Forging a new career path

Project managers could be included in upper management

Draft guidance released last month by the Office of Personnel Management extends the project manager role into upper management — an important step as agencies search for experienced people to manage more complex e-government projects.

Among the guidance's objectives are helping agencies identify project manager positions, clarifying their duties, recruiting and developing project managers, and implementing training programs. The guidance also attempts to remove barriers for project managers who want to advance in their careers, but also stay in their profession.

Traditionally, project managers have been limited to the upper general service classification levels, often being bumped into general management positions once they moved past the GS-13 or GS-14 level. That is a problem that needs to be fixed, OPM and CIO Council officials say.

The draft guide pushes the project manager position into the GS-15 level and even to the Senior Executive Service to ensure that agencies can continue to take advantage of people with special skills for managing increasingly complex and interagency e-government projects, said Ira Hobbs, co-chairman of the CIO Council's Workforce and Human Capital for IT Committee and deputy chief information officer at the Agriculture Department.

For the first time, this creates a full-fledged job track for project managers and the basis for a governmentwide inventory of people with different levels of these skills, according to Hobbs.

"We will create the infrastructure to guarantee that we have the right people in the right jobs," he said, speaking at the Industry Advisory Council's 12th Annual Executive Leadership Conference on Nov. 4 in Hershey, Pa.

The anticipated guidance will be the first time the government formally acknowledges that the project manager position can be a career path, said Fred Thompson, who recently retired as assistant director for consulting and marketing at the Treasury Department. When projects get complex and difficult, Thompson said, agencies need experienced senior managers in charge.

The draft guidance defines the role of project managers and "clarifies the responsibilities of typical project managers as the function has evolved to this point," said Rich D'Adamo, president of Workforce Solutions LLC.

The new IT standard, which was introduced last year and replaces the computer specialist series, included criteria for classifying IT project managers although it did not provide a specialty definition, D'Adamo said.

The guidance, however, identifies project management competencies, giving agencies benchmarks on which to base recruitment and training requirements for project managers. "This should result in the agencies' being able to more effectively sort out candidates with the competencies required for successful project management," D'Adamo said.

Agencies have turned in their comments on the draft to OPM, and final guidance on the role of the IT project manager is expected before the end of the year, Hobbs said.

The CIO Council hopes to use the final guidance to help agencies identify internal project managers, and also to create a cadre of project managers that can move from organization to organization for large, cross-agency projects, Hobbs said. There is no time frame for when that cadre might be created, he said.

Eventually, this guidance will be adapted for other disciplines, including financial management and acquisition.

The guidance will also be the starting point for creating the role of solution architect, another role considered essential for e-government by the Office of Management and Budget.

***

A career ladder

The Office of Personnel Management's draft guidance will help define a career path for information technology project managers. The guidance helps agencies decide what job level a person should be, including whether a project manager should be in the Senior Executive Service, which is above a GS-15. An SES candidate must engage on one of the following:

* Direct the work of an organizational unit.

* Be accountable for the success of one or more specific programs or projects.

* Monitor progress toward organizational goals, evaluate and adjust those goals.

* Supervise the work of employees.

* Otherwise exercise important policy-making, policy-determining or other executive functions.

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