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Becoming COO: The Next Career for Project Managers?

Are you a project manager at the top of your game? Ready for a new challenge? Then you might consider vying for the role of Chief Operating Officer (COO). In a post for Voices on Project Management, Wanda Curlee walks us through the logical transition from PM to C-Suite strategist.

Test Driving the COO Role

In addition to driving the project toward its end goal, the COO is charged with handling strategic and operational aspects of the project – like a PM on steroids. And because you’re working at a higher level than that of a project manager, you’ll likely encounter instances where project price tags are enormously higher than that to which you’re accustomed. These are some big shoes you’ll be filling. With larger scale comes the need to wield the skills as a PM but in a bigger way:

Although the job description may not spell it out, many of the soft skills you’ve honed in project management—networking, communicating, leadership, mentorship/coaching and learning from failure—are also required to be a successful COO. Yet not everything is the same between being a PM and being a COO. Planning or overseeing a budget, and implementing training or reporting to leadership, are some of the functions that this executive level position will demand on a regular basis.

Finding a Mentor

It is therefore important to seek out a mentor as you prepare for the COO role. Like choosing a thesis committee in graduate school, you’ll need three of them, and it pays to consider personality. You’ll want to choose one mentor that is within your chain of command, one that is outside your chain of command but within your organization, and one mentor from outside of your organization.

The only thing Curlee does not address is the long and winding road to actually acquiring a COO position in the first place, which is a pretty sizable oversight. But if the passion and the hunger is there, you’ll build your own pathway to the job.

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About Eric Anderson

Eric Anderson is a staff writer for CAI's Accelerating IT Success. He is an intern at Computer Aid Inc., pursuing his master's degree in communications at Penn State University.

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