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The Ultimate Guide to Project Manager Careers: Pathways, Skills, and Opportunities

Contents

Introduction

If you're considering stepping into the dynamic world of project management or looking to scale the ladder of success in your existing project manager career, you've landed in the right place.

The project management labour force is expected to grow by 33%, or 22 million new jobs, by 2027

The term "project manager careers" has seen a remarkable search surge, indicative of the growing relevance and demand for this role across various industries. In this comprehensive guide, I'll explore everything from the skills you need to the pathways you can take.



A project manager talking to a colleague

What is Project Management?

Okay, it's pretty basic, but it is always the place to start.


Project management is the discipline of initiating, planning, executing, controlling, and closing the work of a team to achieve specific goals within a given timeframe and budget. A project manager is the central figure in this process, overseeing all aspects to ensure successful completion.


A project manager is the linchpin that holds various project elements together.


A typical project manager will oversee the following;

  1. Initiation: Defining the scope and objectives of the project.

  2. Planning: Creating a detailed project plan, including timelines, milestones, and resource allocation.

  3. Execution: Overseeing the work being done, ensuring that it aligns with the project plan and falls within budget.

  4. Monitoring and Controlling: Regularly assessing progress to ensure the project stays on course, making adjustments as necessary and mitigating risks.

  5. Communication: Acting as the main point of contact between stakeholders, team members, and sometimes clients, ensuring everyone knows the project's status.

  6. Quality Management: Ensuring that the project meets the pre-defined quality standards and requirements.

  7. Risk Management: Identifying potential risks and developing contingency plans to mitigate them.

  8. Budget Management: Monitoring and controlling costs to ensure the project stays within budget.

  9. Resource Management: Allocating and managing resources such as manpower, materials, and time efficiently.

  10. Closure: Wrapping up all project activities, delivering the final output, and conducting a post-project evaluation.

Why Choose a Career in Project Management?

Simply put, it can be gratifying, especially if you like a challenge.


A couple of criteria define projects;

  • They are temporary - That is to say, they should have a definitive start and end and not just run forever (although, honestly, I've seen some that do!)

  • They have unique objectives - So, normally, a project is doing something unusual that hasn't been done before.

These things can be challenging. They require working with people, problem-solving and attention to detail.


It's not a career for people who can't manage themselves, aren't organised, or don't like to engage with others. So, if you are serious, then be serious about your strength and your suitability. I hope so.


Growing Demand

The growing complexity of business operations has led to an increase in multi-disciplinary projects, thereby driving up the demand for skilled project managers.


46% of organisations are prioritising project management as a priority, and it is growing.


A staggering 70% of projects 'fail' or hit significant troubles, which is due to people running projects but not having experience. So, project managers with good skills are in increasing demand.


Financial Rewards

Project managers are among the top industry earners, making it a financially rewarding career. Jump to the salary section.


So, if that sounds interesting, you are looking at a solid pay check each month, but you will need to build up experience.



A project discussion

Flexibility

With project management, I've found you aren't tied to one specific industry. For example, if someone works in underwriting mortgages, that skill might not be as transferrable outside financial services. However, most organisations need some level of project management, regardless of what they are doing as an output. You could jump from textile manufacturing to event planning. There's a lot of flexibility.


I would, however warn that there are many niche specialisms in project management, such as software development or construction. If you can start to specialise, then the rewards can be even greater.


How to Start a Project Manager Career

Educational Requirements

A bachelor's degree in management, business, or a related field is typically required. Some also opt for post-graduate courses and certifications such as PMP® or PRINCE2®. But more so, to apply for a project management role, relatable experience is needed.


But how do you get experience?


Well, there are two main ways;


Manage Internal Projects

Put yourself forward for project management opportunties in your organisation (or perhaps an outside community you belong to).


If you see an opportunity, put your hand up, and try to employ some of the learnings you've acquired. There are lots of accessible sources of training and information out there (including this site, hint, hint). It's certainly how I started.


You can also take a slightly more complex piece of work and maybe wrap some light project management around it. This may demonstrate to those you work with the value and benefits of project management and lead to more opportunities.


An interview for a project manager

Look for Entry-Level Roles

Starting positions often include roles like project administrator, junior project manager, project coordinator, or project analyst.


These roles won't typically be looking for a lot of experience, and they are a great place to learn the craft—none of the pressures of running a project yourself, but all of the experiences.


Critical Skills for a Project Manager

Several vital skills would be looked for in a project manager;

  1. Communication: The ability to convey ideas effectively is paramount.

  2. Leadership: Guiding your team to success is a primary responsibility.

  3. Risk Management: Identifying and mitigating risks is crucial.

  4. Time Management: Meeting deadlines is often the difference between success and failure.

  5. Technical Proficiency: Familiarity with project management software like Jira or Asana can be a game-changer.

All of these can be learned, but leadership and communication are slightly different because you will need a natural tendency in these areas. You will need to lead and influence people, and you will need to communicate frequently with different layers of the organisation and its stakeholders.


Career Pathways in Project Management

I spoke earlier about specialisms. Here is a brief list of areas where people tend to specialise and could be seen as advanced project management niches.

  1. IT Project Manager: Specialising in technology-related projects.

  2. Construction Project Manager: Focused on construction and infrastructure.

  3. Healthcare Project Manager: Managing projects in the healthcare sector.

  4. Consulting Project Manager: Providing expert advice in a specific domain.

  5. Freelance Project Manager: Offering project management services on a contractual basis.


Salary and Job Outlook

According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), project managers can earn upwards of $100,000 annually. The job outlook continues to be positive, with a 33% growth rate expected by 2027.


The average project manager salary in the US is $87,411 at the time of writing, with a low of $56k and a high of $135k.


Training for prpject manager

Certifications

Certifications have become more than just a feather in one's cap; they are often a critical requirement for advancing your project management career. I've certainly hit dead ends on occasion through not having the specific certification that people are looking for, despite having the experience.


Credibility and Recognition

Project management certifications are globally recognised validations of your skills and knowledge in the field. Earning a certification can set art apart from your peers and could be the tie-breaker in a competitive job market.


Skill Enhancement

These certifications are designed not just to test but also to train. The study enriches your understanding of the principles and practices of project management, thus honing your skills and making you a more effective manager.


Career Growth

Being certified opens doors to higher-level positions, challenging projects, and increased earning potential. Employers view certified project managers as assets who can improve project success rates.


Popular Project Management Certifications

  1. PMP® (Project Management Professional): Offered by PMI, this is arguably the most recognised and respected certification globally.

  2. PRINCE2® (Projects IN Controlled Environments): This UK-based certification focuses on process-driven project management and is popular in Europe and Australia.

  3. CAPM® (Certified Associate in Project Management): Also offered by PMI, this is aimed at those new to project management.

  4. Agile and Scrum Certifications: These specialised certifications are ideal for project managers in rapid development environments.

  5. CSM (Certified ScrumMaster): Geared towards understanding Scrum methodology, this certification is ideal for project managers in the tech industry.

If you're serious about your career in project management, obtaining a relevant certification should be high on your list of priorities. It validates your skills and gives you the practical knowledge to improve project performance, making it a win-win for both you and your organisation.


Final Thoughts

The term "project manager careers" encompasses a range of opportunities that are diverse, rewarding, and ever-evolving. With the right skills, education, and focus, you can carve a fulfilling and lucrative career in this field.


So, if you plan to embark on or advance in your project manager career, now is the time to take action. Equip yourself with the necessary knowledge and skills, and you'll be well on your way to becoming an indispensable asset in any organisation.

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