How to change careers: from engineer to project manager

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 6 June 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

It's common for professionals in any industry to consider changing their job as they progress in their careers. Whether this is due to a change in interests, job outlook, opportunities or circumstances, it can be a valuable way to explore better opportunities and achieve other professional goals. As an engineer, for example, you may find that you're interested in pursuing work as a project manager. In this article, we explain why you might wish to transition from engineer to project manager and some of the steps you can take to help make that change and reach your career goals.

Why move from engineer to project manager?

If you're interested in switching from the role of engineer to project manager, there are many benefits to making the switch. If you're unsure about switching your job, it's important to consider why individuals often make a job change during their careers. Starting a new job can often reward you with more job flexibility, an improved sense of job satisfaction and a more challenging role.

Shifting from engineering to project management can allow you to learn different skills, grow as a professional in your field and enjoy fresh tasks during your average working day. You may find that using the soft skills that project management requires is more enjoyable than the high-skill, technical work of engineering. It's also possible, depending on your industry, that becoming a project manager may come with a promotion, salary increase, further levels of responsibility and other job benefits.

Related: How to make a career change at 40

What does a project manager do?

A project manager or project leader is a vital role within an organisation that helps turn ideas and concepts into completed products and services. A project manager's duties range from planning, executing and supervising a project throughout its process. Their main duties are to meet the company's strategic goals and to finish projects on time and within budget.

As with any job, being a project manager also comes with other responsibilities and tasks. These can vary depending on the industry itself, the scope of the company you work for and your experience level as a project manager. Here are a few of the most common responsibilities of a project manager:

  • working with design and technical experts to develop project plans

  • interviewing and selecting qualified team members to ensure the project runs smoothly

  • meeting with experts to source essential resources, materials and equipment required for specific tasks and projects

  • talking with contractors and other team members to negotiate prices and wages

  • meeting with investors and stakeholders, communicating project goals and expectations to help ensure the success of the project

  • overseeing the project through each phase until completion

  • understanding the weaknesses and strengths of your team, equipment and project

  • identifying the risks and potential opportunities at each stage of the project

  • successfully finishing the project when it's achieved its goals and standards

Related: Project manager requirements (with duties and skills)

How to transition from being an engineer to a project manager

If you're interested in shifting from engineering to project management, some of the skills and experience you've developed as an engineer can be applicable and desirable skills to employers. Here are some of the steps to help begin your transition:

1. Research project management jobs

Before you begin your transition it's important to have an informed understanding of a project manager's role. Researching the role and project management using online resources can be a great way to learn more about the profession. The role of a project manager can vary depending on the industry you're looking into, but most project managers have common responsibilities. Usually, it involves overseeing a project from concept to completion, managing logistics and running a team. A project manager often follows a similar process of inception, planning, execution, observance and conclusion for each project they oversee.

Consider speaking with individuals within the industry as they can offer valuable perspectives on the role. You may also find it valuable to research the role of a project manager in the specific field and industry you're interested in working in. Those industries may desire specific experience and knowledge, as the roles can vary from industry to industry. If you're interested in working with your current company, try speaking to those currently in the role and upper management. Displaying your interest can be a great way to learn more and start your transition.

2. Develop relevant skills

Your experience as an engineer has likely given you many of the skills of a successful project manager. Similar to engineering, project management involves regular problem-solving and logistical planning. As you transition from engineer to project manager, you may decide to strengthen the skills that could help support you in your new role. Start with skill assessments to understand your level of knowledge and learn what areas you could focus on to improve those skills. It may also be worth speaking with trusted individuals you work with to understand how they view your current skill levels.

There are various ways to improve your skills, from training courses, reading study materials and shadowing individuals. There are also opportunities to take classes online or at local universities, so it's worth researching what's available to you. You may also look to take on more responsibilities at work that would allow you to practice and exercise these skills, developing them through real-world experiences. Any of these methods or a combination of methods can help prepare you for your transition and improve your confidence. To help you assess and improve, here are some skills you may use as a project manager:

  • Mentoring and motivating: As a project manager you may be responsible for managing a team of people. Being able to pass on your skills and knowledge to your team and motivating them during problems, is a valuable skill for any project manager.

  • Budgeting and cost management: Project managers are responsible for completing a project within a pre-set budget. A project manager is able to deliver and manage the costs of a project throughout.

  • Flexibility: As with all projects and plans, there could eventually be issues. A good project manager is flexible and able to adjust to these changes quickly.

  • Diplomacy: A project manager is also responsible for dealing with contractors, negotiating prices and setting dates to complete work. Being able to communicate effectively and create a friendly rapport can have a significant impact on a project.

  • Critical thinking: Large projects can involve complicated information, being able to think clearly and critically about issues, plans and logistics is a key skill for any project manager.

  • Problem-solving: Solving issues is a regular part of a project manager, from small to big. Having the skills to work on problem-solving is a key skill to the success of a project manager.

  • Leadership: Project managers are the leaders of a team, often the team can be new, with members having never met or worked with one another before. Creating a good environment and leading your team well may improve the success of any project.

  • Conflict management: Being able to handle conflict, solve issues and communicate effectively can be a great skill as a project manager.

  • Organisation and communication: Understanding each project's needs, organising a plan, communicating tasks to team members and following a plan can be a huge difference in the success of any project.

Related: Project manager interview questions with answers

3. Consider where you would like to work

Consider whether you're more interested in working with your current employer or looking for other opportunities with different organisations. You may consider this for a variety of reasons, from feeling dissatisfied with your current employer, to wanting to specialise within a different type of industry. Many of your skills could be applicable and your experience may be valuable to other employers.

You may also be able to secure a higher salary and other benefits with either your current employer or a new one. This can be a complicated personal choice, so take time to reflect on your own goals and values. Consider the benefits and drawbacks of each choice. It's also possible you would like to keep both options open and if that's the case, you could consider what other factors of the role you're most interested in.

4. Update your CV

If you've researched the role, assessed your skills and considered where you'd like to work, it's time to update your CV. Review your skills and experiences, focusing on the most valuable ones. Update your information and work experience and identify how your skills would help in your new role as project manager. If you've taken any training or had any new experiences to improve your skills make sure to include them on your CV.

Related:

  • How To Change Careers: What Steps To Take

  • How to become a change manager (plus definition and tips)


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