Project Management Career Guide

Global organizations across industries need project managers to connect strategy with execution.

Effectively completing projects on time and within budget is vital for driving innovation and delivering results. Project management practitioners are needed serve as the point person and manage all aspects of a project, including people, materials, time, cost, objectives and more.

Project management professionals, experts who utilize the skills, tools and techniques needed to complete these projects, are in high demand.

Project Management Job Outlook and Salary

By 2027, 87.7 million people will be needed in project management-oriented roles, according to a 2017 report by the Project Management Institute (PMI). Industries that are projected to have the most openings between now and 2027 include the following:

Projections can be attributed to several causes – an increase in jobs requiring project-oriented skills, uptick in talent demand in developing economies, including China and India, and growing attrition rates as skilled professionals decide to retire. For example, the attrition rate in manufacturing will result in 97% of job openings, according to the PMI report.

Project management professionals in the U.S. earn an average salary of $111,969, according to results from PMI’s project management salary survey released in 2015.

How to Become a Project Manager

To launch a project management career, professionals typically begin in their desired field and then develop into project management. Florida Tech Adjunct Professor Wayne Brantley, a certified Project Management Professional (PMP®), advises professionals to first earn a degree in their desired field, and gain experience before becoming a project manager.

One key reason inexperienced professionals can struggle to get started in project management is just that – they are new not only to project management but to projects and the industry itself. Since project management requires leadership at a systems level, the transition can be tough. Even so, regardless of whether your background is on the technical or the leadership side – or if you don’t have a professional background at all yet – you can launch your project management career with these steps.

Grow Your Skills

Successful project managers possess multiple skills to see a project through from end to end, including:

  • The ability to set up an organizational system. While the project methodology an organization uses may differ, what doesn’t vary is the need for a project manager to be able to establish a system to track tasks and progress.
  • Highly detailed planning. Project managers need to establish and maintain schedules, budgets, and stakeholder updates, all of which will need to be fine-tuned throughout.
  • The ability to lead a meeting. Most project managers need to lead regular status meetings where they hone in on potential issues and understand the status of all the moving pieces.
  • Skilled communication. More than simply being able to communicate well, a project manager will need to communicate well with stakeholders, by managing expectations, collecting and understanding data and metrics, driving cross-functional planning meetings, and escalating issues.

Aspiring project managers should assess which areas they need to improve on, and then find ways to do so.

“Develop. It is like a recipe for a delicious cake,” Brantley suggests. “Get the education in project management and other key skills like leadership, process improvement, Agile and other skills.”

That development doesn’t have to wait until you’re in a project manager role – it’s likely that your current job requires some elements of project management, even if they don’t go by the same names. Practice honing those skills and determine what types of education are appropriate for your goals.

Find Volunteer Opportunities

Florida Tech Project Management Instructor Cyndi Dionisio suggests aspiring project managers without any professional experience find a volunteer opportunity to practice project management. And, this doesn’t have to be limited to your organization – it can be for a passion project outside as well. Also, keep in mind that volunteering doesn’t have to be formal – start taking steps to manage the project. This may be as simple as volunteering to take meeting notes or drafting a schedule or scope document.

Bruce Harpham, the author of Project Management Hacks, recommends starting small, with a project you can manage yourself, as opposed to one that involves a dozen different departments.

Network with Professional Associations

Florida Tech Project Management Instructor Carl Pritchard recommends professional networks to make connections. “Participate,” he says. “They add immense value if you dive right in.”

For example, the Project Management Institute (PMI) offers local chapters allowing professionals access to resources, training and reports as well as also a network of local project managers you can connect with and learn from. Joining social media networks, such as groups dedicated to project managers on LinkedIn, is another way to network with professionals in your area and around the globe. TechRepublic lists seven LinkedIn groups project managers should join.

Find a Mentor

In addition to your new professional association, your own network can be a valuable resource for finding a mentor. Scour LinkedIn, share (as appropriate) your desired career change, and find out who you know that may be able to help you begin your career as a project manager. In seeking a mentor, remember that you are asking someone to give both their time and their knowledge. As a result, you should offer to support something they are already working on, instead of asking to observe work they are doing. While the support may be heavily task-oriented, it allows you to add value for your mentor in exchange for sharing his or her expertise.

