You worked on the project and it was a success. You gave your blood, sweat and tears and it actually paid off. You are now known as the go to person when it comes to handling these niche projects.
While it was great riding the high and getting even more assignments in the field of that first project that was successful, you begin to wonder if there is more to you than this. Is this all there is? Is there a life after this?
What it means to be typecast
The Webster Dictionary defines the word ‘typecast’ as ‘giving a person the same kind of role’ or ‘causing people to think that they should always play a specific role’. Its synonym is given as ‘stereotype’. Although the definition in the dictionary is aimed at actors and professionals in the entertainment industry, it can be applied to careers and especially to project management.
Typecasting is an actor’s worst nightmare. You get picked for the same type of roles. You may never get the recognition you crave in the type of roles you want to play most. You find it difficult to find work outside these roles.
The same thing is common in project management. You had success with a certain type of project and you keep getting assignments for that type of work. You find it difficult to get work outside that niche. It’s even worse for those who have had epic failures in a specific niche.
It is important to note that typecasting can be self-imposed. This happens when you are successful with a certain management style or project type and choose to remain in your comfort zone. However, as the authors of ‘A New Model for Managing Projects’ point out, sticking to the classical models for project management won’t work with modern projects. Modern projects do not fit a one size fits all model. Today’s projects are not only complex, but ever changing. They are affected by the dynamics of markets, technology and the environment.
A sign of good work? How project managers fall into the typecasting trap
Typecasting is often taken as being a trademark. Many people take it to mean that you’re a specialist in a specific area.
Going back to acting, people often associate actors with their most successful roles. Take Anthony Hopkins for example. He is known to have acted in various roles in his long career, but no one can forget his performance in the ‘Silence of the Lambs’. Audiences today find it difficult to dissociate the image of Hopkins with his portrayal of Lecter. His performance as Lecter was enduring and one could venture to say perfect. It was unforgettable. It is no wonder many of his subsequent roles were typified by this one performance.
Being selected to manage projects in a niche is often in recognition of your success in the niche. It is a side effect of doing a good job. People will base their judgement of your abilities on your previous success.
The dangers of being typecast
While typecasting is a sign that you’re good at some specialization, it can be limiting. Many people however are tricked by the ‘comfort’ of their new found niche. They are content to remain in their happy cocoons where they are not bothered by challenges. They are comfortable basking in the dimming light of their past success.
However, we should not confuse ‘comfort’ in our occupations as being the same thing as success. Diversification is vital, especially at the rate at which technology is developing. Andy Perry points out that technology is creating more opportunities for project managers. However, it is also killing project managers in the process. Being versatile allows you to avoid becoming a dinosaur and being crushed by the advances in technology.
While exploring a new field may seem uncomfortable, there are many benefits to taking the steps towards avoiding being typecast.
Practical steps to avoid being typecast
Many project managers put all their effort and concentration into their current project. They are so focused on achieving their goals that they often close doors to other opportunities that they may come across. Typecasting is an easy way to stop you from developing and growing as a project manager. It is a way of being put in a box that can be difficult to climb out of if you stay inside it for long enough.
Below are some tips to help you avoid being typecast:
- Begin with self-evaluation
Specialization is a necessary evil. However, it pays to diversify. While you can’t be an expert at everything, it is important to show some diversity in your work.
Go through your list of clients or projects. Does the list show depth or diversity? Are your projects replicas of previous projects you’ve done successfully? Diversifying will do you a world of good in helping you become more creative and approach projects in new ways.
Keep up to date with the latest happenings in your field. You’ll be able to recognize areas that already exist and are growing or that are emerging and develop your skills accordingly. Look out for information on fields that are facing problems and those that are showing great potential and align your skills to suit these changes.
- Have an action plan
Don’t leave your progress in your career to chance. Take the reigns by creating an action plan that guides your efforts to diversify. It should guide your decisions and help you in developing your skills.
- Actively seek out new areas
Many project managers make the mistake of seeking out opportunities in the area that they already have experience working in even when they want to diversify and break away from their old roles. Looking for the same opportunities will only result in the same kind of work. Look for areas that you can apply your experience and skills in new ways. This may take time.
- Activate your network
One effective way of seeking out opportunities in new areas is by activating your network. Get in touch with friends, colleagues and influencers in the industry to find new opportunities. This makes people aware of your interests. They can let you know of any opportunities they may come across that could be in line with your interests.
- Take up different roles
While you’re used to being at the head of projects, you may have to take on different roles in order to boost your resume and diversify. You may have to take up volunteer or part time opportunities in projects that are in line with your interests. These projects will help you develop the right skills to boost your chances of landing jobs in that area.
Typecasting doesn’t only affect Hollywood actors. You can gain more flexibility in your career by avoiding being typecast with the tips outlined above. Enjoy a more satisfying and well-rounded career.