IT Project Manager Skill Sets

Name: Dave Cooperider
Job Title: Sr. IT Project Manager/PMP
Years of Experience: 8
Where: Omaha, NE
Current Employer: West Corporation
Education: Project Management Institute - PMP # 329370; TAP University, Project Management Training; University of Nebraska at Omaha, AAS, Information Systems
Other Relevant Work Experience: Background managing team of project managers
Salary: See the Payscale Research Center for median IT project manager salaries.

IT Project Manager Skill Sets – Job Skills and Salary Comparison


IT (Information Technology) project managers make high-tech designs become reality. Blending the specialized knowledge needed to accomplish the work with the supervisory abilities needed to manage a team and complete a project, IT project manager skill sets include a mix of technical and general management skills. While the average salary for an IT project manager is often quite high, long hours and high stress are often part of the job. Often promoted from project engineer positions, project managers must possess excellent time-management, leadership and communication abilities. In this  interview, IT project manager Dave Cooperider explains how he climbed from account manager to his current position and describes some of the pitfalls in this high-stakes industry. Find out why his career choice is rewarding, and compare salaries for IT project managers with varying years of experience.

PayScale: What are the responsibilities of an IT project manager?

Responsible for enterprise-wide project management support of projects involving all areas of technology and trade, including but not limited to telephony (Sonus Networks, Avaya and Nortel), Carrier Circuits, Network Engineering WAN/MAN/LAN, Information Security, Server Hardware, and Database Administration. Accountable for combined yearly average project budget of $20 million. Follows PMI standards to manage projects through the project lifecycles of initiation, planning, execution and closure. Prepares project schedules and keeps data current in MS Project and Project Server. Leads the development of work-breakdown structures, develops project tracking and variance reports, assembles risk management plans and Work Effort documents and creates other project documentation in accordance with PMI Standards. Many documents were adopted by the department as best practices for project management.

PayScale: How did you get started as an IT project manager?

I sort of evolved into my current position. I started my career as an account manager, because I enjoyed working with clients to help interpret their needs and that evolved into a desire to be in a position where I received the requirements from someone else and could be the person who managed an effort to see the requirements turned into reality. It's a very rewarding feeling when the project completes and you can step back and see what you were involved in as well as hear the satisfaction in the customer's voice when they commend you on a job well done. Just knowing that what you were a part of has improved someone else’s business model or helped to add to their revenue stream makes you realize just how important your job is. I decided that being a project manager was definitely what I wanted to do for a career so I got very serious about it and pursued my professional certification and have been doing project management ever since. It was a long road with all of the formal training and the work experience, but as I look back on all of that now, I wouldn't change it for the world.


PayScale: What do you love about your IT job?

Recently I completed a project for one of our internal customer business groups. In the past this group had some bad experiences with projects and bad project management. I guess you could say they had a bad taste in their mouth. I love my job because I can sit down and interview the stakeholders that are part of the project and actively listen to their concerns. I take note of what their concerns are to remind myself of what I plan to do differently this time to give them a great experience. Once I had the requirements and concerns noted, I set off to deliver a world class experience. The project had a few bumps and bruises as any project does, but I was able to keep the lines of communication with the customer very open and assure them that I was on top of things. More importantly, killing them with status updates so that they had a feeling of security and being in the know. The outcome of this project was very positive. Not only did I bring the project in on time, but I also delivered it under budget, because I was able to work with my project team to identify alternate vendors for hardware that would give us additional cost savings. Not only was the customer happy and satisfied with the experience, but he took time out of his busy day to send over a note of thanks to my entire management staff. This note went to my manager, my director, my vice president and my senior vice president. As you can imagine, this simple act was reward for all of the hard work and effort I had put into the project. The above reasons are why I love my job. I have a true impact on other people.


PayScale: What are the biggest challenges you face as a project manager?

