This week I have been considering the promotion prospects for many of the project managers I know. If you look at it logically, you could imagine that you would start out as a project assistant, then become a project coordinator and then move on to become a project manager, presumably starting on small projects, responsible for a single team and then working up to a full project manager and then on to program manager.

For the uninitiated the difference between a project manager and a program manager is that a project manager is responsible for a single project (or indeed for a number of individual projects) and a program manager is responsible for a very large project or ‘program’ consisting of multiple projects that are inextricably linked together, combining to form an overall result. For example: if a large company decides to move its corporate head quarters, it is conceivable that they would employ a program manager to ensure that all the sub projects associated with the move are covered: i.e. ICT, HR, Marketing and Communications, legal, Architecture and floor planning, etc. etc. The Program Manager would be responsible for controlling the entire budget and the coordination of all the projects under one corporate banner. (Moving a corporate head office, might seem a simple project, but you may be surprised how difficult it is, largely because not everyone will find the move a good idea). If you have ever had to re-arrange just the floor plan and seating arrangements of a single office, you might be surprised how much of a complex and thankless task it is, so imagine a complete corporate head office!

Back to career prospects, you might assume that after being a program manager you could move onto being an Interim Manager, but here comes the problem. A good project manager needs to be a naturally good organizer. A person with experience in managing and motivating people, and with a thorough grounding in methodology and efficent procedures. A clear thinking person who is able to make decisions and to seize on opportunities. However, a really good Interim Manager needs to have all these qualities but also have a broad range of experience. Not just in managing people, but also in life and business in general.

If you are considering to become an interim manager, turning around small to medium sized companies, it’s no use only having experience in large corporations. On the other hand, if you have only worked for companies of less than 25 people, it seems impossible to take on a significant interim management role for a large corporation, especially if it is on a global level and not a departmental one.

An interim manager needs to have a very broad background of working in, or for, all types of organizations of differing size, industries and sectors. There are some exceptions, for example Banking and retail. However, if you want a varied career as an interim manager taking on all kinds of exciting challenges and not simply standing in for senior managers that have either left or suddenly died, then you need to ensure that you think and act like a CEO. To do that you really need to have been one, at some time or other.

Thus if you are an experienced project manager and want to become an interim manager, then you must ensure that you have the right qualifications and background. You need to try and move away from ‘delivery’ projects to change projects. To projects where the key objective is to change a way of thinking or established behavior. As an interim manager it is you who is giving the advice, it is you who deciding the direction to take. Therefore you are more often than not going to take on accountability on a big scale, so you better be sure, you know what your doing and have a big insurance policy to back you up!

An Interim Manager can become a Project Manager, but the other way round, is very difficult without a great deal of entrepreneurial and broad experience. In the Bayard Partnership we try and create environments where our Associates can grow and see career paths forward, even when it may seem rather unrealistic.