Volunteering: Giving Back That Feels Like Taking
March 01, 2019
Volunteering with PMI has many benefits. Not only does it feel good to be giving back to the profession that supports us, but whenever I do it, I learn something new and build useful connections with fellow project practitioners. Add to this the fact you also earn PDUs makes the whole process a win, win, win.
Project management can feel a solitary activity sometimes. Even if you work with large teams and in organizations with many project managers, the unique nature of projects means PMs often have less in common with their peers than other roles.
In a work setting, not all PMs are willing to share their best approaches or secret sauce. Perhaps they feel competition as if their jobs could be replaced if they openly shared what worked for them. There is no such nonsense when interacting with other volunteers. You are automatically in a self-selecting group who have put a higher cause ahead of their sense of self-worth or importance.
I have come to discover that people who seem guarded with advice typically have little to protect, while those who are generous with their experience know the most and prosper more as they educate others. Knowledge and experience are not finite resources to be hoarded; instead, they become more valuable as you share them.
Over the years of volunteering with PMI, I have met many great industry leaders like “Risk Doctor” David Hillson and PMO guru Jack Duggal. They have been generous mentors, and I often learn more in a 10-minute coffee break than days of training or reading. Generally, the quality of people you meet when volunteering is exceptionally high, because they are doing it for intrinsic reasons, not for pay or recognition. It’s the perfect environment or qualifier to find generous, knowledgeable people to network with. By definition of them being there, they are willing and happy to help others.
I have been in the industry long enough now to have people ask me how I got started. I have been asked how I became involved in agile approaches, or a SeminarsWorld instructor, or worked on PMI standards. The answer to each and every one is that I volunteered for something. That led to me meeting some people and then volunteering on something else. Every industry achievement I have I can trace directly to volunteer activities and volunteer contacts.
I half considered keeping this career secret to myself—the fact that the best method for professional development is free and available to everyone. Yet, that would be so anti-volunteerism that I could not. The fact is, of course, that only people truly in love with project management want to volunteer long term.
Let’s be clear: It is not all rainbows and unicorns. There may be lots of stacking chairs, waiting around and unproductive administrivia—it is not always about discussing the “next big thing.” Also, the payoffs are random in frequency and nature. The odds of meeting your next hiring manager on a conference call or in-person meeting are very slim. Yet, like many things, there is power in showing up—and luck only favors participants.
The good news is that effort and goodwill seem cumulative; who knows when and where something useful will show up. In the meantime, you are doing something useful and even getting PDUs for your time.
There are many ways to volunteer. I used to help at local dinner meetings, but after moving far out of town I find virtual and full-day events easier to participate in. Your local chapter and the PMI.org website have many volunteer opportunities.
One thing I wish I had realized earlier is that you do not have to be an expert—or even experienced on a topic—to take part or be valued. Unlike a work setting (where you are payed a salary and so expected to largely know what to do), volunteering is great for the inexperienced. People are just glad you are there; and in fact, you get most out of working in new areas since most topics come with a free education and you have a bunch of generous individuals around to explain things.
For years, PMI have used the slogan “Good things happen when you get involved”—and it is so true. If you are looking for professional development opportunities for 2019, I strongly suggest you consider volunteering. I acknowledge the gushy nature of this write-up might suggest some insider prompting from PMI to drum up more volunteers; however, this is personal and heartfelt.
As I reflect on 2018, looking at what went well and what not so well, I see an undeniable correlation. This year, like the last 10, my most rewarding work and business connections came out of volunteering. Heck…maybe I am just terrible at capitalizing on regular work (I do have a history of buying high and selling low at most things), but the things that go well seem volunteer related. Confirmation bias? Maybe. But if you have not volunteered before, give it a try…it’s free, and did I mention you get PDUs?
I don’t think this is just me. If anyone else has experienced similar serendipitous benefits from volunteering (at PMI or anywhere else), please share in the comments below.
[This post first appeared on ProjectManagement.com here]
Totally agree with Mike!
Love the big volunteering family of PMI!
I served as a VP since 2001 in the Hong Kong Chapter and currently a subcommittee member in Special Projects. Will I ever leave this big family?
Had opportunities to join APLim where I learn so much! Have so many opportunities to share my experiences in annual conferences of different chapters in Region 9, Indonesia, and as far as Uganda! Visited the Chapter in Israel too!
Delighted to have so many long time friends from different chapters!
Just yesterday, Karen Ip, another long term volunteer retired after her 13 years of serving as VP in the HK Chapter, returned to HK to spend quality time with her family and the PMI family!
We had wonderful tea time shar ing our still passionate love as volunteer in PMI!
Posted by: Rose CHU | March 04, 2019 at 05:30 PM
Thanks for sharing your experience as a PMI volunteer. I am glad it has treated you well too and I am a little jealous about the places you have traveled to. Another point I did not mention because I am not sure if it is universal, but in my experience, the PMI feeds its volunteers well too. I have had many memorable meals out with the PMI folks. They understand our deep-rooted traits of remembering who we shared good food with.
Posted by: Mike Griffiths | March 04, 2019 at 08:28 PM
Great article Mike. I have been volunteering with PMI for 20+ years. I have met some of the best people I know by volunteering. As an independent contractor, much of my work social life is based on amazing volunteer opportunities.
I started with chapters and moved into standards. All opportunities are fulfilling...and most, as you mentioned, include good food! Many include great travel as well. I have traveled to London, Paris and Rome for PMI. There is no way I would have ever had those opportunities if I wasn't a volunteer.
Thanks for the great article. I encourage everyone to step up, you won't regret it.
Cyndi Snyder Dionisio
Posted by: Cyndi Snyder Dionisio | March 14, 2019 at 08:23 PM
Hi Cyndi, thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment. I agree the travel is a bonus too. I was also in Rome, then in Prague, and recently had to pass up a trip to Iceland because I was double booked. The travel opportunities are top notch, like the food.
Posted by: Mike Griffiths | March 14, 2019 at 08:40 PM