So You Want to Be a Project Manager?
Everything you need to know about one of the most complex jobs in the industry.
If you have been working in security for a while now, you might be looking at project management as the next step in your career. And why shouldn’t you be? The Project Management Institute’s Project Management Job Growth and Talent Gap Report 2017-2027 predicts that by 2027, employers will need nearly 88 million individuals in project management-related roles. Plus, there’s a pretty good chance you’re already doing the job without the title.
“Project management, by and large, is a complementary discipline; unlike accounting, engineering or dentistry, project management has tools, techniques, methodologies and concepts that can expand the circumference of different initiatives that might be undertaken,” says Fred Harris, a project manager at Convergint Technologies, Schaumburg, Ill. “I’ve been involved in project management in some form or fashion since 2007 — I may not have actually had a project manager title, but I have always executed and overseen the implementation of projects.”
Harris worked as an IT director of engineering, design and planning; senior IT consultant; and principal security consultant before becoming a certified project manager at Dowley Security Systems Inc. in 2013. He then worked as a senior security design consultant and security division manager before stepping into his current role at Convergint Technologies as a security project manager a year ago. Harris says the progression from IT operations to project management is a natural one that he would recommend.
“The nature of the complexity of IT systems requires there to be a formal approach to implement projects,” Harris says. “I needed the tool set; I needed the vocabulary; I needed the framework — I needed something to help me as a maturing, growing, advancing IT professional, and that’s how I got into the core discipline of project management. The nature of a project is a temporary endeavor to achieve a specific and finite result and move on. When I was in IT operations, I was more on the program and continuous operations side. By switching to project management, I was able to work on new assignments that I knew would eventually be completed, and then I would have the opportunity to move on to a new, interesting project.”
Harvey Houlston, program manager at G4S Secure Integration, San Leandro, Calif., views his career trajectory as a natural progression, as well. He went from field engineer, to construction manager, to contracts manager, to project manager, to his current role.
“I’ve been a program manager for years, and the progression was really only in title because the scope and scale of the projects I was running was at the program level,” Houlston says. “The typical G4S model for a program manager is someone who runs multiple project managers and project teams in a program incorporating process and technology organized in a playbook that is continuously being refined.”
Formal Certification Options
While there are no strict requirements to become a project manager, there are multiple certifications that can help you get your foot in the door. The Security Industry Association’s (SIA) certification program is probably the most popular project manager certification specific to the industry (see sidebar on this page); but there are other, more general project manager certifications available through the Project Management Institute and elsewhere if the thought of eventually working as a project manager in another industry has crossed your mind.
Along with certifications, SIA and PSA Security Network both have additional educational offerings for aspiring project managers.
“PSA has an actual project management committee, and that committee is made up of project managers from our integrator companies,” says Anthony Berticelli, director of education at PSA. “They are consistently putting out training content and resources that are available to everyone.”
The content PSA’s project management committee produces is available at psaeducation.com, where you can find resources, tools, videos and training webinars — close to 75 pieces of project management-specific content in total, according to Berticelli. All of the content is free for PSA owners and members, and while most is free to non-members, some resources have minimal charges.
SIA has multiple project management-focused webinars that are available for free for SIA members.
Most of the project and program managers SDM spoke with had not received any project management certifications until after they already had the job. Some haven’t received any formal certifications. Almost all of them could agree that on-the-job training was the most vital.
“I went through a series of internal training sessions at G4S, but the rest I learned through on-the-job training,” Houlston explains. “The need [to be certified] has not been customer-driven yet, but once it is, I’m sure I will become certified.”
Tim Rosbrook, director of project management at Securadyne Systems, Dallas, adds, “It’s hard for new project managers that come into the role because they need to be far more than just technical these days. It’s really the experience of being a project manager that is the most valuable component that everyone needs. We get them there with a mix of self-study, self-investment and various certifications, and a lot of it has to do with on-the-job experience.”
Vital Project Manager Skills
When hiring new project managers without any on-the-job experience, there are certain skills that employers look for. The most important of these skills? Communication — both written and verbal.
“Everyone has to have the right attitude and aptitude, but the number one trait I look for is whether they are a good communicator,” Rosbrook says. “At the end of the day, there are certain hallmarks of a good project manager, but communication is key. We have to be out in front of issues and communicate them so we can find solutions before it impacts the project timeline or schedule. The best project managers I’ve been involved with are the ones that can really communicate effectively, because those are the ones that find the solutions and work the project to the best possible result.”
John Spano, senior project manager at RFI Communications & Security Systems, San Jose, Calif., couldn’t agree more, saying, “Communication is absolutely critical to being a good project manager. Keeping everyone involved from the stakeholders to the guy pulling the cable, you’ve got to be communicating all the time and making sure everyone understands what the priorities are and what the expectations are, and making sure they’re meeting those expectations.”
Harris also listed communication as the most important skill for project managers to have, but additionally stressed the importance of “intellectual horsepower” in the role.
“Project managers have to be intelligent and they have to constantly think on their feet,” he emphasizes.
William Downing, a regional manager at G4S who has five project managers working under him, looks for problem solvers when hiring.
“When I’m looking for a project manager, I look for an efficient problem solver — someone who can look at a lot of info, quickly process it and come to the least perceived best answer,” Downing says.
Leadership skills, stress management, organizational skills, the ability to follow up, decision-making skills, a good work ethic and an understanding of technology were also cited as important skills.
While companies like Convergint and G4S have large project management staffs (Convergint has more than 111 project management personnel, while G4S boasts roughly 80) many smaller security companies do not have dedicated project managers on staff. But if you’re the owner of one of these smaller companies, you could still benefit from your employees receiving project management education.
“I think it’s critical for anyone, whether you’re in sales, technology or unofficially managing projects, to have a solid understanding of the way the business process functions as a whole,” Berticelli says. “If you don’t understand how a project’s going to be managed and the different things that are required, it makes selling a product and everything else a little more difficult and it makes you a little more prone to errors if you don’t understand the timing, the scope, the windfall or the methodology that applies to how these projects are actually put in the building.”