Project Managers, the really good ones, should feel very excited about their future. They have the core to great leadership – which most others do not. Filling the gaps for an executive position should be easy.
Project managers are some of the best candidates to fill an executive role, because to carry out their usual work they have to bring together all the disparate aspects of theory, reality, vision, process, finances, value, politics and human nature to create successful outcomes. Project managers often manage projects that cross all organizational functions and get to see the organization as a whole entity rather than from the "siloed" view of the projects or program.
Becoming an executive is the greatest leap that a project manager can make in her career.
What makes it such an extraordinary transition, of course, is the complexity of the role and the skills that are required to manage that complexity successfully. So, what exactly do executives have that ordinary project managers don’t?
To become a great leader they need to understand the business. They need to be able to work at a level far above the detail, to be able to see the vision (even to be able to create the vision) and manage the business.
Successful executives have the ability to deliver business results by maximizing value, measured in terms of value added, other metrics such as profits, and any other defined business strategic goals. Being popular and charismatic may help substantially, because emotional intelligence facilitates leadership.
A great project manager strives to understand ‘business outcome’. It is imperative that the PM connects to the real purpose of their work. Where does it fit in to the big picture? How does it connect to the strategic plan? Start becoming connected to the portfolio of projects rather than just the projects.
I believe that, despite having very similar competencies, PM-only skills don’t make a good executive, but project management experience should be a ‘must have’ competency of many top leadership roles.