Finding a job and doing something you love are two different things. As a sustainabiity professional at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)–a career I love–I can confidently say that project management skills can open professional paths that you might never have imagined.
Projects are how work gets done. That’s true of every industry, job, or work assignment. And, in today’s workplace, projects—and project managers—are delivering on critical sustainability ambitions.
Whether it’s managing progress towards Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) goals, launching innovative and sustainable products, leading carbon reduction programs, or measuring program impact, project professionals are working across their organizations to make sustainability a reality.
The Importance Of Project Management Skills
According to Project Management Institute (PMI)’s 2023 Job Prospect survey, the majority (80%) of students are confident they’ll find work within three months of graduating. But more and more, it seems that people are hungry to do work that matters.
Research from PMI found that U.S. workers rate purpose as one of their top five most important attributes of a job. For Gen Z, driving societal change through their work is particularly important according to Deloitte’s latest study.
But how do you forge a career pathway in a field you are passionate about? I’d advise anyone still looking for their dream career path to consider building your project management skills.
Finding Opportunities in Every Industry
I graduated in 2018 with a degree in environmental engineering and a passion to make a positive contribution to the environmental challenges facing our world.
That passion has taken me from an environmental advocacy non-profit right after college, to a mechanical engineering firm, to the Peace Corps where I managed infrastructure development projects in rural Peru, to my current job with the EPA overseeing the cleanup of some of America’s most contaminated hazardous waste sites.
I became aware of the need for effective project management working in NYC’s fast-paced construction industry. The company had a matrix organizational structure, and so I had to efficiently coordinate expertise from various engineering disciplines in order to deliver projects on schedule and on budget. This was my first exposure to formal project management practices.
Then, during my volunteer service in Peru with the Peace Corps, I became responsible for water and clean energy infrastructure projects which enabled me to apply these best practices.
I learned the importance of using different management styles to address various project challenges. I saw the value in building meaningful relationships with key community members. I came to see that effective project management can make a real difference in getting things done and having on-the-ground impact.
When I completed my service and returned to the United States, I pivoted to a career in sustainability project management, combining my passion for the environment with a newfound respect for the project profession.
My journey in project management also prepared me for a world of complex projects and gave me a good grounding in how organizations work, how decisions are made, and the different ways of managing projects (agile, predictive, or hybrid).
After completing the PMP certification, I landed my current job with the EPA. In my role, I lead the development of site-specific remediation strategies, including project goals, stakeholder considerations and the key decision points required to ensure the effective clean-up of contaminated sites.
I also guide discussions on complex site challenges, each one involving a unique web of technical and policy issues. I take great pride in shepherding these projects, and being part of a team beneficially redeveloping hazardous waste sites for the good of people and the planet.
Many industries recognize the value of project management training and experience, and there are a lot of positions available for project and program managers. Recent research has projected that the global economy will need some 25 million new project managers by 2030.
3 Career Benefits Of Improved Project Management Skills
If you’re a new graduate or an established professional looking to land or change to a purpose-led career, becoming part of the project management world can help your job search in three essential ways:
- It further differentiates you in a competitive job market. This is especially beneficial early in your career when you’re trying to make your mark. Showing you have knowledge of different project management practices and the ability to assess and select the right one for the work you’re doing will set you apart. In the ESG space, we are experiencing rapid changes and innovative technological developments that will rewire the value chain. Project professionals with the skills to adapt their way of working can help organizations match this pace and deliver results.
- It enhances your career options. Project management skills are highly transferable–from industry to industry and from function to function. This gives you greater choice for the kind of purpose-led work and organizations you can target. It’s not just the technical skills that are transferable. Project professionals also learn to exercise skills like problem-solving, strategic thinking, communications, and collaboration. The ability to transfer these skills across sectors and geographies automatically expands your horizons and allows you to explore opportunities that might otherwise not be possible.
- It provides a training ground for leadership. Collaborating with multiple stakeholders, leading project teams, and delivering on priority initiatives means that project managers develop a strong business acumen. They also have direct experience leading in times of change. This means that project managers evolve into trusted, adaptable project leaders and advisors. It’s precisely why project management is also a great career to prepare the next-generation of sustainability leaders.
Where Does That Leave Me?
I’ve experienced all these benefits first-hand. The ability to make an environmental and social impact through project management has helped me bring about real change. Moreover, breaking down silos between technical and non-technical professions has been hugely rewarding and motivating.
Today, I’m a sustainability project manager, applying sustainability concepts at the intersection of business and the environment through a project management lens.
Perhaps most importantly, project management has allowed me to pursue a profession I love and to fulfill a dream I’ve long held—to preserve and protect our fragile planet.
For more stories from real project managers and other project professionals, subscribe to The Digital Project Manager newsletter. You might also be interested in finding out more about whether a master's degree in project management is worth it here.