Book Review: Getting to The Top: Strategies for Career Success

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Kathryn Ullrich, in Getting to The Top: Strategies for Career Success, writes that success is determined by the scale you choose. You could be considered a successful project manager if you manage the largest project budget in your department or your peers are working on smaller projects. This book’s first section focuses on how success can be defined in your own personal environment. She writes that no matter what your definition of success is, it is up to you to create and implement a plan to achieve it.
The second section of the book is focused on the career paths of people who have reached the top. Ullrich focuses on success defined by a VP/C-suite job and eventually becoming a CEO. The jobs she profiles have a strong marketing, sales, and product development bias. This is her area of influence as an executive recruiter. The book is sparsely filled with examples of technical jobs. However, business development and operations are mentioned. Although the interviewees do discuss projects they have been involved in, none of them were project managers.
The advice on how to structure your career is applicable regardless of whether you are a project manager, brand manager, or a project manager. Ullrich, for example, stresses the importance of different elements that make up the criteria to move ahead. She introduces the concept “craft” which describes a person’s extensive knowledge in their area of expertise, which could be project management. She is basically saying that you must be competent at your job before you consider a promotion.
This book contains valuable advice from people who have reached the top of the ladder to C-suite positions and serious responsibility. NancyJane Goldston, for example, explains that strategic creativity is essential for people who want to move up the ladder.
Strategic creativity is a key skill. It is important to be able to see things from a different perspective and have a strategic view. This is especially important when you are surrounded by people. This is what middle managers do. When people are discussing ideas in a meeting, someone says that …” won’t allow us to do it. This immediately makes you appear more junior.
Ullrich later identifies the skills that she believes are essential to career advancement in her book.
Strategic Vision
Customer Perspective
Communications (I enjoyed this chapter especially)
Team Leadership
Distinguishing Skill – A vague term that refers to mastering the functional skills required for senior executives.

Although this book is not specifically for project managers, it is still relevant if you open your mind to the ideas. Her discussion on how CEOs can influence each member of the board by speaking to them before a meeting is a direct analogy to how successful project managers brief members in advance.
It’s not a book that is aimed at women, unlike Beyond the Boys Club. Ullrich is the head of a Silicon Valley executive search company and the Alumni Career Services at UCLA Anderson School of Management. It’s fascinating to see the workings of executive search, and the anecdotes about why people were not selected for positions. This book could be helpful if your career goals go beyond project management and include business responsibility.

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