Pursue Training and Education

After establishing an understanding both of the project management skills and where you need to grow, both from your own research and insight from those in your network and in mentor roles, you’re ready to obtain more formal training and education. While learning the methodologies is important, developing the core skills project managers require is equally important. A formal qualification or certification can also give you an advantage when you’re interviewing for positions.

If you’re just starting your career, earning a degree is a great place to start. If you are already experienced in your own profession and looking to bridge the gap between your industry and a project management career, a project management degree could be the right choice for you.

In addition to honing your hard skills, don’t neglect soft skills like interpersonal communication, conflict resolution, and time management.

“Focus on the soft skills as much as the technical skills,” Dionisio says. “People do projects, software, reports and plans don’t.”

Project Management Career Paths

The PMI lists the following career path and salary data:

Project Manager I (Coordinator or Scheduler)

  • $88,889 salary
  • Oversees a small project or phase(s) of a larger project. Reports to a senior project manager, Portfolio Manager or Program Manager.

Project Manager II

  • $97,618 salary
  • Manages multiple projects or one larger project. Responsible for creating a project team and allocating individual responsibilities, resources needed and budgeting time needed for completion. Reports to Portfolio Manager or Program Manager.

Project Manager III PMP Certified or Senior PM

  • $108,763 salary
  • Oversees high-priority projects, often requiring high levels of integration and considerable resources to complete. Additionally, this person manages the project from original concept to final implementation while ensuring adherence to quality standards and possibly communicating with company executives regarding the projects.

Program Manager

  • $121,082 salary
  • Manages multiple related projects, and in most cases, ongoing operations. Works with project managers to monitor schedule, cost and performance. Usually responsible for stakeholder management, including those outside of the organization.

Portfolio Manager

  • $133,287 salary
  • Duties vary depending on size of the organization and scope of the projects; however, a portfolio manager typically oversees an entire portfolio of projects and is responsible for ROI and alignment to an organization’s strategic objectives.

Other Career Possibilities in Project Management

In addition to the careers above, which are industry nonspecific, here are some growing opportunities for those seeking a future in this field.

IT Project Manager Career and Salary Profile

An IT Project Manager oversees IT projects including managing software development, merging databases and other network additions. Typically, a bachelor’s degree in computer or information science, paired with additional work experience, is required for this position. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, computer and information systems manager, which often refers to IT project managers, is projected to grow by 12% between now and 2026.

Health Services Project Administrator Career and Salary Profile

A Health Services Project Administrator’s duties and responsibilities vary depending on organization. In some settings, an administrator may direct teams for specific projects, including determining objectives, analyzing cost, and establishing timelines. A bachelor’s degree is a typical requirement in this field. However, some employees may require advanced education, such as an MBA, as compared to other opportunities that may only require a BA and healthcare experience. According to BLS, medical and health services managers, including health services project administrators, is projected to grow by 20% by 2026.

Project Management Consultant Career and Salary Profile

Project Management Consultants are typically brought in to help companies execute projects from planning to completion. A PM consultant may also analyze data and identify inefficiencies within the current process. A bachelor’s degree and work experience is a typical requirement. However, some companies may show preference to those who have advanced degrees, such as an MBA, or with certifications.

Are You a Good Fit For Project Management?

After exploring project management, it’s important also to ask yourself if you would enjoy doing the tasks required of project managers, and if you can, and want to, develop the soft skills that will drive those tasks.
Project management is both a challenging and rewarding career, as the full responsibility of a project’s success lies with the project manager. When asked what makes him passionate about project management, Pritchard responded, “Getting stuff done. That’s the true joy and essence of project management at its core.” If that pressure sounds like a thrill, you’re probably a great fit for project management.

The systems and processes implemented by projects will also continue to change and develop, so project managers need to be willing to continue to learn new things and adapt to changes in the organizational or greater business landscape.

Dionosio says, “It is never the same day twice. There is always something new to think about and new opportunities to learn.”

Do you have the skills and abilities it takes to become a project manager? If the answer is “yes” today, then you’re ready to launch your career in project management. If not, continue developing your skillset and honing your abilities within an industry you are passionate about. Project manager jobs will be available for skilled professionals – the growing market will almost certainly demand it.

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