 Skills Are Required For Project Managers To Advance To Executive Ranks

Often as project managers, the effort required to mobilize, strategize, plan, and manage projects, people and solutions, requires many of the same skills exercised by CEOs running companies. Although the scope is dramatically different, project managers apply similar skills to their projects that CEO'sleverage for company success. 

So then, this stands to reason that project management is a natural incubator for future CEOs. Nonetheless, the body of evidence supporting PMs to become CEOs is inconclusive.  Or at least there are not many examples of former project managers that have leapt to the c-suite.  Like many things, the devil is in the details, and what in part clouds the metrics that support PM to CEO transitions are the numerous titles, industries, and functions that comprise the modern project manager.  Here are a few examples of the project manager titles:

Implementation Manager
Stage Manager
Associate Project Manager
Project Management Assistant
Project Communications Officer
Project Administrator – supports a single project, is considered to be entry-level
Project Coordinator – can support single or multiple projects, is not working in a PMO
Project Support Officer – like a Project Coordinator but works in the public sector
Project Office Co-ordinator – works in a Project Office supporting projects
Programme Office Co-ordinator – works in a Programme Office supporting programme/s
PMO Analyst – works within any PMO supporting projects or programmes
PMO Specialist – they will have a specialist in a specific area like risk, communications, finance etc
Portfolio Office Analyst – works within a Portfolio Office
PMO Manager – can be managing a Project, Programme or Portfolio Office
Project Planner – can support one project or work within a PMO on multiple projects
Programme Planner – can support one programme or work within a PMO
Project Controller – like a combo Project Coordinator and Project Planner. Mainly found in industries like engineering, construction etc
Document Controller – purely focused on documentation on programmes and projects.
Project Manager – can be used regardless of how experienced you are. It means you deliver a single project or multiple projects at the same time. It's the most recognized name within project management.
Senior Project Manager – used when a PM has a lot of experience or is working on large projects with high values and high risk.
Programme Manager – managing a programme of work. The programme should include multiple projects, with the Project Managers reporting to the Programme Manager.
Programme / Project Director – denotes a senior role and can mean either managing a considerable programme or project OR heading up the department, sometimes seen as:
Head of Programmes/Projects – managing the whole delivery organization, is a senior executive and "C" level executive.

Source: ArrasPeople – Tracking Project Manager Job Titles

Stats don't tell the complete project manager picture:

So why does this matter?  Well for one, it makes statistical analysis difficult if charting the journey from point A (any of the project manager roles listed above) to point b, senior leadership or executive position, almost an impossible tasks.  So there is a stark disconnect in the ability to pull supporting metrics to dispel the misconception that there is no clear path for PMs to advance to CEO.

In reality, there is no clear path, but there certainly are clear traits.  When these traits are applied to your advancement journey and strategy for your project manager career design (aka the training, mentorship, coaching and development plan), promotion is inevitable.  However, crafting the most effective project manager career design, which leads to the CEO office, needs to be carefully developed and managed. 

That said, one of my absolute favourite books is "The CEO Next Door".  This book dispels many myths about what it takes to reach the c-suite and the steps those who have completed the journey followed. It's an easy read, informative, and frankly, I would say it is a must-read regardless of your career goals. That said, one of the most important take-aways from the book are the four key traits most common amongst CEO.  This is important because, other than these four traits, there really is not much that unites CEOs, not their journey, not their pedigree (although there are few expectations), not even their network.

So then, what are the four traits you ask?
  • CEOs are decisive 
  • CEOs are relentlessly reliable 
  • CEOs adapt boldly 
  • CEOs engage with stakeholders without shying away from conflict
The source of much of the findings from the book (including the list above) was derived from a 10-year study by Elena L. Botelho and Kim R. Powell, called the CEO Genome Project, that compiled data from over 17,000 c-suite executives.

Elite project managers come from various starting points 

One of the few commonalities amongst CEOs over and above the four traits just shared is the source of their corporate experience. They tend to come from very similar experience paths (this is not the same as a career path).  Most CEOs tend to rise through the ranks from a few limited channels, namely:

  • R&D/IT – most specifically if the organization is tech-driven or based 
  • Sales/Marketing – more often if an organization is seeking to increase its top line with a focus on long term business development. 
  • Operations – it is not unusual to have a COO promoted to CEO as they are already running the functional side of the business 
  • Finance – a pervasive progression path, especially if cost containment and control is a requirement.