How to Become a Project Manager

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3 Steps to Starting a Project Management Career

Step 1 Get a project management education

Oftentimes people who become project managers take the role because their current employer asks them to. In those cases, they may be able to hone their skills from taking a few project management courses. In other cases, employers may require that project managers earn a degree to get a position.

People can earn project management degrees on the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels. Those who earn bachelor’s degrees in project management learn how to take control of projects in order to support an organization’s objectives. Coursework covers contracts, procurement, business systems analysis, cost and schedule control, and adaptive project management. Similarly, higher-level degrees are designed to teach certified project managers advanced concepts related to management theory and ethics, business negotiation, agile management, enterprise modeling, and risk management systems.

Step 2 Choose a specialization

Project managers can be found in a variety of fields, so they should decide what area they want to specialize in and tailor their training to that industry. Some of the areas that project managers can specialize in include health care, information technology, construction, energy, and engineering.

Step 3 Earn a certification

Earning a certification can help prospective project managers demonstrate their expertise and stand out from other applicants when looking for a job. The Project Management Institute offers the Project Management Professional and Certified Associate in Project Management certifications. In addition, professionals can earn certifications from the International Association of Project Managers, the A/E/C Project Management Association, and the American Academy of Project Management.

Different organizations have different standards for issuing certifications. For example, in order to receive a Project Management Professional credential, applicants should complete a 200-question examination. In addition, the Project Management Institute has prerequisites of 7,500 hours of practical experience and 35 hours of project management education for those with an associate’s degree or less, or 4,500 hours of experience leading projects and 35 hours of project management education for applicants with a bachelor’s degree or higher. To maintain the certification, people must complete professional development units every three years.

Similarly, to earn a Certified Project Manager certification from the International Association of Project Managers, candidates do not need to have certain prerequisites, but they are expected to pass a certification exam online. Areas that are covered in the test include project review, risk analysis, team building, budgeting, and project close-out.

FAQ on Becoming a Project Manager

  • Yes. In order to get an idea of what it’s like to take a certification exam, people can obtain study guides that cover the topics on the test and include sample questions. Exam preparation guides can be obtained by the organization that issues the certification.

  • Being a member of professional organizations helps project managers network with each other, as well as potential employers. Some of the associations that project managers can become active in include the International Project Management Association, the American Management Association, the Project Management Institute, the A/E/C Project Management Association, and the American Academy of Project Management.

  • When competing for jobs, getting an edge over the competition is important—so informal training can be extremely useful. People can get informal project management training by taking leadership roles in volunteer activities. Also, people can shadow current project managers or get mentoring in order to obtain training outside of the classroom.

  • Project managers are expected to have competence in several computer programs used in the field. Some of the technologies that project managers may be required to have expertise in include Basecamp, Microsoft Project, Oracle Primavera Systems, Quantum Software Solutions Quantum Project Manager, and Atlassian JIRA.

Project Management Salary & Job Growth

According to PayScale, the annual median income for project managers is $71,471. The site also breaks down annual salary levels based on how much experience professionals have, with entry-level project managers making $60,000 and mid-career workers making about $75,000. Experienced project managers who have worked in the field for 10 to 20 years can earn $85,000 and those with more than 20 years of experience earn $91,000.

Also, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics outlines the median annual earnings of those who do project management work under different job titles. For example, construction managers average $91,370 each year, computer and information systems managers make $139,220, architectural and engineering managers earn $137,720, and advertising, promotions, and marketing managers make $129,380.

Alabama Mean wage annual: $84,859
Currently Employed: 7,230
Change in Employment (2016-2026): -1.60%
Alaska Mean wage annual: $81,840
Currently Employed: 2,840
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 3.90%
Arizona Mean wage annual: $65,290
Currently Employed: 16,330
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 16.90%
Arkansas Mean wage annual: $60,450
Currently Employed: 6,070
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 11.30%
California Mean wage annual: $82,820
Currently Employed: 156,510
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 15.10%
Colorado Mean wage annual: $79,880
Currently Employed: 40,580
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 22.70%
Connecticut Mean wage annual: $75,400
Currently Employed: 7,680
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 5.70%
Delaware Mean wage annual: $78,130
Currently Employed: 1,430
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 10.10%
Florida Mean wage annual: $68,500
Currently Employed: 74,050
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 19.50%
Georgia Mean wage annual: $72,390
Currently Employed: 36,290
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 5.50%
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A study commissioned by the Project Management Institute indicates that there will be healthy job growth for project managers in the coming years. In fact, between 2017 and 2027, there will be a 33 percent increase in project management jobs, which amounts to about 22 million positions being added to the workforce. The organization further details specific sectors that will see growth in its Project Management Job Growth and Talent Gap report, which states that the most new jobs will be created in the information science, utilities, manufacturing and construction, finance and insurance, and oil and gas sectors.

Finding a Project Management Program

The right project management program can help professionals lay the foundation for a successful career. Some of the questions to ask when searching for a school include: How much is tuition? How long does it take to complete a degree? Are courses delivered online or on campus? The search tool below can help prospective students find the project management program that’s right for them.

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Professional Project Management Associations & Groups

Communication skills are important for any project manager, and one way to hone these skills is by joining an industry association and networking with other professionals. In addition, these organizations provide tools that help project managers keep up with changes in the industry.

  • Project Management Institute

    Since 1969, the Project Management Institute has been working to help project managers in a variety of sectors advance in their careers. The organization provides certifications, a research program that conducts evidence-based studies about the field, training programs, and guides that outline the best practices and standards project managers should adhere to. In addition, the organization has local chapters around the world where members can connect with and learn from each other.

  • American Management Association

    The American Management Association provides a variety of resources to help project managers develop their skills, including online training programs, seminars, webinars, white papers, podcasts, and a resource library. In addition, the association has a Women’s Leadership Center that provides a forum for female professionals to share ideas with their peers and strengthen their managerial acumen.

  • International Association of Project Managers

    This organization is dedicated to increasing the competence of project managers through education, certification, support groups, specialized publications, and industry conferences. Also, the IAPM honors those who are excelling in the profession by offering the Project Manager of the Year award, as well as a Book of the Year award for authors who have made a significant contribution to the literature and knowledge base of the field.

  • A/E/C Project Management Association

    This group caters to the education needs of project managers in the architecture, engineering, and construction industries. People can earn a certification, access free classes and webinars, and receive studies and reports in order to build their knowledge and skills. In addition, members can get leads from the organization’s job board and network with each other through its discussion forum.

  • Association for Project Managers

    The APM helps to educate project managers in the construction and design sectors. Members can receive publications that inform them on the latest industry news and participate in seminars to help them hone their skills.

  • American Academy of Project Management

    Founded in 1996, this organization provides a number of certifications, including the Master Project Manager, Certified International Project Manager, Certified Oil and Gas Project Manager, and Accredited Agile Project Manager designations.

  • International Project Management Association

    This organization provides certifications that help project managers demonstrate competencies. The group also conducts industry research.

Resources for Project Managers

It’s important for project managers to continue learning in order to keep knowledge and skills sharp. The following are some helpful resources.