048 – Brand Yourself with Sonia Mundra

048 – Brand Yourself with Sonia Mundra

Many Project Managers are on a trajectory that takes them from a more technical or tactical focus to a more leadership focus in their career, possibly transitioning from Project Management eventually to the Board Room.

But how do you do that? How do you make the transition from being known for technical execution to strategic leadership? Well, one of the main things to consider is how you brand yourself.

To help us learn about personal branding and growing from a tactical role to a strategic one is our special guest on this episode, Sonia Mundra. Sonia has successfully made this transition, and gives us some amazing coaching to help us grow into leadership  as well!


Our guest, Sonia Mundra is the President of Chenega Analytic Business Solutions (Chenega Analytic), an Alaska Native Corporation (ANC) and Small Disadvantaged Business (SDB).  Ms. Mundra helps federal and commercial agencies implement records and IT solutions. She has served in a variety of operational, financial and executive roles at Chenega.

In addition to leading Chenega Analytic, Ms. Mundra dedicates a significant amount of time to volunteer associations and activities which help educate and empower the regional technology community. She has spoken for various organizations, including CompTIA, ISACA, PMI, National Contract Management Association (NCMA), and Virginia Society of CPAs (VSCPA).

Ms. Mundra is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and Project Management Professional (PMP).


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Check out this episode!

Show Notes

About our guest, Sonia Mundra [2:11]

Sonia Mundra is the president of Chenega Analytic Business Solutions (CABS), an Alaskan Native corporation that helps agencies implement records and IT solutions. In addition to leading Chenega, Sonia also spends a lot of time volunteering to educate and empower the regional technological community. She’s spoken for various associations, and is a CPA and PM professional. One hundred percent of the profits of Chenega are returned to tribal shareholders in Alaska.

Sonia has worked in many different roles through her career, being an accountant by trade, and has worked in technical, operational, and executive roles. She enjoys spending time with her two sons and traveling.

The most valuable business lesson Sonia Mundra learned the hard way [6:34]

Sonia started out her work in a very technical setting, and saw competence as the best way to win over clients. But meeting with clients, she learned, isn’t about showing them how smart you are, but showing them how smart they are.

Technical and executive roles [7:43]

It’s important to be technically competent- but the skillsets of the executive are also about bridging relationships and building trust. Some PMs hold that PMs, at a certain point, don’t need any technically knowledge at all- Sonia says that you basically need to know enough to “be scary.” You don’t need to be an expert, technically, but you need to be able to detect and call out bullshit. Technical expertise isn’t a requirement, but you should know enough to understand when something is amiss, and to call them out if there is.

“What you got there won’t get you here” [12:25]

Often times we’re seen as a high performer as PMs, and many people become unhappily stuck in middle management. These cases should develop new skillsets, like communication, managing many different personalities, and bridging relationships. Being a project management is about communication, and you will need to know how to play some politics to get the best goods for your team.

What does it mean to “brand yourself?” [16:44]

All the decisions about your career are being made in a room where you are not present. You won’t be able to advocate yourself, so you need to make sure that those people are willing to advocate for you. You can’t be everything to everybody, and you need to be true to yourself.

Ask yourself: what are the three things that I want to be known for?, and make sure that you execute on this and are consistent in these.

360 Reviews [20:16]

360 Reviews are anonymous surveys you give out to people asking about what they think about you. The compiled results will probably have a few repeated patterns that will pop up continually. Even if you don’t expect these ideas due to experiences or personal ideas, often this results in unanticipated patterns in where you seem to be successful.

What skills do aspiring executives need to make the climb? [23:33]

There are two main things you need to focus on: the first is relationship building, and the second is strategy. Relationship building can be intimidating, but it’s important to take those opportunities to learn from others. This can mean going to networking events, where you can make connections on your own terms, and will build your confidence to make future connections.

Sonia suggests going to one networking event a month, and to try to meet 5 people there. Over the course of a year, you will have made 60 connections. That being said, go for quality over quantity- if you make just one, really good connection at an event, that’s still very valuable to you.

What makes a network worth it? [32:10]

If you go to an event, keep in touch with people. Whether it’s Facebook or LinkedIn, give them a reason to keep in touch with you. Even if it’s as simple as a “Happy Holidays” or “Happy New Year!”, try to keep in conversation with them. A successful connection looks like invitations, like attendance or even speaking roles at a conference. This is an indication that you are valued are they enjoy your company.

Building an internal network [35:17]

There’s a lot of task forces and initiatives in organization, and joining is often easy and a good a way to build this internal network. Another way to build this network relatively easily is to share an article of interest to people in your organization- it costs nothing, and, if it’s interesting to them, makes you memorable. Taking meeting minutes is also a great way to do this.

This is similar advice to what we usually give to listeners asking about how to break into project managing- talk to the PMO director in your company. Having conversations with these people not only builds your understanding, but also creates these connections. You can also ask someone to let you shadow them for a day- they are unlikely to refuse, and it can also lead you to meet other people along the way and gain a deeper understanding of your organization.

Exposure [41:30]

A lot of transition to a more executive role is about this exposure and soaking up these experiences. People need to know that if you’re promoted to this role that you will be able to be cool, calm, and collected when questioned

Measuring success [42:30]

Executives will check back up with you to see how you are doing- you might receive invitations to strategic meetings, or ask for your opinion. Executives often will begin coaching you without being prompted

Tips on how to develop our skill set [45:30]

There are other things besides being a technical expert in your field that can do this. Try asking your organization if they’d be willing to invest in an executive leadership coach, and consider in investing in one yourself. Consider improving your public speaking skills in whatever ways you can, and join and speak on panels in front of many people. Brush up on your finance and accounting skills so you have enough information to be scary. Ask senior leaders to identify areas you can improve- constructive criticism can be difficult, but it allows you to take action. Take training on emerging technologies, and understand how they can impact your business. This training doesn’t have to be extensive- it can be as simple as a podcast. Understand and learn the business development and sales process of your company. These ideas should be tweeked to your individual schedule and budget.

Resources for more information on this topic [50:25]

Sonia suggests you listen to PM Happy Hour, Fierce Feminine Leadership, and Idea Cast, How I Built This by NPR, Rise and Grime, and the Gary D Audio Experience for podcasts.

Recap [51:27]

We talked about building an external network at networking events, as well as your internal network, developing your suite skills, looking for feedback, and focusing on your business development.

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