n your career path, no matter what your profession is, there will be times that you feel confused, lost or frustrated. You wish to have that light in the dark to guide you in the right direction, or a hand to hold as you navigate through the battle. Is this a mentor or a coach? Which is it that you need in order to be successful and further your career.

Let’s start with some definitions:

According to Wikipedia, Mentoring is a process for the informal transmission of knowledge, social capital, and the psychosocial support perceived by the recipient as relevant to work, career, or professional development; mentoring entails informal communication, usually face-to-face and during a sustained period of time, between a person who is perceived to have greater relevant knowledge, wisdom, or experience (the mentor) and a person who is perceived to have less.

A coach is someone who gives people special teaching in a particular subject, especially in order to prepare them for an examination. Coaching is a form of development in which an experienced person, called a coach, supports a learner or client in achieving a specific personal or professional goal by providing training and guidance(from Wikipedia).

How does this apply to project managers? Let’s translate these definitions into project management languages. For a project manager, a coach is someone who can teach you skills, provide guidance for your skills development. Consider this is someone who show you the light in the darkness. A mentor is someone possibly senior in the organization to provide general social support and advise for your development in the organization, not necessarily specific to the project management skills. Consider this is a shoulder to cry on. Which one do you need? Both!!

A coach can help you with general project management skills. Particularly the soft skills which takes a long time to develop. When you are in a difficult project situation, a coach is someone you call and get guidance. It could be someone from the organization or from external. They key to a good coach is someone who has the expertise and able to provide objective guidance instead of telling you what to do next. The guidance is your guardrails to support you figuring out your way forward. At the end of the day, you learn best from your own mistakes. However, you do not want to make big mistakes at the price of your job.

A mentor is very helpful for you to climb the corporate ladder. The stake holders, influences of decision making. how you should network and what position/experiences you should get next. Such advise comes from a mentor that has the map of the organization. A mentor has to have good knowledge of the organization and understands the career path you aspire to. A mentor’s advise is not project and case specific. It is certainly much more high level. If you want to advance in an organization, get a mentor.

Do you have a good coach for your skills?