Project management is becoming an increasingly popular career choice for a large number of professionals, many of whom are aware of the significant career development opportunities it provides. It is also a dynamic, exciting and fast-paced role that challenges your decision-making skills and tests the limits of your leadership capabilities.
As a result, knowing how to get into this constantly evolving profession is key, especially with the multitude of vacancies that are available across the public and private sectors right now. To start you off, we’ve compiled a brief guide on the basics, from the qualifications you’ll need to the opportunities that potentially await you.
So, whether you’re an IT guru, a construction developer or simply fresh out of school, read on – this is how to become a project manager…
1. Research the Profession
As with any potential career path, you should always research the role thoroughly first. This will give you a clearer indication of the pros and cons, as well as force you to consider how it relates to your career goals and ambitions.
Project managers operate in a wide variety of industries and are responsible for guiding company projects from start to finish. This includes taking charge of the people, resources and budget involved, and ensuring that the project is completed within a certain timeframe.
While it is possible to become a ‘general’ project manager from the outset, many professionals arrive in the role having gained prior knowledge and experience in a specific field or industry. This is particularly the case in the following sectors, where an understanding of certain techniques or practices is important:
- information technology (IT)
As the focal point of the assignment, there is a large degree of accountability in project management. Some of the key responsibilities that would be expected of you are to:
- have a strong understanding of project management methodologies, such as AGILE, SCRUM, Waterfall and PRINCE2
- liaise with senior management, clients and stakeholders to determine the exact project requirements
- create a plan tailored to these needs that take into account scope, timescale and policy, as well as resource requirements and personnel
- identify roles and responsibilities of the designated project team, including hierarchical structure and the potential use of any external support
- utilise individual skillsets appropriately in order to achieve maximum efficiency during the working process, including continual motivation of all team members to stay on target and reach goals
- provide regular status reports in order to update team members, stakeholders and partners on the project’s progress
- constantly assess and reassess the current situation in order to detect possible issues and prevent them
- resolve any conflict as and when it happens between or involving team members, stakeholders and partners
- delegate tasks throughout the project, remaining flexible and open to directional change at any given time
- keep the direction of the project pointed in the right direction at all times, and analyse and implement corrective measures if progress starts to stall.
Essential Skills and Qualities
In order to be a successful project manager, there are several skills and qualities that are imperative for you to possess. These include:
- highly effective communication skills in order to delegate and motivate as necessary, as well as to provide reports and updates to stakeholders
- strong time management skills in order to manage overall timelines but also to prioritise staff workloads as well as your own valuable time
- excellent organisational skills in order to juggle the various responsibilities of the role while keeping everything moving forward
- good leadership skills in order to lead and manage the project and ensure everyone is pulling in the same direction
- the ability to negotiate not just with external vendors and parties but also with senior management, clients and even team members in order to attain what is in everyone’s best interests
- risk management skills in order to identify any potential risks or issues that could have a negative impact on the project, and to manage said risks accordingly.
Working Hours and Conditions
As a project manager, you will work with your team within the usual confines of your industry’s regular working hours. However, it is highly likely that during particularly sensitive periods in the project timeline – especially when there are deadlines involved – you will have to work considerably more hours to ensure everything is on course. This might also include working weekends, as well as having to be on call constantly to address any emergencies or issues as they arise.
The job can also be highly stressful; few projects reach their conclusion without a few surprises or hiccups along the way. As you gain more experience, you will become more adept at negating and managing such issues, but it is a steep learning curve and it is important to reflect on and analyse your performance in order to develop and improve.
It is difficult to attribute a definitive figure to the average salary of a project manager, as there are a number of variables that have a significant effect. These include your level of experience, your industry and even your location, but it’s safe to say that, in general, project managers are well compensated for their efforts.
As a rough guide, you could expect to earn between $89,000 and $135,000 in the US, while in the UK it’s possible to command a salary of anything between £26,000 and £88,000.
2. Get the Qualifications
As previously mentioned, it is possible to study for a project management-specific degree or diploma and enter the profession directly. However, this isn’t necessarily the ‘advised’ route, as most companies require candidates to possess existing knowledge and experience in their respective industry. As a result, there are no ‘set’ education requirements, with most project managers studying in their own field and then taking on a project management course further down the line (either in the shape of a postgraduate qualification or a specialist certificate).
At the entry level, there are several such appropriate courses, with some of the most credible including:
- the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM), the precursor to the gold standard PMP, and administered by the Project Management Institute (PMI) – it costs around $300 (£225) with a discount for PMI members
- the PRINCE2 (Foundation Tier), a widely recognised certificate administered by the ILX Group and costing $200 (£150)
- the Associate in Project Management (APM), administered by the Global Association for Quality Management (GAQM) and costing around $300 (£225).
Alternatively, many large companies are now offering bespoke training programmes to entry-level candidates in the form of project management apprenticeships. These include:
- Lloyds Banking Group
3. Land Your First Job
The easiest way to establish yourself in the field of project management is to gain some experience in your industry before undertaking one of the training courses mentioned above. Depending on your employer, you might be given a chance to prove yourself on a small project first or you may apply more formally for a designated project manager role, either internally or with another company.
Many larger organisations are keen to develop and train their own personnel in this area, too, so discuss your ambitions and goals with your management team early on in your career. A good boss will give you opportunities to step forward and gain valuable experience, so make sure they understand what you’re hoping to achieve in the long term.
4. Develop Your Career
Once you have built up a small portfolio of successful projects and you feel more confident in the role, you can look at building up your credentials and following a more structured development path. There are several courses that are aimed at mid-tier and experienced professionals, including:
- the PMP, which is widely viewed as the global gold standard in project management and is compatible with all industries and methodologies – it costs $555 (£420), although PMI members receive a discount
- the PRINCE2 (Practitioner), which is a step up from the Foundation Tier and costs $340 (£255)
- the Professional in Project Management (PPM), which is awarded by the GAQM and is a progression of the APM certificate – it costs $300 (£225)
It is also worth considering joining a professional body, such as the PMI or the Association of Project Managers (APM), as they provide regular training courses and seminars on the latest developments in the industry, as well as exposure to the latest tools and software programs on the market. It is also an invaluable opportunity to network and build up contacts in your own and other industries.
Finally, don’t stop learning. Reflect and analyse your performance on every project and seek feedback from those above and below you; take the lessons that you learn from each assignment and apply them to the next. Generally speaking, you should keep abreast of current management trends and techniques, too; there are numerous books and online resources that cover all aspects of project management in depth.
According to a recent report commissioned by the PMI, there is a growing talent gap in the project management sector. Indeed, they claim that, globally, employers will need to fill a staggering 2.2 million project management vacancies each year up to 2027. This, of course, is music to the ears of qualified jobseekers, as well as provides a major incentive to those who are considering making the move.
Ultimately, ‘project manager’ is the new buzzword that every mid-level professional wants on their CV, with employers seeking to recruit leaders who can make an impact on their organisation. It involves more than just organising people and resources, though; project management is about challenging and developing yourself, too.
So, if you want to test your career limits, and see just what you’re capable of in the workplace, then why not consider it? Who knows where it might take you?
Are you a project manager? What advice would you give? Let us know in the comments below…