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  • Writer's pictureLena Hill

The One-to-One Trap: When You're A Project Manager Without the Title

Updated: May 31, 2023

Woman's hands with red fingernails writes 'doing' on a purple post-it note
Doing to Done

(Originally published on Medium May 24, 2023)

In my twenty plus years as a working professional, I've had the privilege of holding various titles. I've been called a performer, artist, manager, leader, producer, designer, creator, and owner, among others. These titles have shaped my journey, both personally and professionally. However, I've come to realize that titles alone do not define the full extent of who we are. As I delved deeper into understanding my true identity and professional purpose, I discovered a title that encompassed all my previous roles: Project Manager. It's fascinating to recognize that much of my past work experience has been a hidden masterclass in project management, despite not officially bearing that title. So, how can we unveil the secrets behind our artful orchestration of tasks, timelines, and triumphs and showcase our project management prowess more explicitly? Join me as we explore the hidden potential within our work experiences, helping us break free from the one-to-one trap: when you're a project manager without the title.

The Power of Project Management

Project management is an invaluable skill that transcends specific job titles. It involves the artful coordination and execution of tasks, the ability to manage budgets and resources, and the adeptness to navigate complex timelines. While many professionals assume project management responsibilities without the official title, they possess the critical skills needed to excel in this domain.

Unveiling the Hidden Project Manager

The professional landscape is shifting and evolving at lightning speed. It is crucial to move beyond the constraints of one-to-one job titles. But how can we uncover the inherent project management skills we currently possess with our work and life experiences? By looking at skills and not headings.

1. Leadership and Team Management

Leading teams, coordinating efforts, and ensuring everyone is working towards a common goal are common skills used in many professions. Whether it's guiding a group of artists on a collaborative project or managing a cross-functional team in a corporate setting, the ability to inspire, delegate, and foster collaboration is at the core of effective project management. Have you ever been on a search committee, led a fundraiser, moved houses, remodeled part of your home, had a chronic illness or coordinated a reunion? How did these projects turn out? What did you learn along the way? All questions to ask to ascertain your leadership and team management skill sets.

2. Time and Task Management

Meeting deadlines and efficiently managing tasks are essential components of successful project management. Throughout our careers and personal lives, we've likely juggled multiple responsibilities, set priorities, and organized our workload. Have you ever applied to college while directing a play, competing in a sports event, prepared for finals, and asked someone to prom? All efforts of the building blocks or time and task management. These skills are fundamental to project managers, who must ensure projects progress smoothly, milestones are met, and deliverables are achieved on time.

3. Budgeting and Resource Allocation

Even without the explicit title of project manager, many professionals have experienced the challenges of working within budget constraints and allocating resources effectively. If you’ve planned a wedding or managed reconstruction of damage to your home after a natural disaster, you’ve worked with vendors on budgets and allocated those resources for the success of the event or construction. For work, maybe you’ve managed finances for a creative production, optimizing limited resources in a startup environment, or oversaw large departmental budgets, all vital aspects of resource management in a project.

4. Communication and Stakeholder Engagement

Project managers are skilled communicators, adept at facilitating effective collaboration and fostering strong relationships with stakeholders. In our diverse work experiences, we've likely encountered situations where clear and concise communication was essential to drive projects forward. Whether it's coordinating with clients, negotiating with suppliers, or aligning team members, our ability to communicate and engage stakeholders positions us as project management-ready professionals. Rule of thumb? Communicate often with brevity.

Escaping the One-to-One Trap

To unleash the full potential of our project management skills, we must move beyond the limitations of specific job titles. Here are a few strategies to help us escape the one-to-one trap and communicate our project management prowess:

1. Reflect on Past Experiences

Take the time to reflect on your work experiences, identifying projects where you demonstrated project management skills. Consider the challenges you faced, the

strategies you implemented, and the successful outcomes you achieved. Look for instances where you effectively coordinated teams, managed timelines, and delivered results. By recognizing these experiences as project management achievements, you can showcase your capabilities to potential employers.

2. Highlight Transferable Skills

When crafting your resume or discussing your work experience, emphasize the transferable skills that align with project management. Focus on your leadership abilities, communication skills, problem-solving capabilities, and your aptitude for managing complex tasks. Highlight specific examples where you successfully applied these skills to drive projects forward and achieve tangible results.

3. Leverage Training and Certifications

Consider obtaining certifications such as the Project Management Professional (PMP) or Agile/Scrum master. These certifications not only validate your project management knowledge but also provide you with a common language and framework to discuss your skills with employers. There are many low cost certification options for this goal from your local community college to online options like Udemy. Getting a certification demonstrates your commitment to the discipline.

4. Seek Opportunities to Lead Projects

Take the initiative to lead projects or initiatives within your current role or organization. This could involve volunteering for cross-functional teams, spearheading process improvements, or taking on additional responsibilities that allow you to showcase your project management prowess. Gaining hands-on experience to build a track record of successful project management is not only a benefit for would-be employers but also confidence you gain in leadership positions.

5. Network and Collaborate

Engaging with professionals in the project management field and seeking out mentorship or guidance is one of the hardest things many of us, myself included, struggle with. But by connecting with like-minded individuals, we can expand our knowledge, gain insights into best practices, and establish valuable connections that may lead to future project management opportunities. Start small and build on the successes. Participating in an online discussion or forum is a great place to begin.

Embracing Your Project Management Identity

As you embrace your project management skills and showcase your abilities beyond job titles, remember that your worth as a professional extends far beyond a single role. By recognizing the hidden project manager within you, you can position yourself as a versatile and adaptable professional capable of driving success across diverse projects and industries.

Acknowledge the breadth of your experiences and the multitude of skills you have acquired along the way. Emphasize your leadership, communication, and problem-solving abilities as integral components of your project management toolkit. Your journey as a project manager may not have followed a traditional path, but your unique perspective and diverse expertise are valuable assets that set you apart.

The one-to-one trap has consistently restricted my understanding of the multifaceted skills I possess and has thwarted my efforts in job seeking. By uncovering the project management abilities hidden within all of our work experiences, we can transcend the limitations of specific job titles. Embrace the role of a project manager and articulate our capabilities with confidence. The world of project management is vast and ever-evolving, offering exciting opportunities for growth and fulfillment. So, step forward, break free from the constraints of titles, and unleash your true project management potential.

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