Why Building Your Brand Is Essential to Leveraging Project Management Opportunities in Health Care

Stethoscope on doctors desk
As demand for project management in health care grows, it is crucial for professionals in this field to develop a personal brand to stand out.

In today’s tumultuous health care landscape, there is a growing need for project managers who demonstrate key skill sets to lead their organizations for success, according to Karen Curley, Instructor in the Division of Policy Translation and Leadership Development at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. She also serves as the Program Director of Health Care Project Management: The Intersection of Strategy, People, and Process. This program provides health care professionals with an overview of the science of improvement and teaches them how to most effectively leverage their interpersonal savvy and apply the tools and mindset of project management to drive desired results across a variety of settings.

She points out that in most organizations, multiple projects are competing for limited resources. Therefore, she suggests that health care professionals who want to develop their niche in the project management arena go beyond the basics to create and implement a personal brand that’s aligned with the organization’s broader mission. This can be an effective way to demonstrate value and garner support for their efforts.

The Growing Need for Project Managers

Project management positions are on the rise in the United States and throughout the world, and this trend is expected to continue over the next decade. In fact, the Project Management Institute’s (PMI) Job Growth and Talent Gap report for 2017-2027 predicts that by 2027, there will be 87.7 million people working in project management–related positions globally. PMI also reveals that in the United States, the health care sector in particular will experience a large jump over the next decade, with expectations set at about a 17 percent increase.

But health care poses a unique array of challenges, including the fact that many project leaders come from clinical or administrative backgrounds that don’t include expertise in managing projects across disciplines, on budget, on time, and to completion. This can put these leaders at a steep disadvantage as they navigate all of the complexities and expectations.

Health care professionals who want to develop their niche in the project management arena [should] go beyond the basics to create a personal brand that’s aligned with the organization’s broader mission.

Three Skill Sets for Health Care Project Managers

Curley points out that in order to be most effective, current and aspiring project managers should make an effort to build up their skill sets in three key areas:

  • Technical knowledge on how to develop and implement projects in a fast-paced setting.
  • Interpersonal skills required to lead multi-disciplinary teams and navigate the waters of competing agendas, wavering motivation and inconsistent sponsorship.
  • A personal brand that connects back to the organization’s mission and tells what you stand for.

In a competitive marketplace with lots of professionals vying for very limited resources, the third area—developing a personal brand and connecting it to your project—can be a powerful differentiator, she stresses.

What Is Personal Brand?

“Building personal and professional brand [the two usually go hand in hand] is all about positive positioning and understanding what you stand for,” Curley says.

For current project managers, as well as professionals with hopes of securing a project management role in the future, she says that it’s important to start by understanding the concept of brand and how it differs from reputation.

“We think about ourselves as having a reputation. This is what you are known for. We talk about products and services having a brand,” she says. In the case of a project manager, the “services” are really the expertise he or she brings to the position.

Building personal and professional brand is all about positive positioning and understanding what you stand for.

What’s in a Name?

“Let’s say you have a nurse administrator who is known for having good ideas, being collaborative, being smart, and being able to motivate a team,” she says. While these are all good attributes, they are also all characteristics that most nurse administrators share. This makes it important to go beyond the basic descriptions and think more strategically about your own assets, both personally and professionally.

“If you want to lead productively and leverage that skill set, you need to move these attributes into your brand. For instance, you would talk about yourself as someone who achieves uncompromising results,” she adds.

It’s also important to make sure you are actually demonstrating the assets you want to showcase.
She cites the Google offices as a good example of living your brand. “At Google, they strongly believe that innovation comes from anywhere. It’s not just a statement,” Curley says. She points out that Google expects all employees to stand up and contribute ideas. “You won’t succeed there if you are afraid to speak up.”

While not all health care environments or organizations are as forward thinking as Google, “in many settings someone who has good ideas but is afraid to share them will not get known as someone who is a good fit to lead a project,” she points out.

How to Define Your Brand

In the quest to define your brand, Curley suggests starting with a “brand audit.” This involves talking to people in your office to find out how they view you. Then start thinking of how you can reframe your image to make it resonate more with your organization’s bigger picture. Just be prepared for the fact that everyone’s assessment may not match the image you have for yourself. She says you have to be prepared for criticism and be ready to thank the giver even if it’s not what you want to hear. Remember that negative views can help you define the areas you want to change in how you are perceived in the workplace, so this information is extremely helpful as you establish your new brand.

Once you know who you are and who you want to be, you can take a functional approach to developing your brand model. “You can use a project manager mindset and tools,” Curley says.

Think of it this way: “A project manager doesn’t want to be just technically competent. You want to be someone who can build relationships, leverage resources, and break down barriers,” she says. These are qualities that organizations really value. “Agility is a big word now. If your organization talks about needing to be agile, the brand should connect to agility and the project must fit with agile. Another big word is innovative, which can be branded as contributing good ideas,” she adds.

Also remember that as you build your brand, you also need to have the technical skills to get the results, she stresses. “If your brand is about building large-scale change but then you don’t have the skills to do it, you’ve put out a false brand. You need to talk about your goals but then demonstrate the skills to back them up,” she stresses.

When you identify your brand attributes and start to live them, you position yourself for bigger opportunities, growth, even potential promotion.

Living Your Brand

It’s also important to start living your brand in a very deliberate way. “Be really conscious of the impact you want to have in every story or conversation. Also think about who will be in the room or on a phone call. Decide what they expect you to say, and if you want to shift your brand, say something unexpected to get them to give you another look,” she says.

For example, suppose you are an administrator or physician leader who has had little or nothing to do with formal project management. If you want to be taken seriously for opportunities to lead in this area, you need to change the way you are perceived. “One way to do this is when you have a meeting with your boss or are asked your opinion in a group setting, step outside your usual conversation that may be focused on tasks and move the conversation to a broader level to show you can think more strategically,” she says.

Timing Matters

Over time you’ll need to keep revisiting your brand to be sure it remains relevant as things continue to evolve in the field.

“Think about Coke and Pepsi. Their brands don’t just stay with the static product and they don’t expect you to simply buy their product because they put it on the shelf. They have to always recapture the audience’s attention. There’s always another competitor out there. The same is true with people,” Curley points out. This makes it critical to stay on top of your shifting organization’s priorities and to make sure your skill sets always tie back to where things are going in your company over the long term.

“The good news is that when you identify your brand attributes and start to live them, you position yourself for bigger opportunities, growth, even potential promotion,” Curley says.

In addition to the individual benefits you can expect in return for taking on bigger responsibilities, remember that top health care project managers also have a positive impact on their organizations, helping to manage costs, minimize risks, and ultimately achieve better outcomes.

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health offers Health Care Project Management: The Intersection of Strategy, People, and Process, which drives meaningful growth in project leadership abilities in health care settings. To learn more about this opportunity, click here.