What does it take to be an interim IT project manager?

By Robert Half on 07/12/2023
Estimated Read Time: 3 minutes

Demand for digital transformation projects is shining the spotlight on the people who make them happen. Tom Ward, Director at Robert Half in Australia, explains why interim IT project managers are fundamental.

Businesses are faced with a clear choice: upgrade their technology, systems and processes, or face the prospect of being left behind. New ways of working, evolving customer behaviour and the importance of data management – under the digital transformation banner – have become drivers of change. As businesses develop their digital backbone, they also face a growing number of cyber-attacks, and are keen to improve their security posture, too.

But here’s the challenge they face, businesses often fall short of the expertise to deliver these types of projects. They might have strong technical teams, but small and medium-sized businesses, especially, don’t usually employ full-time IT project managers. But when something needs to be delivered, with multiple departments involved, they are fundamental.

Timing is everything

There are usually three scenarios when interim IT project managers can help.

  1. First, the proactive stage; they are invited to join a project at the very beginning. They are involved in the planning stages, helping to develop the scope of the project; they might even assist with the selection of a suitable technology vendor. When they are involved from the outset, they can build solid foundations and relationships more easily.
  2. Secondly, the midpoint; once business analysts have done their research and a technology vendor has been selected, for example, a project manager will come in and plan out the rest. They will pick up the main pieces of the puzzle and put them together. This scenario works well when a business has some technical expertise but needs help to deliver the outcome.
  3. Thirdly, they are brought in when things aren’t going well. A project manager either replaces someone else or gives the business some guidance if they are doing it themselves.

The skills to succeed

In any of these three scenarios, interim IT project managers will quickly assess the status of a project, before directing and guiding project teams. The best ones have therefore developed a unique set of skills and experience: they act decisively and work well with others; they take ownership – the buck stops with them.

They also need to be patient. They are often working with multiple departments, so the ability to influence, communicate and gain buy-in, is important. They need high levels of emotional intelligence to work with different mindsets and personalities. Adaptability is key because they usually work in a business for a finite period.

The most common path to this role is when a business analyst moves up to project management. Along the way, they will pursue technical certifications, and develop their soft skills, working with others. We do see more business-focussed project managers, who come from a project coordination background, but there is a higher demand for those with technical skills.

Taking a proactive approach

Interim IT project managers are leaders who can deliver digital transformation projects; they are often able to meet a growing demand for cyber security projects, too. So as businesses position themselves for the future, their skills are invaluable.

The best approach is when businesses seek help at the beginning to set up and then run a successful project; or halfway through, when it has the done initial groundwork. It is possible to salvage a project – recent experience suggests this happens a lot – but a proactive approach will give businesses more confidence in their ability to execute and deliver change.


With over 10 years’ experience, Tom Ward, Director at Robert Half oversees Robert Half’s Technology operations in Melbourne, including both permanent and contract recruitment solutions.

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