I face many challenges in my job on a daily basis. For starters, formal project management is still a fairly new concept to my company. Given this fact, every project I’m involved in is a challenge because I have to constantly sell the value of project management to the people who are assigned to work with me. I also have to sell the value of project management to the upper level managers outside of my department. I feel like a sales person at times. Another challenge I face every day is that I have tools I use to do my job which require participation from other resources. Things are getting better over time, but it’s a constant struggle to have to hunt people down to make sure they are providing what they are supposed to into the tools I use to ensure that I’m current on where things are with each of my projects.

This is a good transition into another challenge that I face, which is the fact that I work in a company where the resources assigned to do my work do not directly report to me and I do not have any authority over them, other than making them aware of what I need done and by when. If they choose to ignore me or just do what they want to do, it really can throw a wrench into my time-lines. I’m ultimately accountable for the project, so any time I do not follow through on a commitment I made to the customer, it reflects badly on me. Lastly, a big challenge I face is that I work in a shared services/resources type of environment, so I constantly have to fight with others to ensure my resources stay focused on my project. Many times I will have a resource stolen away from me, because of some other high priority initiative that came in. When this happens, I have to put on my negotiation hat and either try and reach a compromise or worst case, I have to find another resource to do the work, all while the clock is still ticking.


PayScale: What advice would you give to someone interested in IT project manager jobs?

This is an easy one for me to speak to because I have been there and done that all before. I wish I would have been fortunate enough to speak to someone like me before I entered into a career as a project manager and got my certification. I will say that the job is very rewarding, however the journey to get yourself to the point of being certified and more importantly respected and trusted by your peers is a very long road. Respect is the name of this game. If you don’t have people’s respect and if they don’t trust you, then you can forget about people wanting to work for you, especially when you have no authority over them. When starting out down the path of becoming a certified project manager, the first thing you need to ask yourself is how serious am I? If this is something you are doing, just because you think it will land you a better job or because you think it would be cool to have a professional title after your name, then those are the wrong reasons for becoming a certified project manager.

Becoming certified has a lot of prerequisites that must be met. This is where the long journey begins. For starters, you need to have a certain number of years of project management experience as well as a certain number of formal training. The training can be expensive, so unless you work for a company that is willing to foot the bill, you need to make sure you are serious. Once all of the prerequisites are met, you actually have just begun. You need to document everything in the form of an application and submit it to the Project Management Institute for approval. Once approved, you still need to sit for and pass a very large certification test, which lasts many hours. The message here is simple. If you’re serious about bettering yourself, then go for it. If you’re doing it for any other reason, don’t. Just remember that you can still land a very good job as a project manager, without having to have a certification. For me the choice was easy.


PayScale: Do you recall any crazy moments from your IT project manager job?

Crazy and amazing stories … I could fill many books! While stressful when you are first starting out as a project manager, you begin to embrace and find humor in as the years pass. I’m referring to the process I go through on every project, which starts out with how the customer explains what they want versus what they really need. What they explain to you in the beginning and what you end up with in the end may be the exact opposite of what the customer really wanted if you aren’t careful. Once the customer explains it, you need to make sure you understand or you’re in for a long ride. Like I said, I find humor in this now because I no longer make these rookie mistakes. Mistakes are not a bad things as long as you learn from them and grow from them.

Another constant source of entertainment is people who come running to you with something they tried to do on their own and failed miserably at. Now we have an impending deadline that must be met, the project is an absolute mess, and you have a poor soul standing at your office door begging you for assistance to help right the ship - oh, and still meet the customers time-line! I can laugh about this now, because I know from experience and from being good at what I do, that there is always a way, although it may not be pain free. One last story I’ll share is that of business requirements. I find it totally hilarious when someone approaches me with a grand vision of what they want, but sees no reason whatsoever to document any of it. I guess they just assume that I’m a mind reader or something and that I will be able to extract everything I need to be successful by the process of osmosis. In all of the interesting things I deal with day in and day out, I love what I do and wouldn’t change it.


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