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Bingham, JD 2013, 'An individual-centric study of career paths and development of serial project managers', DBA thesis, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW.

Copyright JD Bingham 2013


For the past 60 years or so, organisations have increasingly been using projects to achieve their strategic objectives. The World Bank suggests that 22% of the world’s USD $48 trillion GDP is gross capital formation, which is almost entirely project-based. In India the figure is 34%, and in China it is 45%. Moreover, there is the growing propensity across all industries to undertake more project-based activity within operating expenditures. With projects representing such a significant proportion of global economic activity, the importance of project management, including the human capital inputs, becomes apparent. Yet project management is a relatively young area of academic inquiry and is both broader and less mature as a discipline than more traditional examples such as engineering, medicine or law. Furthermore, it comprises knowledge areas that span the highly technical through to the softer disciplines. Skills can therefore be learned through academic study, experience or both, meaning there are few formal barriers to entry in this field of work and career. This study relates to career development theory and project management theory and more specifically to the individual career paths and development of project managers. A review of this body of theory led to the research problem, which is that not enough is known about serial project managers, including their career path experiences, their attitudes and perceptions about PM as a career and profession, their contribution to strengthening the PM profession, and their own future development needs. This problem of poor understanding has a plethora of implications, not only academically but for PM careerists, their profession and the industry sectors in which their services are in demand.

The study explores serial project managers in Queensland Australia, using a qualitative methodology. The specific technique or method used is semi-structured interviews, chosen because of its ability to provide maximum opportunity for complete and accurate communication of ideas between the researcher and participant. The sample group in this study comprised participants who could demonstrate at least equivalence to PMI’s PMP® credential, a globally recognised standard and arguably the best-known of its type at time of writing. In total there were 25 participants. Three research questions were deployed: (1) what have today’s PMs’ career path experiences been, (2) how do today’s PMs relate to their current situation including the PM profession, and (3) what are today’s PMs’ views on their career futures and development priorities? The research questions were supported by a larger set of interview questions.

The interpreted results of this study include nine conclusions in relation to the research questions and two in relation to the overall research problem. In relation to the research problem, the main conclusion of this study is that project managers tend to be highly experienced, multi-disciplined professionals whose association with the project management profession is often characterised by latency, emergence and self-identification. Moreover, with project management still being relatively young and emergent when compared to other and more traditional professions, the concept of the project manager career hence presents as a moving, impalpable target that whilst on the one hand benefits from being flexible to labour market demands, on the other hand seems inevitably encumbered with poor understanding, not least by project sponsors, early careerists and in many cases project managers themselves. This epitomises the situation of the serial project manager.