How Do I Become a Project Manager?

Business is moving faster than ever, but companies are struggling to keep pace. Only 2.5% of companies successfully complete all their projects, according to a global study by PricewaterhouseCoopers, and the Harvard Business Review has discovered the average cost overrun of all projects is 27%. One in six companies’ overrun is 200%.

Needless to say, all these inefficiencies come with a price tag: for every $1 billion an organization invests, a $100 million is wasted due to poor project performance. In the United States alone, a shortage of project management talent puts over $20 billion of GDP at risk.

The good news is that project managers are among the most in-demand workers in the country. So how do you become a project manager, and what does the job entail?

What Do Project Managers Do?

Project managers work across multiple sectors, from business and finance, to construction management, information technology, healthcare administration, politics, nonprofit organizations, and more. Each role is different, just as each project is different, but the goal remains the same: complete project requirements on time and on budget, ensuring high-quality through project management knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques. Technical skills vary depending on the industry, but every successful project manager uses the same essential soft skills to manage and lead a project. Among a PM’s responsibilities include:

  • Manage individual projects from start to finish, meeting stakeholder requirements, achieving project objectives, and realizing strategic goals
  • Develop and and implement the scope, schedule, and budget of individual projects
  • Assemble, lead, and manage a team of diverse skill sets and backgrounds
  • Understand team dynamics, e-leadership, virtual teams, and multiculturalism
  • Apply professional business ethics throughout the project
  • Leverage business intelligence and data for decision-making
  • Use critical thinking and creative problem solving to make
    quick, effective decisions
  • Effectively communicate within the team and across organizations to set standards, monitor progress, meet quality standards, and achieve goals
  • Record, track, and archive all documentation on each project
  • Lead all risk management and control activities
  • Evaluate the social change impact on factors that contribute to sustainability in project management

What Kind of Degrees are Offered in Project Management?

Obtaining a degree in the field is one of the best ways to jumpstart a career in project management, though project managers come from a variety of backgrounds and many learn the job on-the-go. For those interested in a more formalized education, multiple types of degrees in project management are available, both at the undergraduate and graduate level.

  • Bachelor’s in Project Management: The bachelor’s program is highly popular and applicable. For current managers who have worked their way into a project management role without a formal degree, earning a bachelor’s in project management can help to solidify and advance a career track. (In many cases, previous academic credits or work experience can be used as transfer credits to accelerate course work.) The bachelor’s is also an excellent option for students interested in aspects of business, planning, communication, and leadership, and are open to pursuing careers across multiple industries. While strict project management bachelors exist, many schools offer a Bachelor’s in Business with an emphasis in Project Management.
    • Example Courses: Project Management, Operations Management, Principles of Management, Leading Global Projects, Organizational Ethics
  • Master’s in Project Management: Designed for current project managers and working professionals looking to pivot careers, the master’s in Project Management offers an advanced, in-depth curriculum that (in most cases) closely follows standards set by the Project Management Institute’s Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK ® Guide), the leading industry standard. In addition to boosting job and salary prospects, the master’s prepares students for PMP certification. Rigorous, hands-on training helps develop skills, specializations are available to tailor the degree, and most programs include some form of internship, capstone project, or practicum requirement.
    • Example Courses: Project Scheduling, Budgeting and Operations Management, Enterprise and Project Risk Management, Stakeholder Management and Organizational Behavior, Sustainability in Project Management, and Project Contracts
    • Example Specializations: Agile Project Management, Construction Management, Healthcare Administration, Operations Planning and Control, Supply Chain Management, and Project Risk Assessment and Control
  • MBA in Project Management: The second graduate degree available is the MBA in Project Management, which, compared to the master’s, is a more business-centric curriculum. While both current and aspiring project managers pursue the MBA specialization, it’s especially useful for those haven’t committed to a career path but are interested in project-oriented work, regardless of the title. Because MBAs carry a universal pedigree, students benefit from a practical, hands-on education that appeals to employers, has cross-industry application, and can increase salary potential.
    • Example Core Courses: Managerial Economics, Marketing Management, International Business, Financial Management and Policy, Data Analysis, and Strategic Management
    • Example Concentration Courses: Analytical Methods for Planning and Control, Organizational Behavior and Leadership, and Cases in Applied Project Management

What Certifications Are Available In Project Management?

Earning a recognized certificate in project management is another way to become a project manager. As previously mentioned, the PMP Credential is the most sought-after in the industry, and PMP professionals on average earn 20% more than non-PMP peers. The master’s in Project Management offers specialized PMP prep work, but professionals can also enroll in PMI’s Project Management Academy, which includes in-person or virtual bootcamps, webinars, virtual courses, certificates, and more.

Still, there are numerous alternatives to PMP certification, many of which are designed for project managers at the start of their careers. For instance, the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM), or for sustainability project managers, the GPM Certification.

While project management certification isn’t mandatory, it’s a good idea for long-term job prospects and opens up opportunities for senior-level roles.

What Other Work Experience Is Relevant to Project Management?

Having any experience in business, management, or work that requires excellent communication skills, organizational leadership, strategy, and on-time delivery of services can help kickstart your career in project management. If you’re still researching the field or looking for additional resources, we’ve got you covered: check our ranking of the 20 Best Books on Project Management to continue your research, or look over our list of the 20 Most Common Project Manager Interview Questions if you’re on the job hunt. Last but not least, we’ve profiled common jobs for both bachelor’s and master’s in project management graduates, and posted a handy guide to project management methodologies for a quick reference.

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