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Project Manager Career Paths

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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.

In this Article

Project Manager 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:

  • Creating a project plan that outlines the timeline, budget, and staff needed
  • Managing and delegating tasks
  • Ensuring the project is staying within budget and on time
  • Identifying and resolving any issues that occur
  • Communicating updates to all team members as needed
  • Making sure the project will be delivered exactly as specified
  • Sharing updates with clients
  • Tracking project data and metrics to measure progress

"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 as a Project Manager

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?

Morgan Martin

CEO and Founder, CoApt Projects, LLC, a business that connects project managers with companies

"Soft skills that make for effective project managers include communication, negotiation, and the ability to organize chaos. Don't worry about extroversion or introversion when deciding on a career in project management, but you should expect that your primary role in any industry will be to make sure all stakeholders understand the project vision, milestones, and roadblocks as they arise. Successful project managers are able to get into the weeds alongside the development team, and moments later be able to step back to a bird's eye view to explain high-level project progress to executives, clients, and sponsors. PMs need to be true team players, continuously learning and empowering the team from within."

Your primary role in any industry will be to make sure all stakeholders understand the project vision, milestones, and roadblocks as they arise.

Jon M. Quigley, MS, PMP, CTFL

Long-time Project Manager and Product Developer

"A project manager will have a wide range of skills to be effective. This includes:

  • Communication skills, both written and verbal
  • Team-building skills
  • Conflict management skills
  • Organizational skills

"A project manager doesn't need to be equally skilled in each of these areas. However, like any job, it is good to know one's strengths and derive strategies and tactics for mitigating these shortcomings. For example, if you have trouble keeping meeting notes, you might find a team member that is adept at this and get them to be the scribe."

Dr. Nebil Buyurgan

Director, Project Management Master's Program, Missouri State University

Buyurgan suggests project managers embrace the following skills:

  • Communication
  • Negotiation
  • People skills
  • Strategic management
  • Leadership
  • Time management

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:

Information Technology

What do PMs do: Create, plan, and implement new computer-based programs and systems at businesses. In this role, you'll ensure new programming is running efficiently, is solving the problem it was intended to solve, and is cost-effective. You'll oversee staff training on new programming and handle any difficulties that occur.

Where they work: An information technology manager could find work at any company that uses computer-based programming to do any part of their business. This could mean everything from large-scale programming controlling data security at an international corporation to inter-office communication and scheduling at a small business.

Software Development

What do PMs do: Develop, troubleshoot, and oversee new software programs. In this role, you'll create software programs to address an issue a business is having or fill a need that is not being met. You'll be responsible for ensuring the software works correctly and for handling any issues that arise.

Where they work: Corporations, large businesses, technology companies, development companies

Construction and Engineering

What do PMs do: Work with construction teams and clients to ensure projects are being completed as scheduled and aren't going over budget. In this role, you'll act as a point of communication between the client and the construction or engineering team. You'll ensure that the plan is being followed and that any issues are addressed before they become large problems.

Where they work: Construction firms, engineering firms, real estate development firms, government agencies

Healthcare Administration

What do PMs do: Ensure that healthcare organizations are safe and compliant with regulations. In this role, you'll implement new projects for a healthcare organization and ensure that they are carried out safely, effectively, and compliantly. You'll oversee projects and adjust them as needed to best serve patients. 

Where they work: Hospitals, healthcare systems, medical practices, skilled nursing facilities, rehabilitation centers, insurance companies

Marketing and Advertising

What do PMs do: Create and oversee campaigns to attract more clients to a business. In this role, you'll work within a company's budget to create promotional materials, advertisements, and more as part of marketing campaigns. You'll track the results to see how business has increased as a result of the campaigns.

Where they work: Although marketing and advertising project managers sometimes work independently or at marketing agencies, they can work with any business that needs promotion or advertisement.

Training and Development

What do PMs do: Ensure that every staff member is able to do their job efficiently, correctly, and safely. In this role, you might create onboarding for new staff and track how it helps them during their first 90 days of employment. You might also create and implement training for current staff and track how it improves production, morale, care, or any other targeted factor.

Where they work: Corporations, large businesses, retail chains, resort and entertainment chains, healthcare facilities, government agencies


What do PMs do: Oversee new projects and ensure work is being completed cost effectively. In this role, you'll design and implement new products to improve a company's profits. You'll track the quantity, quality, and speed of product output after a new project is implemented.

Where they work: Factories, plants, warehouses, and other industrial centers

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.

A Day in the Life of a Project Manager

Your days as a project manager can be as varied as the projects you take on.

"This is a good thing about project management if you get bored quickly: a project manager will have a wide range of days," says Quigley. Even on an average day, he says, you should be prepared to run into a surprise or two.

"You will frequently encounter situations that are beyond what you know at that moment," he says. "You'll need to solve the crisis, even when it is not in your area of expertise because when things are left unattended, the project can suffer greatly. The project success or failure often rests on your participation."

What about when you're not solving a crisis? Your days will likely be spent making sure everything runs smoothly. What that involves will depend on the project itself, but your typical day will keep you busy.

You'll need to solve the crisis, even when it is not in your area of expertise.

"(Your day will involve) everything from team building, technical problem resolution, business topics, strategies, tactics, and more," Quigley says. "The project manager works to keep the team focused on the objective, ensuring clarity of scope. They work to develop the schedule and identify risks with the team members, circumvent obstacles, and work with the management structure to maintain prioritization."

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."

Stay Connected

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.

stephanie behring

Written and reported by:

Stephanie Behring

Contributing Writer

jon quigley

With professional insight from:

Jon M. Quigley, MS, PMP, CTFL

Project Manager, Product Developer

nebil buyurgan

Dr. Nebil Buyurgan

Director, Project Management Master's Program, Missouri State University

morgan martin

Morgan Martin, PMP, MPA, CEBS

CEO and Founder, CoApt Projects, LLC

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