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Project Manager Career Paths
As a project manager, you create projects that help companies solve a problem, improve their profits, bring in new customers, and work more efficiently. As a project's main overseer, you monitor progress at each step to ensure it stays within the company's budget and can be completed in a realistic timeframe. You also work closely with your team members to make certain they understand their tasks, and you handle communication, conflict resolution, and more to achieve the project's desired outcome.
Project managers work in a wide variety of industries and workplaces. They're needed in healthcare, construction, software development, and more.
Responsibilities and Duties
The exact tasks you take on will depend on your industry, job title, and the specific project you're handling. However, there are some responsibilities common to most project manager jobs:
"The organization's expectations of the project manager have great variation," says Jon M. Quigley, MS, PMP, CTFL, a project manager who has been working in the field of project management since 1995. "Some organizations have the project manager essentially conducting the project like it was their business."
Dr. Nebil Buyurgan, director of the project management master's program at Missouri State University agrees.
"Depending on the industry, company, and the project, a typical day for a project manager changes," says Buyurgan. "Some projects require more hands-on management (while others) require resource enabling for the project team."
Skills You Should Have
Project managers lead teams to successful outcomes, so it makes sense that you'd need to be highly organized, a great communicator, and have outstanding people skills to succeed in this career.
What do the professionals say?
Your primary role in any industry will be to make sure all stakeholders understand the project vision, milestones, and roadblocks as they arise.
What Fields of Work Employ Project Managers?
"Project management and project managers are everywhere," Quigley says.
Large and small companies alike require some measure of project management, Quigley adds.
Common fields that employ project managers include:
What is a Project Management Process?
There are five general phases of a project:
- Initiation: A project is proposed, agreed upon, and determined to be realistic, within budget, and helpful for the business.
- Planning: Details are figured out, finalized, and approved.
- Execution: The project begins, tasks are assigned, and results begin to be monitored.
- Project Monitoring and Control: The project is carried out and tracked to ensure it stays on schedule and within budget.
- Closure: The project comes to an end and delivers its final results.
As a project manager, your responsibilities will shift during each phase. The phases are a general guideline for moving through a project. Different organizations might have different names for these phases or might want additional steps included.
"Each industry may require different standards in projects, thus requiring a different set of tools, processes, or approaches," says Buyurgan. For example, a construction project will require different approaches than a software development project.
For instance, software developers or information technology project managers might work with specialized project management processes such as the Waterfall or the Agile method. These processes are designed with software implementation in mind. They follow many of the same basic steps but focus on designing new programs or software and on customer response to new products. Conversely, more traditional project management processes are more appropriate for a marketing campaign or construction site.
Each industry may require different standards in projects, thus requiring a different set of tools.
You'll likely touch on the essential phases of project management during your educational program, but you'll need to be prepared to adapt them for your specific employer and project. Additionally, new technology and new best practices might redefine what these phases look like as your career progresses. They provide a good framework, but are not set in stone.
You'll likely touch on the essential phases of project management during your educational program, but you'll need to be prepared to adapt them for your specific employer and project.
What Education Do I Need?
You can work as a project manager with various levels of education—there are opportunities available for graduates of associate, bachelor's, and master's programs. The right educational path depends on your exact career goals and the industry you want to work in. For instance, there generally aren't associate-level degrees available specifically in project management. However, you could earn an associate's in business administration, information technology, healthcare management, or another field related to the industry you want to work in. From there, you could gain an entry-level project management role and then get on-the-job experience and training to further advance your career.
The right educational path depends on your exact career goals and the industry you want to work in.
"On-the-job-training can work for some people, although it can be much faster to acquire a formal degree," says Quigley. "In some cases, you might be able to advance your education later with the help of your employer. I actually obtained my master's degree through the company I worked for at the time."
You could also start with a bachelor's or master's degree and apply for higher-level roles earlier in your career. A bachelor's degree can allow you to gain the foundational knowledge you need to work as a project manager in multiple industries. A master's degree can help you become a leader in the field and possibly gain large-scale roles in top industries.
Do I Need to Be Certified?
There are no national or state certification mandates for project managers. However, many companies do require, or at least prefer, that their project managers are certified. That means it's a great idea to earn certification. It can boost your project management career and might help you bring home a bigger paycheck. There are several certifications available for project managers and the right one for you depends on your exact industry and career path.
Salary and Job Outlook
Project managers are well compensated for the responsibilities they take on. Salaries can vary depending on the exact job title you have and the industry you work in. Factors such as your education, experience level, certification status, and the size of your projects can also make a large difference in your salary. The Job Growth and Talent Gap report from the Project Management Institute (PMI), a global professional organization for project managers, indicates that both salaries and opportunities for project managers are on the rise.
Factors such as your education, experience level, certification status, and the size of your projects can also make a large difference in your salary.
"PMI states that demand…for project managers is growing faster than demand for workers in other occupations, and estimates that by 2027, employers will need nearly 88 million individuals in project management-oriented roles," says Martin. "The COVID-19 pandemic has only expedited this growth, as we've seen an exponential increase in healthcare project managers, for obvious reasons, but across all other sectors project managers are increasingly valued for holding together schedules amidst new work-life balance expectations, and managing communication across remote teams."
Communication and collaboration are vital skills for a project manager. To succeed in this field, you'll need to stay connected. This goes beyond accepting your LinkedIn requests. It's also a great idea to follow some organizations, blogs, and social media accounts.
- Project Management Institute (PMI)
- PMI offers certification, online learning and career development, networking opportunities, and more. Members can also read PMI's journals and articles to stay up-to-date in the field.
- International Project Management Association (IMPA)
- IMPA is an international association offering certification, career coaching, industry publications, and networking events to project management professionals worldwide.
- Project Management Podcast
- The Project Management Podcast is hosted by industry expert Cornelius Fichtner, PMP, CSM, and provides a wealth of information for project managers at all stages of their careers. Plus, you can earn free continuing education credits to help keep your certification active by listening to the podcast.
- Project Management Institute Educational Foundation (PMIEF) Resource Library
- PMIEF's resource library provides free downloads of books, webinars, workshops, and more for project managers and project management students.