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Project Management Course Will Teach Students How to Lead

This is the continuation in a series on faculty teaching in the MS in Leadership for Creative Enterprises program.

By Jacob Nelson

The words “project management” seem inevitably (and unfortunately) linked to corporate office world tedium: cubicles. Conference rooms. Maybe even a broken fax machine.

This fall, Dan Heck is hoping to change that, by turning project management into a skillset targeted toward people interested in working in artistic industries. Heck will be teaching a course for Northwestern’s new MS in Leadership for Creative Enterprises program, a one-year program designed to help students develop the business skills and industry contacts needed to thrive in a creative environment.

“Performing arts environments know how to close projects so much better than corporations,” Heck said. “When corporations close, they never close the curtain, but there’s nobody in the audience anymore. They look around and realize they’re working on something that’s obsolete.”

The purpose of Heck’s course will be to offer students the skills they need to work with people on artistic pursuits, but also to become aware of the many ways they can use the skills they’ve honed, regardless of whether its proficiency in acting or in playing a musical instrument. “Part of getting into the business of the arts is to learn to be adaptable,” Heck said.

He described the career trajectory of a friend who began as a musician with a record deal and ended up a patent lawyer with a recording studio in his basement.

“He’s not beholden to any music company,” Heck said. Then, with a laugh, he added, “I thought some of the music stunk, but he couldn’t care less.”

What’s exciting for Heck about this class is not just the chance to teach students skills they can use in their artistic pursuits, but also the opportunity to drive home the idea that corporations are waking up to their need to hire people with fine arts backgrounds.

“The corporate world is waking up to creativity and imagination as a key component to creating and marketing new products,” Heck said. “It’s a great challenge to mix the utility of project management with the relationship competencies of the performing arts mindset.”