Whether you’re looking to gain knowledge from a project leader or are a mentor wanting to give back to those newer to the profession, taking part in the Australian Institute of Project Management’s (AIPM) mentoring program could be just the option for you.

So, what exactly is involved in becoming a mentor or mentee? In this blog, we hear from Melissa Richardson, Managing Director of our mentoring program delivery partner, Art of Mentoring, and we also speak to two past participants to help you get the most from the program.

What is mentoring?

According to Richardson, pure mentorship should be objective and divorced from the mentee’s work outcomes.

“Ideally, a mentor wouldn’t be a direct boss or a boss’s boss because there’s a much higher chance of their own agenda coming into play.”

Richardson says a ‘coach’ is a better descriptor of a supportive boss who often has his or her own interests in the mix. “In this scenario, you work together towards KPIs so that the coaching has a direct impact on the mentor’s work outcomes and reputation. This is not necessarily a bad thing but it’s not pure mentorship.”

Another term that’s often used interchangeably with a mentor is that of a ‘sponsor’ or ‘advocate’. They will push you up through the ranks, and promote and accelerate your career development. Mentoring may also accelerate your career development but it’s not the focus.

To avoid such conflicts, the AIPM Project Management Mentoring Program connects mentors and mentees from different companies and industries.

What are the benefits of taking part in a mentorship program?

Studies report mentees improve their professional performance, mental health and gain more promotions. According to Richardson there is also a lot in it for the mentor.

“Our training is basically a crash course in psychology and interpersonal skill development. They’re learning so much about themselves as they set out to help others. This is a big part of what they’re getting from the program.”

Mentors most commonly report positive outcomes that include:

  • personal learning and growth;
  • networking;
  • connectedness within and outside the workplace;
  • leadership capacity; and meaning and purpose.

These are arguably the most powerful benefits because they relate to our sense of wellbeing and happiness. They also reinforce the many psychological studies that show generous people are happier and that altruism improves mental health and relieves stress.

“Our post-program results show that the mentor is getting at least as much out of the process as the mentee, and often more,” Richardson says. “They report positive affective wellbeing as a result of helping others. It makes them feel good.”

How can I make the most out of AIPM’s mentoring program?

There are many things that both a mentor and mentee can do to enhance a successful partnership. Here are a few ways that Richardson suggests.

1. Find common ground

Like any successful relationship, there must be personal chemistry or common ground. So, take the time to consider what you’re bringing to the relationship and understand your personal strengths and weaknesses.

In a professionally structured mentoring program such as the AIPMs’, part of the initial profiling determines what skills and behaviours the mentee wants to develop to be matched against the qualities, strengths and interests of the mentor via a digital algorithm. It also matches partners with a relatively narrow experience gap. A one-to-two-career stage gap (or a 10-year gap) is ideal so that the parties will relate to each other.

2. Develop your communication skills

Formal mentoring can help develop your listening and questioning skills and provide a crash course in interpersonal psychology. If you will be partaking in AIPM’s program as a mentor, it is important to ask the right questions of your mentee to encourage them to solve their own problems. Ideally, this provides a different perspective instead of telling them what to do. For many senior managers, this may be counter to their typical communication style.

3. Set clear expectations

Before you begin the mentoring program, take a moment to write down what you would like to gain out of the mentorship. Create goals together so that you have a clear focus throughout the process. Also set boundaries around how often you will meet, call and email and what topics you will discuss at each meeting.

Past participants of AIPM’s mentoring program

To help you learn a little bit more about what it’s like to take part in the program, we spoke to a 2020 award winning mentor and mentee pair to get their insights.

Mentor: Rob Loader FAIPM CPPE

  • Industry: Financial services
  • Role: GM Strategic Investment Management Office
  • Award: 2020 AIPM Highly Commended Mentor
Why did you decide to take part in AIPM’s mentoring program?

I’ve been a strong supporter of mentoring throughout my career and so it was natural to me to be involved in the AIPM mentoring program. Being a part of developing the profession, in a really personal way, to help younger project managers in their career development is very rewarding.

What did you find beneficial about taking part in the mentoring program?

Helping other project managers, especially early in their career, is a real pleasure. It’s great to be able to impart some of the learnings and experiences of my journey to help others. I also find that I learn as a much from the mentee as they hopefully can learn from me, especially by taking the time to reflect on my own approaches and behaviours and knowing that I can always improve.

Would you recommend the mentoring program to others?

Definitely, yes. Establishing a mentoring relationship can be incredibly powerful and can greatly benefit both the mentor and mentee in their personal and professional development.

What advice would you give to next year’s participants to help create a successful mentoring relationship?

Mentees should define the clear goals they want to achieve with their mentor and the nature of what they want to gain from the relationship. They should ensure they agree with the mentor early on what is realistic and doable so they both have clear expectations. Throughout the process, check in progress, ask for feedback regularly and be prepared to adjust the approach if needed. Enjoy it, because it shouldn’t be hard work.

Mentee: Ben Parker MAIPM CPPD

  • Industry: Defence
  • Role: Program Governance and Control Lead
  • Award: 2020 AIPM Mentee of the Year
Why did you decide to take part in AIPM’s mentoring program?

I decided to take part in AIPM’s mentoring program to obtain a new diverse perspective, gain insight of my career options and get support planning and implementing my next steps.

What was the most challenging aspect of the mentoring program?

The hardest bit for me was realising I didn’t actually know what I wanted or why and then actually making the time to stop, sit uncomfortably with this and work it through. I didn’t find it challenging or difficult talking to Rob who acted as a sounding board and pushed me to always think a little deeper, but rather I felt frustrated at not being able to answer these questions when asked.

How did the program help support your professional development?

The mentoring program allowed me to build and test my ideas against a group of peers and my mentor. It gave me new insights and different perspectives on how I worked, what motivates me and what I wanted. It gave me new ideas and ways of working, built my confidence and network, and even helped me get a better job.

What was the most rewarding aspect of the program?

There are two rewarding aspects I took out of the mentoring program. The first is the relationship I built with my mentor, Rob who I am eternally grateful to for his continuous support, and guidance. Second, is after experiencing the value of mentoring myself, I actively seek to apply a coaching and mentoring mindset in my work and find I enjoy work more, feel like I make an impact to those around me and am constantly learning.

What advice would you give a mentee coming into the program?

Treat mentoring like a long road trip. Firmly plant yourself in the driving seat, be curious and a little vulnerable to make interesting conversation with your mentor and then be willing to take that detour and go explore.

So, if you like what you’ve read and would like to advance your project management or leadership skills, grow your network, or give back whilst reflecting on your own career, get started in the AIPM Project Management Mentoring Program.