Reading books is one of the most important ways to develop yourself as a project manager. In this article, I will share my recommendations for the 10 books that have made a major difference to my career growth. As you read the list, I encourage you to reflect on your reading and what you have learned.
In reading a book for business growth, there are a few key questions to consider before you start.
- Problem Based Learning. Much of our reading and studying in professional development is focused on attempting to solve a problem. For example, I have read and studied productivity books to become more organized.
- Goal Based Learning, Working toward a significant goal is another reason to pursue learning. For example, I have studied books and taken courses to improve my Microsoft Excel skills. I am also using a training plan as I prepare to run my first half marathon race later this month.
Before you visit Amazon, your local bookstore or library, have some idea of the problem or goal you are working toward. In the rest of this article, I will share my book recommendations and suggest ways to apply the concepts to your challenges. As a lifelong learner, it was difficult to limit myself to ten project management books. Given that point, I may write additional articles with book recommendations in the future.
A Note On Links. In this article, I am providing links to Amazon as they a leading online retailer of books. However, I understand that some readers are on a budget or simply do not want to add to their collection. In that case, please visit your local library! I am a huge fan of libraries – they are a great resource that you have already paid for with your taxes.
Productivity and Success Books
These half dozen books equip you with tools, techniques and methods to become more successful. You will find some powerful ideas below. These books would make an excellent “welcome to the organization” gift to someone starting a new job!
1. Getting Things Done by David Allen
Far and above, this is my favourite productivity book of all time. I read the original edition a few years ago and read the new 2015 edition with interest. Allen’s book presents a full organizational system to manage your work and business. Some people find “GTD” (Getting Things Done) too complex. If you are looking for a way to get started, I recommend that you read my article, “Why You Need A Weekly Review To Become More Productive.”
Buy Getting Things Done by David Allen on Amazon.
2. The Effective Executive by Peter F. Drucker
Published over 50 years ago, this book remains one of my personal favourites for productivity. I first learned about it based on Mark Horstman’s recommendation (the co-founder of Manager Tools). As Horstman puts it, “The greatest management book ever written.” I’m inclined to agree. Key lessons from the book include taking a clear inventory of how you use your time, strong guidance on decision making and the merits of focus.
Note: Drucker uses the expression “executive” in a way that really means knowledge worker. You do not have to hold an executive title to benefit from this book.
Buy The Effective Executive by Peter F. Drucker on Amazon.
3. The 360 Degree Leader: Developing Your Influence from Anywhere in the Organization by John C Maxwell
John C Maxwell been writing and speaking about leadership for more than thirty years. With dozens of books to his name, getting started with Maxwell’s work is daunting. I recommend this book to project managers because it is aimed at “middle managers.” The book does a great job of exploring and explaining the fact that managers have the challenge to wear two hats: being a follower to their leader and leading their own team. As with other Maxwell books, you will find reflection questions and exercises to work through the concepts.
Buy The 360 Degree Leader by John C. Maxwell on Amazon
4. Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell
How do people achieve success in various fields? Gladwell explores the question in this book. I have read most of Gladwell’s books and this one is my favourite. The book famously promoted the 10,000 hour rule of expertise – the notion that the best people have poured hours of deliberate practice into their work. I also found the discussion of Bill Gate’s rise inspiring. The book is a highly readable with outstanding writing and stories. The book’s example about the success of child hockey players (when you are born in the year impacts your chances of being placed on a time) is a great example of the importance of environment. It also shows that some games have rules of success that may not fit you.
Buy Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell on Amazon.
5. The Success Principles: How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be by Jack Canfield and Janet Switzer
Earlier this year, I read the 10th anniversary edition of this great book. With over sixty success principles outlined, there is a great deal to learn here. Some of the principles that resonated with me include: take 100% responsibility for your life, commit to constant and never-ending improvement and several points relating to goal achievement. Even better, many of the stories are illustrated with examples from successful entrepreneurs, authors and athletes. The audio book version is also valuable – I listened to it last year. The Success Principles Book website is outstanding as well – the resource list is a great starting point to continue your growth.
6. The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande
If there is any field of work blessed with advanced education and knowledge, it is medicine. Yet surgeon Atul Gawande points out that many medical professionals struggle to consistently apply their knowledge. For example, patients have suffered incorrect procedures because the wrong side of their body was operated on. It is a scary prospect! Fortunately, Gawande shows that the checklist is a simple tool we can use to reduce errors and improve results. If you work in a high risk area (e.g. nuclear power, health, finance) then errors are extra damaging. Use this book to become better.
Resource: Want to get started right away? Read my article How To Build A Checklist In 6 Steps and you will have enough to build your first checklist.
Buy The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande on Amazon
Project Management Books
In this section, I cover a few vital project management books. I have read these books in my studies for the PMP exam and during my ongoing journey to improve my performance. If you are looking for standards, templates and other such resources, I suggest reviewing the Project Management Institute Marketplace.
6. Project Management For You by Cesar Abeid
Recently released by fellow Canadian Cesar Abeid, I was pleased to donate to encourage the creation of this book when Cesar ran a Kickstarter campaign. Project management frustrates some people as a complex and difficult to understand field. Abeid has done a great service for the community by writing a highly readable and easy to understand introduction to the field. Of course, I also recommend Cesar’s excellent Project Management For The Masses podcast.
Buy Project Management For You by Cesar Abeid on Amazon. Note: At the time of this writing, the book is only available via Kindle format.
7. The Keys To Our Success: Lessons Learned From 25 of Our Best Project Managers Edited by David Barrett & Derek Vigar.
As indicated by my love of biography (e.g. 6 Leadership Hacks From The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt and Career Hacks From Young George Washington), I think there is much to learn from successful leaders. In this book, we learn how a number of project managers have developed their skills and developed their careers. One of my favorite articles in the collection is “The Upwardly Mobile Project Manager – You Can Get There from Here,” by Kathryn Pottruff.
Buy The Keys To Our Success: Lessons Learned From 25 of Our Best Project Managers Edited by David Barrett & Derek Vigar on Amazon
8. Achieve PMP Exam Success, 5th Edition by Diane Altweis and Janice Preston
In studying for the PMP exam, this book was a key resource for me. Simply put, it provides excellent practice questions and clear explanations. If you could only have two books to aid you in preparing for the exam, I would recommend this book and the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) Guide. I went through the end of chapter practice exam questions several times to improve my knowledge and get ready for the exam. In addition, readers also receive access to an online question resource for further practice.
9. The Project Management Body of Knowledge by the Project Management Institute
No list of project management books would be complete without this book – often called the PMBOK Guide for short. There are two main reasons I think this book is valuable for project managers. First, it provides a common language and set of processes for project managers to use. This is a helpful starting point when you are working with people from different organizations. Second, this book is a vital resource if you are studying for the PMP certification exam. The only drawback is that the book is written as a technical standard, so it will not win any awards for “most fun read.” Aside from exam studying, I recommend using this book as a reference text.
Important Note: Members of the Project Management Institute are eligible to receive a free digital copy of the book. Visit the Project Management Institute website for details.
Buy The Project Management Body of Knowledge on Amazon
10. Leadership in Project Management: Leading People and Projects to Success by Mohit Arora and Haig Baronikian
Earlier in September, I enrolled in a leadership course with the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies. This book is our assigned textbook and I consider it helpful. I like that the book includes a chapters on knowing yourself and ethical leadership. As I progress through my studies, I may share additional examples from the book and my course.
Buy Leadership in Project Management: Leading People and Projects on Amazon (and YouAsALeader.com)