Military to Project Manager

Your Military Service is a Great Asset for the Civilian Workforce and Can Translate to Project Management 


May 08, 2023


What is the DOD-Skillbridge Program? 

The DOD SkillBridge program can be somewhat of a variable unknown to many military personnel. Finding the right reasons to choose a SkillBridge internship is a personal decision, but the skill sets learned in the military can prepare you for many possibilities.   

The DOD SkillBridge program allows Service members to gain valuable civilian work experience through specific industry training, apprenticeships, or internships during the last 180 days of service. SkillBridge connects Service members with industry partners in real-world job experiences. 

The large amounts of stress and long working days have contributed to your abilities, and in turn, you offer tangible assets to any company looking for a veteran hire. This is even more true for military project managers who may not have realized their value to the civilian workforce.   

Whether you have served only a couple of years, a decade, or reached full retirement, this has prepared you to be an asset as a project manager in the civilian world. 

How to Translate Your Military Project Management Background 

Key Strengths

Life in the military is not that different from the civilian sector but offers a few key strengths for current and prospective project managers.  

  • A sense of purpose greater than yourself drives project managers to achieve greater feats in the military, from small everyday projects to massive military cargo and passenger movements that can change the world as we know it.  

Military service is an excellent way to prepare future civilian project managers for success because of a few essential resources. These resources, which are used to better the civilian workforce, include:  

  • flexible structuring 
  • the diverse background of service members, and  
  • a sense of unmatched commitment to seeing the project through  

The military is just one step in a lifelong journey to become a project manager, but it builds a solid foundation to work from down the road.  

Taking this foundation and continuing it into a program like SkillBridge is exactly how military project managers can show the civilian sector their merits. Some companies may still consider the military strict and rigid with limited ability to flex its project management prowess, and military project managers are not as adept at dealing with issues as the civilian workforce.  

Diversity & Variety of Opportunities   

Depending on the unit you are working for, and despite what some may think of the military structure, many different projects will require attention. These can range from the smallest of efforts within a work center to base-level projects (an excellent opportunity to volunteer for) that will generate real-world experiences.   

Whether working on Agile-style projects or utilizing Six Sigma and LEAN approaches, there are always new strategies to learn in the military regarding project management. So many different hybrid approaches to being a project manager are available to the military. They will increase the likelihood of success currently and in the future in the civilian sector.  

Project teams range from a few members to entire work centers, offering various opportunities to build and expand project management skill sets. Then there are the opportunities to conduct joint project events with different work centers as an excellent way to understand the complexities of large-scale projects.  

Topics or events which may otherwise seem insignificant can give loads of experience and new perspectives which benefit the service members in the future. Examples include events like setting up for the Christmas events for the base or even revamping your base’s Drunk Driving call centers.  

The diversity of the members who serve in the DOD is one of the most substantial aspects of being a project manager within the military. This diverse type of learning can be a strong selling point to civilian companies to show how much military members have to offer. However, this is not the only topic of diversity that better suits military project managers for their transition.  

Each service member’s various backgrounds are unique, allowing project managers to draw on the strengths of diverse inclusion. This is just one way that being a military project manager helps set up for the diverse working environment or coworkers you will encounter in the civilian world. 

Being in the military means showing how teamwork and cohesiveness will benefit the mission. Building on and propelling the positive work environments of military units is why productivity and performance levels are so strong. Civilian companies are also on the same page regarding this, so military project managers will be assets when it comes to increasing the diverse profiles of the company. SkillBridge internships will be far more manageable due to the positive and empowering messaging learned in the military.  

How to Frame Your Experience & Perspective to Highlight Your Project Management Experience  

The scope of project management for the military is at such a high-level function and part of the culture that most members of the civilian workforce will never experience this type of on-the-job training.  

Not every service member contributing to project management efforts will have the opportunity to experience these high-level project assignments. Still, it definitely comes as a credit to the military branches and their service members for the time and effort these massive military projects require.  

One significant example of how the military prepared a project manager like myself happened in 2021 with the sad events in Kabul. Stationed out of Dover Air Force Base, my unit’s mission was to provide aid, and tasked with assisting in the Kabul airlift event in 2021. 

I may have been a lower-level officer with their hands in the significant aspects of the project, but I could still view the scope of the mission as a project manager. The vast number of workers and assets necessary to pull off the largest non-combatant airlift in human history was unlike anything I could have imagined doing when I first joined the military.  

Sitting in on high-visibility meetings with top-level leadership helped me gain perspectives I never thought possible. This greatly benefited my knowledge and understanding of what military project managers can do when given a chance. It was even more interesting to see just how different work centers can interact with each other.  

Many times while working for a company in the civilian workforce, you will be asked to manage projects that require cooperation with different work centers or outside agencies. You will find that being able to leverage your military training and experience will become a massive strength and an enormous benefit that any civilian company can benefit from.  

I also had other personal experiences that I assumed had no bearing on my abilities as a project manager. These were just the day-to-day operations of being a supervisor. Now, I realize some that go through the SkillBridge program have not made it up the chain to being a supervisor. However, you can still use the experiences of having a good supervisor lead you as something to look back on and use moving forward.  

Also, those smaller unit tasks you managed can significantly show a civilian company the impact you had on your project tasking and how well a company will do regarding your project productivity. This experience is the most significant difference between hiring a veteran vs. the average college or PMP certification graduate.  

There may be times in the civilian world when you must work with a scope that has a global impact and is commonplace with the globalization of business. Another benefit to highlight is that the military had service members participate in and manage events with a more global reach as part of the mission set.  

My firsthand involvement in the Kabul event gave me a keen understanding of the global reach that a project and project management can have. These real-world experiences will be much more beneficial than just reading about PM methodology and how to manage projects in a book.  

A Perspective on Project Management Unlike Anything I Could Have Asked  

During my SkillBridge transition, I considered my time as an armed forces member and my military career. The realization of just how important it was has really hit me. My service helped shape who I am today and why I am the asset I am today. For the rest of my project management career, I will always appreciate and reflect fondly on the years I had during my military career. 

Being a United States Air Force member gave me a perspective on project management unlike anything I could have asked for. While there were so many ups and downs when it comes to being in the military, it can all be a matter of perspective to making significant improvements for oneself in the future.  

Military Career as a Staging Point

Viewing your military career as a staging point for being a better version of the person that initially joined will garner great success when it comes time to enter the civilian world. 

Introspection of one’s military career can be found in such events as separation, retirement, or leveraging a transition internship group like the fantastic SkillBridge program. Any future civilian project manager has plenty of career highlight options.  

I am grateful for a decision I made more than ten years ago that helped me gain the knowledge and tools necessary to benefit myself and my future employer(s). The benefit from Veteran Hires furthers the legacy of veterans benefitting the civilian workforce. Adding military project managers to the ranks of your business organization in the civilian world can significantly impact a company’s knowledge and resource management. This impact allows for new possibilities that a company can leverage, and why we, as Veterans, should understand our skills and knowledge is valuable for any prospective company. When the time comes, and I am asked to manage significant projects, I can handle this responsibility. This is all I could ask for in a career because I feel empowered and valued, and my company can trust that business will be handled under my management.  

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