If you are looking to break into the project management field, there has never been a better time. The Project Management Institute (PMI) projects the project management-oriented labor force will grow by 33 percent, or nearly 22 million new jobs by 2027.
But how can you break into project management without experience? Starting out as a project coordinator is a great way to learn the ropes. “Project coordinators essentially perform the same activities as a project manager, just on a different scale,” explained Sarah Hoban, a PMP-certified senior director of program management and creator of a blog focused on project and program management.
For example, they need to build relationships with stakeholders, draft meeting notes and reports, and assist with scheduling, coordinating team efforts, preparing data for analysis and delivering the project on time.
The good news: the skills needed to perform these tasks can be developed through education, volunteer work or life experience as well as online training. Plus, you can earn while you learn. The average salary for an entry-level project professional is $69,102 per year, according to Glassdoor.
Here’s a look at the must-have skills for project coordinators and some ways to develop them.
Since project coordinators are tasked with writing reports of differing types and lengths, possessing top-notch written communication skills is vital, especially in today’s remote-first settings.
However, effective communication is about more than just disseminating written information, noted Jamila Miller, who started as a project coordinator and now works as a project manager.
You need to consider the needs and preferences of your audience when choosing a communication method such as email, text, phone or meetings, as well as the length and level of detail when imparting information. For instance, an effective executive status update should be short (about five minutes) and include just a handful of key points. Building trust and relationships with stakeholders requires frequent updates that provide conclusions backed by supporting data.
Hoban adds that, based on her experience, effective communication and emotional intelligence often go hand-in-hand.
Project coordinators with emotional intelligence not only excel at communicating with others, they can become adept at other skills needed to move up the ladder, like managing healthy conflict within a team and reaching a mutually acceptable resolution.
You can easily improve your communication skills and learn the lexicon of project management (another plus) by taking free online courses in report writing, effective communication, managing conflict with emotional intelligence, and so on. Studying for the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) is another way to learn the fundamentals without experience.
Sense of Ownership
A sense of ownership is one of the most important traits of a successful project coordinator. Ownership is a mindset and attitude. It is about having a stake in the outcome and being accountable for the project's success or failure from start to finish.
“If you take the initiative to improve things once you’re on the job and show the ability to keep things on track, your employer will hang onto you for dear life,” Miller noted.
To show that you possess this trait during interviews, be prepared to share anecdotes that illustrate how you’ve taken ownership of something in the past, whether it was going the extra mile to help a customer or even taking the initiative to solve a problem for a friend or neighbor.
Critical thinking is the ability to think clearly and rationally and understanding the connection between events. For instance, if one part of a project is delayed, the project coordinator needs to anticipate how that will affect the rest of the project schedule as well as the questions stakeholders will have—and address both proactively.
Again, you can assess your critical thinking skills and then improve them by taking online courses. Focus on displaying the characteristics of a critical thinker during interactions at work, using a systemic process to approach problems that are complex and do not have clear, expected solutions.
Listening and Observation
Being observant is a powerful, must-have skill because it lets you notice minute and significant details, heightens awareness and focuses your mind. Because observation is the key to gaining expertise, it’s key to learning things quickly.
You don’t have to hit a home run or wow your teammates on your first day. Just be a sponge—pay attention at meetings and you just might spot opportunities to grow your career, Hoban added.
Hoban’s career is a case study in the benefits of observation. She spotted opportunities to utilize her strengths to mediate conflict and forge relationships when she was called upon to take notes in a meeting. She went on to turn a set of critical skills into a long and successful career in project and program management.
Related Project Coordinator Jobs Resources: