An interesting question came about from a client I was coaching the other week, he has gained some really good experience in project support and is looking to progress into the delivery aspect of PM. When I asked him what he enjoyed most about his career so far he became very animated and passionate about the work he had put in to creating financial monitoring and resource management tools. It quickly became apparent that he has a clear skill-set much sought after within PMO environments and his knowledge of promoting best practice through traditional means such as workshops and one to one coaching he also took more innovative approaches which met the constraints of the business managers and project managers. When we discussed his desire to change over to delivery from support he said it is because he wishes to progress his career, I pointed out that there is a career path within the project support element and that salaries are certainly commensurate to delivery staff once you move up the ladder. He said he felt that the general consensus is that delivery staff command more respect – naturally I had to push back on this as PMOs have evolved significantly over the past few years and that organisations are quite rightly using them as an interface between the business and the project delivery staff. Not nearly the “admin pool” it was once perceived as, maybe looking into businesses which value the support element as much as (if not more) than the project management functions are certainly the right route to take if you are looking to gain some gritty and challenging experience and forge a career.
Of course if you have always had it in your mindset that you want to be a project manager then you should follow this course but I would recommend working more closely with the project managers in roles such as Project Assistant, Project Coordinator, Junior PM etc where you are more likely to gain some exposure and experience in delivering the projects. The PMO is generally there to support as opposed to deliver, although I have seen some PMOs evolving to incorporate both.
Some are not cut out for delivery, the pressures in both environments are high but the delivery does have the “buck stops here” element so not for the feint hearted.