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Professional Spotlight: Project Manager

BY DENISE HABERGER

Project managers accompany projects from start to finish. They plan and manage, coordinate and react to unexpected circumstances. One thing above all else is important in this: not to lose sight of the bigger picture.

Professional Spotlight: Project Manager © private Besides management tasks, Harald Wehnes primarily expects project managers to be able to motivate others
A project manager's job begins with an order. This involves solving a complex task within a specific timeframe with a set budget, explains Harald Wehnes, Director of the GPM Deutsche Gesellschaft für Projektmanagement e.V. The larger the project, the more management tasks must be completed, whereby the employees are increasingly responsible for the purely technical aspects.

This is also the case for Stefan Dünschede. He joined ThyssenKrupp in Dortmund in 2006 as a project engineer, and works since two years in project management. He coordinates the planning and construction of industrial plants. It can take up to 36 months from order to project handover, the 36-year-old explains. Depending on the project size, up to 150 people from different disciplines are involved. Dünschede must bring all these parties together. "As the project manager, you cannot simply work in isolation," says the qualified civil engineer. His responsibilities also include management tasks and cost and schedule monitoring of the technical engineering planning, construction site and purchasing, through to the launch of plant operations. He is also the contact for the customer.

Checklist - Facts on the Role of a Project Manager

1. Definition:

Project managers are responsible for ensuring that a company's projects run smoothly. They must keep sight of the bigger picture, and be masters of planning and coordination.

2. Career entry:

Project managers often start as project workers and slowly work their way up. Typical industries include civil engineering, information technology and mechanical engineering, though project managers are increasingly also in demand in other industries.

3. Tasks:

Central tasks include planning, implementing, handing over and reviewing projects. The role mainly involves coordinating tasks, whereby the staff takes care of the technical aspects. Budget and personnel matters also feature on the agenda.

4. Requirements:

A degree relevant to the industry is mandatory. Civil engineers, computer scientist and mechanical engineers are particularly in demand, and opportunities exist for economists. Professional experience as a project worker is advantageous.

5. Soft Skills:

Project managers must be able to organise themselves well; communication skills and leadership capabilities are important characteristics too. Those who are resilient, flexible and able to adapt rapidly to new tasks and issues also have good chances. Given that the project business is increasingly international, foreign language skills (and particularly proficiency in English) are helpful.

6. Salary:

According to the PersonalMarkt salary database, a gross annual salary of up to 90.000 Euros is possible for project managers with personnel responsibilities. As a project worker (e.g. project engineer), the gross annual salary starts at around 46.000 Euros; two years later, 63.000 Euros is already realistic.

7. Career prospects:

Project management is on the increase. Even industries previously focused on day-to-day business, such as banking and administration, are increasingly turning to project-oriented work, which in turn leads to a need for the according personnel.

Project management involves keeping sight of the bigger picture

"Besides planning, implementation and handover, a review of the project is also a central task," says Harald Wehnes. "Obtaining feedback from employees and customers is extremely important - also for subsequent projects." "Project managers shouldn't allow themselves to get caught up in the details," says Thomas Hegger, a personnel consultant from Berlin and member of the "Profession, Society & Technology" committee of the Association for Electrical, Electronic & Information Technologies (VDE). For they must keep sight of the bigger picture. "Project managers are under pressure from all sides," Hegger explains. "They must organise their projects in such a way that all requirements are met." Steady nerves and the ability to communicate with both the workers and the management team are necessary for this. Management skills are also essential, Harald Wehnes adds. Completing a project is pretty much like managing a company for a time. "Good project managers must be able to motivate their employees," Wehnes says.

Professional Spotlight: Project Manager © private Project manager Stefan Dünschede
According to Dünschede, resilience, flexibility and above all the ability to adapt rapidly to new tasks and problems are further essential skills that project managers should possess. "My job requires a high degree of commitment and frequent travel," he explains. "But that is the price that I willingly pay for the challenging and varied work." Stays abroad are now a matter of course; hence, foreign language skills (and particularly proficiency in English) are an absolute must. "Project management is increasingly international," says Stefan Dünschede. Given that production and manufacture are being relocated abroad with growing frequency, contact with international colleagues is part of the daily routine.

Project management in virtually all sectors

Dünschede's studies only prepared him for his management tasks to a limited extent. He subsequently completed further training both within the company and externally during an MBA. Harald Wehnes reports of training options that currently still tend to be rather limited. "Project management is not yet available as an undergraduate degree," says the expert, "though preliminary steps have been taken, such as offering study specialisations, Master's degrees and certificates" (German network for project management (in German language)). Many learn project management methods during the course of their career. Thomas Hegger can only commend this: "As a project manager, you often move slightly away from your original specialisation later on, yet must still understand the material." The personnel consultant therefore recommends first gaining some practical experience after studying (as a development engineer, for example), and developing oneself further and completing additional training in project management later.

Nowadays, opportunities exist for project managers in virtually all areas. Typical industries include civil engineering, information technology and mechanical engineering. According to Wehnes, the project-based approach is particularly pronounced here. However, this is the case in a growing number of industries. "Companies such as banks and administration in which day-to-day business previously dominated are increasingly turning to project-oriented work," Wehnes explains. He believes that project managers should have an industry-relevant degree. However, those unfamiliar with the industry should not be deterred immediately. For expertise in other subjects may also be in demand within interdisciplinary teams.

Project managers start off as project workers

Graduates normally join a company as a project worker - as a project engineer, for example. The next step involves management of a number of subprojects, and then overall project management. Depending on the company, a series of further steps exist. With each career step, the number of projects increases as well as the personnel to supervise. The higher one climbs up the career ladder, the higher the salary. According to the PersonalMarkt salary database, a project engineer receives a gross annual starting salary of around 46.000 Euros, almost 63.000 Euros after two years and up to 90.000 Euros as a project manager with personnel responsibilities.

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academics :: September 2013