Move From CRA to Clinical Project Manager

move from cra to clinical project manager

You’ve done the travel, navigated through the intricacies of a number of concurrent trials, and gone over and above your usual hours to become the embodiment of a Senior/Lead Clinical Research Associate. You can now see yourself standing at the threshold of moving into a Clinical Project Manager (CPM) role. So, what does taking that next step involve?

The competitive landscape of the medical industry means that crossing that brink into a CPM position can be quite challenging. If you’re looking to do so successfully, it is essential to gain an insight into the skills and experience needed to pursue a gratifying career as a Clinical Project Manager in Australia, and to see if that promotion suits you.

Contents

At On Q Recruitment, we’ve recruited for countless CPM roles over the years, and in this blog, we’ll share our knowledge with you to help you make the right move in your career.

Common Reasons CRAs Want to Move into Project Management

We have helped many Senior CRAs transition successfully into a CPM role. One of the questions we like to ask is, “why they are looking to take the leap and secure a promotion into a more complex role?” Here are the top reasons we have come across, some of which you may relate to:

Less travel

CRAs monitor an array of trial sites, which means travelling is a major component of the job. Early starts, late finishes, and delays in airports are common, and for many, this can negatively impact their work/life balance in the long term and create pressure on family commitments.

Monetary benefits

There is also a jump in pay when moving from a Senior CRA role into a CPM role. We see a range of salaries for Senior CRAs, from around $113,000 to $123,000 per year. CPMs on the other hand, tend to start at around $128,000 on the lower end of the scale, up to $150,000 at the peak. Naturally, this is often a great impetus for experienced CRAs to make the move and reap the financial rewards.

Variety

The crux of a Clinical Project Manager role offers greater engagement with various stakeholders as well as various trials. No two days are alike with the chance to engage in a range of therapeutic areas (from cardiovascular to oncology), and there are also opportunities to be involved with new, often life-changing products.

Is a CPM Role Right for You?

Before progressing down this route, it’s important to consider whether a Clinical Project Manager position is the best option for your career. Despite its ostensible benefits, a CPM role isn’t for everyone. Over the years, we have heard from different CRAs who made the change into a CPM position and found that it failed to meet expectations. Some of the concerns we have heard include:

The fiscal rewards pale in comparison to the increased responsibility

CPMs plan and manage all aspects of a clinical trial and to be successful they must lead or mentor a team of CRAs, clinical specialists, and administrative staff. Many CPMs find managing cross-functionally, in addition to trying to motivate or guide junior CRAs, tiresome. Add to that the stakeholder management of the study sponsor, internal directors, and those at the clinical trial site, and it’s clear that a vast range of responsibilities falls at the CPM’s feet. Many don’t enjoy being held accountable for such a melange of teams and ultimately the overall success of a trial.

Requires a unique skillset

As a CPM, you need a healthy dose of project management competencies along with an understanding of its methodologies in order to lead cross-functional teams effectively. They must also demonstrate strong leadership qualities, given they are also responsible for training team members, evaluating their performance, and spearheading solutions for any arising issues with the clinical study.

Competitive clinical trials/sites

There is now increased competition for productive clinical sites with increased cost and time constraints. Stakeholder teams from large multinational companies can exert insurmountable pressure for trials to be successful, making the working environment challenging.

Missing site interactions

CPM and CRA are very different roles, and moving from one to the other can take a lot of getting used to. It’s not uncommon for CPMs to tell us they actually want a hybrid role of CPM/Senior CRA, as they miss the close involvement of their sites. Being in a role you’re not happy in, where you aren’t doing what you want to be doing, can slow down your career, so consider the degree of difference between the two roles before making the move.

How to Progress

We have seen it first-hand: there are simply not enough CPM roles to go around compared to the number of people who want them in Australia. If you still think this is the career path you wish to go down, your next step is to consider how to best get into the hiring manager’s ‘yes’ pile. There are a few strategies you can undertake that will help you stand out from the pool of Senior CRAs and aid in securing your ideal CPM role, be it in Sydney, Melbourne or anywhere else in Australia:

Qualifications and training

At a minimum, you will most probably already have a Bachelor’s degree in a sciences/medical field. In addition to your qualification, you should have experience in writing study protocol, some level of leadership capacity as well as a solid understanding of relevant regulatory requirements.

As a Senior CRA, shadow your own CPM and ask for more responsibilities to gain the project management insight that you need. Completing tasks such as training team members, developing study budgets, or being the main port of call for study sponsors (all of which are within the realms of a CPM job), will put you in good stead. If you’re viewed as already performing some of the responsibilities of a CPM, it will be easier for you to slide into the hot seat once an opportunity arises.

Demonstrate the necessary skills

An interesting survey summed up the top skills needed to be a successful CPM:

1. Communication skills

The Clinical Project Manager is at the epicentre for all projects and leads the communication between stakeholders and across team members. The correct flow of information directly affects the outcome of any trial.

2. Interpersonal attributes

As the majority of projects must galvanise various teams stemming from a multitude of departments, a CPM must be able to lead a diverse group of people, encouraging strengths and delegating effectively.

3. Vast experience

The ideal CPM doesn’t only boast solid organisational skills but also displays leadership qualities when project planning multiple trials. By utilising their understanding of project management processes that they have executed elsewhere, they will have the skills to set themselves up for success.

4. A proactive attitude

Proactiveness was surveyed as being one of the most sought-after skills for a CPM in Australia. Being able to anticipate potential problems with a trial, and putting contingencies in place to avoid complications, is greatly valued.

What You Should Look For

As you search for the ideal CPM role, take the time to decide on the direction you would like to steer your career and what industries you’re interested in working within. Remember, it is always easier to make the move internally within your current employer rather than to persuade a new employer to take the risk. 

However, if this isn’t possible, consider an employer with a track record of promoting their SCRAs into CPMs and look to join this company, even if it means another 12 months as an SCRA before the opportunity arises. 

As a CPM, there are a wide variety of options; you can find work anywhere from clinical research organisations where you are hired by other companies to complete all the clinical research support, to a non-profit institution. In such a competitive market, it’s also a good idea to explore all of your options, and looking into regional or global roles is another avenue if you cannot find roles locally.

Final Thoughts

Perhaps it’s time to flex your project management muscles and seriously consider a Clinical Project Manager position. While competition is tough for what is really a handful of roles, the silver lining is that if you illustrate the relevant skills and experience discussed here, we are certain you will be seen as worth investing in.

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