Six (Less Expensive) Ways to Grow Your PM Skills
Bruce Harpham, PMI Southern Ontario Chapter.
Improving your project management skills requires high-priced training, right? I have seen courses
and seminars offered on agile, scheduling and exam preparation for $1,000+. Certainly, that is one approach to developing your knowledge. What if you need a different way to develop yourself—and
you have a limited budget? There is a way to make this happen without breaking the bank.
- The $100 coffee card: Ever heard the phrase “your network is your net worth?” It’s doubly true for project
managers who must rely on their network of relationships to get work done during projects. For project consultants and contractors, your network is where your best opportunities will come from.
The $100 coffee card strategy is based on a simple but highly effective premise: Over the course of a year (or a
few months if you are keen to grow your career faster), spend $100 on taking friends and contacts out for coffee. If one coffee meeting costs about $5, you can organize 20 coffee meetings for $100. I recommend 10 meetings
with people you already know, and 10 with new people. Arrange two meetings per week to keep this approach manageable.
To get started, you need two steps. Buy a coffee card. Find one person you’d like to get to know and ask them to coffee to chat about projects and related themes. That’s all it takes to get started.
- Take an online course: Online courses are an inexpensive way to sharpen your skills, especially in technical areas.
For example, if you are interested in honing your Microsoft Excel skills or another application, taking an online course is a good option.
A few popular online course platforms—many with course offerings for $100 or less—include post-secondary level education covering a range of topics include business analytics, project management, technology and marketing
(note: Earning an entire certificate may cost over $1,000). With some sites, many different areas are covered by
thousands of instructors. Quality can be difficult to determine since anybody can teach a course. Since courses are regularly offered for sale for $20 (that’s less than a hardcover book), it’s tough to go wrong.
Registered Education Providers (REP)—Listed on www.PMI.org directory, you will find some course providers that
offer low-priced courses. These courses are tailored directly to project managers and tend to cost more than the generalist options above.
Tip: You may wonder if the courses above will qualify for continuing education credits. The answer is “it depends.”
In some cases, you may be able to list some of these courses toward your education requirements. If the course provider is not a REP, I recommend asking PMI first regarding PDU credits.
- Build your leadership with PMI: Contributing to your PMI chapter is an excellent way to develop your leadership
skills. I recommend looking for growth opportunities. For example, if you are interested in growing your speaking
skills, start small by volunteering to introduce speakers. By contributing to your chapter, you will also grow your network.
Your next step with this strategy is simple. If you are not already a PMI chapter member, join the nearest chapter.
If you are already a member of a chapter, start attending events and discover what opportunities are available.
- Boost your public speaking skills: Dollar for dollar, ToastMasters is one of the best-applied training programs
available. In contrast to an online course experience, ToastMasters is an immersive experience. You speak and receive immediate feedback. In my experience, ToastMasters focuses on short speeches. That’s helpful for project
Learning how to make a short effective speech—especially at the launch of a new project—is a skill that you will
serve you well for years to come. In Toronto (and probably in other cities), there are clubs meeting nearly every day of the week, so you can easily find a time that meets your schedule.
- Volunteer strategically at work: This growth strategy has the advantage of not costing any money at all—make
strategic moves to grow your skills by taking on more work at the office. For this method to work, you need to take
on the right assignment. For instance, consider signing on for a pilot group that is testing new technology. Alternatively, you might choose to provide mentorship to a new hire. If you are overwhelmed with work
responsibilities, use a different growth strategy.
- Expand your networking expertise: Networking again? Yes, we’re looking at it again—it is that important. Using
LinkedIn Sales Navigator (even if you only use the free trial) is an excellent resource. You can look up people who
work at your dream company and see their career path. You can also use this tool to reach out to new people and introduce yourself. I used it in the course of researching my book Project Managers at Work, and found it quite
One Last Growth Strategy…
Finally, I will close with an old-fashioned way to grow your skills. Buy a subscription to a high-quality newspaper or
magazine. For economic and business news, it is tough to beat The Economist. Alternatively, consider a national
newspaper like the Globe & Mail, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times or The Washington Post. Regularly
reading the news, especially in-depth feature articles, is an excellent way to boost your understanding of the broader business environment. I also recommend reading books as much as possible: To start, I recommend Living
Forward: A Proven Plan to Stop Drifting and Get the Life You Want by Daniel Harkavy and Michael S. Hyatt.
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