Earning a Ph.D. in Project Management Online

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Become Team
July 30, 2019

Designed for experienced project managers and business professionals, online doctoral programs in project management can help you move into a senior position in your field. Graduates may become project portfolio managers, senior project managers, consultants, and top executives. Companies in many different industries employ project managers. They work in technical fields -- like information technology -- and in any business that operates large projects or develops new products.

Fortunately, earning your doctorate online requires the same skills as project management, including excellent time management and organizational skills, so you likely already possess the qualities needed for success. Completing an online program can also save you time and money compared to taking classes on campus. Online schooling allows you to keep working and balance other responsibilities with your education.

What Can You Do With a Ph.D. in Project Management?

Found in almost any industry, project managers use their organizational and leadership skills to take projects all the way from concept to completion. By pursuing a Ph.D. in project management online, you can advance in your field to manage larger teams and more complex projects.

Potential Careers & Salaries

Project management involves a broad set of skills that professionals in any field can apply to their industries. With a doctorate, project managers can move into senior management, lead large teams working on complex projects, train other project managers and project schedulers, manage corporate project portfolios, or become consultants. According to the Project Management Institute's Salary Survey, project management professionals holding doctorates in the US report median salaries of $112,000-$128,000.

Salaries for project managers vary by location, industry, project size, professional experience, and educational level. A doctorate can open the door to more responsibility and a higher salary. See the table below to learn more about how project manager positions vary by industry. Keep in mind that senior project managers typically command higher salaries than those listed.

Project Manager, Architecture

Annual Median Salary: $73,500

Project managers in this field oversee architectural projects, coordinating with architects and engineers to complete design, technical, and construction tasks. They make sure projects meet safety standards and stay on schedule and under budget. They typically have degrees or experience in both architecture and project management.

Project Manager, Engineering

Annual Median Salary: $90,500

Some of the most highly compensated project managers work in engineering, leading teams of specialized engineers and other experts to complete complex projects. Many have doctorates and engineering experience. These project managers prepare proposals and budgets, ensure projects meet safety regulations, and oversee product development and testing.

Project Manager, Marketing

Annual Median Salary: $60,000

Marketing project managers work in the fast-paced world of marketing, advertising, and promotions. They lead teams of designers, advertising executives, and technical experts to design, launch, and evaluate marketing campaigns. They keep their teams on schedule and solve problems as they arise. This position does not typically require a graduate degree, although senior positions may.

Project Manager, Pharmaceuticals

Annual Median Salary: $90,000

Project managers in the pharmaceutical industry work with research scientists to identify and develop new medications. They oversee testing and data analysis and ensure that new drugs meet safety regulations. They also work with marketing professionals to bring new products to market. This position typically requires a background in science and may require a graduate degree.

Project Manager, Software Development

Annual Median Salary: $86,000

As skilled problem-solvers with technical expertise, these project managers lead teams of software developers and programmers to create new software applications. Employers often prefer candidates who are familiar with particular project management methodologies, like Agile or Lean.


Traits of a Successful Project Manager

Successful project managers must be able to look at the big picture so that they can develop project plans, lead project teams, ensure projects stay on budget and on schedule, monitor progress, and solve problems that arise. They need general business communications, leadership, and technology skills, specific content knowledge, and familiarity with common project management practices.

Project management requires strategic thinking, innovation, and problem-solving as you shepherd projects from concept to completion. Learn more below about the essential skills for a project manager.

Project managers must be able to identify and solve complex problems. They do this by leading project teams that define problems, review and test possible solutions, and evaluate results to select the best option.
As business and team leaders responsible for developing complex projects and portfolios, project managers must make decisions in cooperation with other managers, experts, and team members.
Project managers typically lead teams responsible for innovation and the design of new products. They must be able to spark, recognize, and nurture creativity.

Salary by Experience Level

Project managers receive higher pay as they gain experience, as seen in the table below. Seasoned project managers have highly valued skills and expertise, and those with additional qualifications -- like professional certifications or graduate degrees -- can take on senior positions and lead more complex projects, earning even higher salaries.

Pay by Experience Level for Project Managers, General
Entry Level (0-12 Months) $55,000
Early Career (1-4 Years) $63,000
Midcareer (5-9 Years) $76,000
Experienced (10-19 Years) $86,000

Steps to Earning a Ph.D. in Project Management Online

While the specific requirements of each school differ, below are the most typical steps students take to earn a Ph.D. in project management online. After finding the right program and applying, students complete core courses and electives, then design and complete a research project.

Find the Right Program for You

Online programs vary in the amount of coursework and other requirements students can complete online. Some schools offer fully online programs, while others require hybrid classes or on-campus residencies. Many doctoral programs include in-person components. Make sure to research all program requirements before applying to ensure they suit your needs.


Applicants usually fill out an online application and submit all previous transcripts. Many online project management Ph.D. programs require a master's degree in business or a related field. The online application may also require one or more essays, a resume, and letters of recommendation.

Complete Coursework

Doctoral students must complete all fundamental, core, concentration, and research courses before beginning their dissertations. Some programs require students to pass comprehensive exams to demonstrate their mastery of course content before beginning their research.

Capstone, Dissertation, or Thesis

To earn a doctorate, students must complete a research project -- typically a dissertation. Usually, a doctor of business administration (DBA) will focus on the application of research to practical problems, while Ph.D. degrees require original research. The doctoral research process includes taking research courses, proposing and conducting research, analyzing data, and writing and defending a dissertation. Some programs also require doctoral candidates to publish their dissertations.

Curriculum for an Online Ph.D. in Project Management

Curricula for an online doctoral program in project management vary by school, degree type, and concentrations offered. For example, a doctor of business administration in project management may focus on developing broader business leadership skills. All graduate programs seek to train project managers to lead effective teams, think strategically, and manage complex projects. As you research programs, you will likely encounter courses like those listed below.

  1. Portfolio Management: Students explore project management theory and strategies for developing, managing, and assessing project portfolios in dynamic business environments. Students learn to align portfolios with organizational goals, measure performance, and encourage innovation.

  2. Ethical Leadership: This course examines ethical issues and challenges facing today's business leaders and project managers. Students learn the importance of personal ethical behavior and transparency as they explore ethical dilemmas and develop strategies for creating an ethical business culture.

  3. Strategic Thinking: This course explores the strategic value of effective project leadership in successful businesses. Students learn to integrate project and portfolio management into business planning to encourage innovation and high-quality operational planning.

  4. Consulting Theory and Practice: Doctorate holders provide an advanced level of project management expertise and can advise companies on ways to improve their strategic planning and project portfolio management. This course introduces students to business consulting strategies and best practices in project management.

  5. Research Methods: Doctoral candidates take several research courses to prepare for their dissertations. Students learn research design, data gathering, statistical analysis techniques, advanced qualitative research methods, and advanced quantitative research methods.

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