Project Management

While scientists may perform hands-on chemistry, large projects also require someone who understands the science but can keep their eye on the big picture and balance all the competing aspects. Project managers are those people—they can communicate about the scientific aspects of the project, but their focus is on motivating the
team members and planning, organizing, managing, and assigning resources so as to achieve a specific goal. As projects have gotten more complex and interdisciplinary, the project manager’s job has become even more important—to balance all competing constraints and achieve the end goal of the project.
In general, project managers oversee a single well-defined group of tasks with a specific deadline and goal, while program manager or portfolio managers oversee ongoing activities and larger groups of projects.
Many project managers started on this path because they were concerned about the bigger picture and wanted to set research directions and think more strategically. By coordinating projects and leading groups in the development of new products, they have the satisfaction of knowing they play a key role in the financial success of the company.

Typical Job Duties

  • Oversee the big picture and ensure that all pieces are moving towards a common goal.
  • Plan schedule and budget, set deadlines, monitor quality and progress, and manage budgets, all with input from other team members.
  • Evaluate the potential profit from a particular line of research, the return on investment, and the commercial impact of changes in project scope or timelines.
  • Maintain consistency and quality of output and decide when the desired level of quality has been achieved.
  • Communicate project results, risks, and issues.

Technical Skills

  • Interest in scientific and technical areas is crucial, and a strong background in a particular scientific field is required.
  • Strong organizational and time management skills.
  • Problem-solving and conflict resolution skills to balance competing needs.
  • Teamwork or the ability to get others to work together for a common goal.
  • Financial sense to be able to create and manage budgets.
  • An ability to delegate work and let others take ownership and accomplish their goals in their own way.
  • The ability to mentor others and to derive satisfaction from their successes.
  • Strong communication skills, including the ability to communicate complex information clearly to senior management.

Career Path

Generally, chemists spend a few years working in their field before moving into a management position. Most gradually grow in to the role, as they demonstrate exceptional skill at managing their own projects and are gradually given more responsibility. Many companies now require certification in project management, and there are currently six levels of certification available.
In almost every scientist’s career, there is a critical time in when he or she must choose either a technical career in research or a management career path. If they choose to pursue a career in management, the scope of their work changes dramatically. Rather than focus their expertise on researching a particular material or process, they dedicate themselves to directing larger programs, bringing in more money for research, and mentoring the careers of others.

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