Opinion: Staying Flexible as a Project Manager

    By Thomas Goebel, Volunteer Content Writer


    “Meet the new boss.

      Same as the old boss.” 

    - Pete Townshend





    The world of Project Management has seen ups and downs in Houston over the last few years.  The Oil & Gas industry tanked, taking quite a few project managers down with it.  What would seem to be a fairly translatable occupation has turned out for many practitioners to be otherwise, as executives in other industries may not see how project managers from the energy industries can use their knowledge and skills to adapt to new surroundings and conditions.  A work transition timeframe thought to last a few months often becomes a year and more.

    Maintaining Project Management Chops

    Project managers have always struggled with the need to remain adaptable.  By its very nature, project management is a job that can change dramatically every few months.  Practitioners are asked to manage multiple disciplines – even jump industries.   Through it all, core project management practices remain steadfast.  Dedication to these principles enables PMs to weather the storms of economic downturn.  Determination to push their boundaries gives PMs purpose and helps them adjust.

    How do project managers adjust to cyclical and not-so-cyclical sea changes?  First, it is essential to keep project management skills current.  Some long-time project managers in transition have used their newfound free time to earn a CAPM®, PMP®, or other certification.  Those who are already certified pursue Professional Development Units (PDUs) to keep their certification up-to-date.  PDUs can be earned through various means – extra training/classes, creating project management-related content, working as a practitioner, and volunteering. 


    The Oil & Gas industry spans many disciplines, from engineering, finance, and support (administrative, sales, and IT) to business development.  It’s axiomatic that every single role in the industry carries with it some degree of business development, but true business development is its own science, with a dollop of art thrown in for good measure.  Covering sales, accounting, data analysis, risk management, bidding, and contract negotiation, business development is fertile ground for engineering-based project managers to round out their experience and increase their marketability and value to potential employers.  Displaced project managers are finding that sales and marketing roles – even in unrelated industries – are adding depth to their resumes.

    An organization in Houston called “Pay-it-Forward Networking Programs” is helping many people by offering training seminars and workshops in various areas for Oil & Gas professionals in transition.  Many of these classes are engineering-related, giving project managers the opportunity to increase their understanding of reservoir, drilling, and completion engineering.  Members who have specialized in well construction are even reaching further afield to learn about seismic and production technologies.  In addition, pursuits like small business startup and grant-writing are also covered.


    Providing services pro bono offers many project management professionals an opportunity to acquire new skills while making a positive impact in their community.  The Pay-it-Forward Networking group mentioned previously is a great example.  Leadership is comprised solely of volunteers, who say it is a satisfying and rewarding experience.  They are gaining valuable insights while helping their fellow members-in-transition.  Other volunteer opportunities with charities and non-profits await.  Often, such an opportunity can lead to a paid position or pursuit of a new passion.  What a great way to embark on a new life!


    Even as the Oil & Gas market in Houston begins its slow march toward recovery, the same qualities that make project managers resilient and adaptable in projects allow them to reach outside their comfort zones in search of new markets and industries to conquer.  And as they’ve learned to do in projects they’ve worked on, they learn to learn.