New Paper: Crafting Project Managers' Careers: Integrating the Fields of Careers and Project Management

November 24, 2019

Project management is an accidental profession! Right? At least, that is what we have considered to be the case for a long time. And there is evidence for it as well, for example in a recent paper from Liselore Havermans in the Project Management Journal. Often, it seems, the most qualified and successful professionals grow into a role as project manager. But what does that mean for their careers? Or, to take a step back: what do we even know about the careers of project managers in the first place? These are important questions to answer because project work is becoming an ever more important part of the way in which we work, and thus more and more people are getting into project-related roles. Understanding their career dynamics is a crucial starting point for better preparing people to get into such a role and to achieve a successful and sustainable career as a project manager or a project worker.

To provide some answers to these questions, in 2017, we (Terry Williams, Gordian Odechukwu, Max Chipulu, and Jonas Soderlund) set out to create a special issue in the Project Management Journal about career paths and career systems of project managers. This special issue is nearing completion and will be published around April 2020. As part of this special issue, together with Anne Keegan, Martina Huemann, and Claudia Ringhofer, I performed a literature review on the project management literature, thereby specifically examining the extent to which research from the field of career studies has been mobilized in project management studies. In this paper, we discuss a number of influential career theories and concepts, and examine whether and how they have been used to understand project managers’ careers. Our conclusions are quite clear: the only career theory that has been often used in the field of project management is boundaryless career theory, and even this theory is often used loosely and indirectly. At the same time, we see that many studies have implicitly incorporated knowledge from the field of career studies, for example studying project managers’ career competencies and employability, yet not explicitly mobilizing the existing knowledge on these topics.

Our core conclusion is that there is a lot of potential for multidisciplinary research where research on project management and research on careers can benefit from each other. On the one hand, project management and project work form a unique and highly relevant context to study careers; on the other hand, the abundant knowledge from the field of career studies can enrich our understanding of how the careers of those working in projects might evolve.

Interested to read more? The paper is now available online in Project Management Journal. And keep an eye out for the full special issue next year!

You can find the paper HERE or via the publications tab.

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