Degree Finder
Topmanagementdegrees.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

How To Become a Project Manager

Written By TopManagementDegrees.com Staff
Last Updated: October 6, 2020

Project managers take charge of projects from conception to completion, tracking resources and schedules along the way. They gather input, provide updates, and direct team members to get their work done — ideally under budget and by deadline.

If you enjoy problem-solving, teamwork, and setting and meeting goals, a career in project management might appeal to you.

These professionals must demonstrate strong leadership skills, and they're often outgoing and confident. The best project managers are flexible and organized, and they can assert clear-cut goals while remaining approachable to their team members.

According to a 2017 report from the Project Management Institute (PMI), the leading sectors employing project managers include:

  • – Manufacturing and construction
  • – Information services and publishing
  • – Finance and insurance
  • – Management and professional services
  • – Utilities
  • – Oil and gas

That same report projected an increase of 2.1 million project management jobs in the U.S. from 2017 to 2027 — a 31% occupational growth. Industry-specific projections from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) forecast a 10% increase in computer and information systems manager positions from 2019 to 2029, plus an 8% increase in roles for construction managers in that same time frame.

Project managers across industries can expect growing demand in the coming years, indicating a bright future for aspiring professionals in the field. Read on to learn more about this career and how to become a project manager.

What Is Project Management?

Project managers work in the manufacturing and construction, information services and publishing, and finance insurance sectors, among others. These professionals oversee pieces of work from conception to completion. Along the way, they manage team members, collect input, give updates, and track resources and schedules. Project management professionals should be direct and assertive, but also receptive and personable, so this career path appeals most to outgoing individuals who enjoy leadership, teamwork, and problem-solving. Project management positions span all industries, and demand is on the rise for professionals in the field, who can expect demand for their occupation to increase by about one-third from 2017 to 2027.

What Does a Project Manager Do?

Project managers plan, organize, and coordinate various projects, all the while ensuring those projects meet deadlines, stay within budget, and maintain the proper scope. The best professionals in the field can see their projects through from beginning to end while reducing costs, maximizing efficiency, and increasing revenue.

Project management professionals work in all types of industries, and their daily responsibilities vary depending on sector, company, and specific project. Generally speaking, however, project managers take responsibility for the "project life cycle." This cycle comprises five processes:

  • – Initiating
  • – Planning
  • – Executing
  • – Monitoring/controlling
  • – Closing

Each of these processes requires attention across the life cycle of a project. When initiating a project, project managers define primary objectives. They also discuss expectations with internal and external stakeholders and move the project forward accordingly. In the planning process, project managers create integrated project plans to outline the goals for the team. These plans help project managers oversee risk, cost, timelines, and scope.

Project managers in the execution process assign the work identified in the project plan to the relevant team members. They also make sure the team completes that work correctly and in a timely fashion. As the team works, project managers monitor budgets and try to keep the project on the preplanned schedule — this is the monitoring and controlling process.

Finally, project managers must close. In the closing phase, these professionals drive home the final tasks needed to achieve the completed result. This might include getting formal sign-offs, releasing unnecessary resources, reviewing work, and archiving project files.

What Personality Traits and Skills Are Needed To Be a Successful Project Manager?

Key Soft Skills for PMs

Confidence Project managers should demonstrate the confidence needed to set goals for their teams and ensure their team members are working efficiently to meet those goals. They should know how to both give and receive feedback, and they must feel secure enough to assert leadership throughout a project's life cycle.
Interpersonal Skills Project managers must feel comfortable interacting with people and groups. They should be approachable, so their team members can come to them with problems that may arise. They must also build a good rapport with their team so they can effectively delegate tasks.
Organization Projects often involve many stakeholders, so project managers should know how to coordinate and integrate varying perspectives. Many project managers act as facilitators for stakeholders and team members, which requires sharp organizational skills.
Flexibility Project objectives often change as the project life cycle progresses, so project managers should be able to demonstrate flexibility as these changes happen. Setbacks and stress come with the role of project management, so these professionals must know how to roll with the punches.

Key Hard Skills for PMs

Contract Management Project managers should demonstrate knowledge of project contracts and the relevant laws to ensure their teams can complete required tasks. They should know how to select vendors and outsource goods and services.
Risk Management Many projects incur risk — in other words, uncertain events or conditions may impact projects' progress. Project management professionals must know how to identify, analyze, prioritize, and control risk. They should also understand how to monitor and manage risks to mitigate their potential negative effects.
Monitoring/Evaluating Performance

Project managers have to understand the metrics measuring a project's efficiency, progress, performance, productivity, and/or quality. These metrics may include:

  • – Schedule and effort/cost variance
  • – Planned value
  • – Schedule variance
  • – Resource utilization
Budgeting/Scheduling Budgets structure how project teams should utilize their funds during the project life cycle. Project managers must monitor budgets and schedule milestones and make sure their teams work in accordance to these structures. Thus, it's crucial for project management professionals to demonstrate strong budgeting and scheduling skills.

A Day in the Life of a Project Manager

Project managers' day-to-day tasks vary between industries and project types, but most face a few common responsibilities.

These professionals communicate with team members and stakeholders, identify and resolve problems, manage budgets and schedules, and support their teams. Project managers regularly talk with the workers on their projects to ensure satisfactory progress, reporting back to the stakeholders with updates and changes.

Most project management professionals review budgets and timesheets on a daily basis to track resource allocation and project progress. They typically use project management software to tackle these responsibilities. Finally, project managers must work with their team members to make sure they're productive and they have everything they need. These professionals might implement team-building exercises to boost and maintain morale, especially following tough project phases. For example, they might get the team together for regular lunches or happy hours.

What Are Examples of a Project Manager's Duties?

  • Define Goals: Project managers must listen to their organizations or clients to ensure satisfaction with project outcomes. This might entail meeting with upper management and stakeholders to define objectives. Based on those conversations, project managers then determine specific goals for their projects.
  • Establish Plans: These professionals must create plans to accomplish the goals they've defined, which may entail meetings and brainstorming sessions. Project managers often use computer software packages to plan larger projects.
  • Assemble the Team: Project managers are nothing without their teams, and they are often responsible for putting their teams together. It's important for these professionals to choose dependable team members who can make project ideas a reality.
  • Monitor Progress: Monitoring progress may entail the project manager making diagrams tracking progress, restructuring plans based on progress, or reminding team members about upcoming deadlines.
  • Manage the Handover: After completing their portion of the project, project managers are responsible for handing over the project to the incoming team. This process must be clear and complete so the next team has everything they need to do their job.

Professional Spotlight: Adam Sanders

Photo of Adam Sanders, founder and director of Successful ReleaseAdam Sanders is the founder and director of Successful Release, an organization dedicated to helping disadvantaged populations find financial and professional success. Prior to founding Successful Release, he spent a decade working in finance and product management for major financial technology companies, where he managed multimillion-dollar projects and engagements. He has an MBA from Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management and a bachelor's in finance from Missouri State University. Adam has also been featured in many major publications including Forbes, Wired, Business Insider, Best Company, Business.com, and CEO Nation.

Why did you become a project manager? What initially interested you about the role?

I became a project manager because I felt that it was a crucial skill to learn in order to create any kind of meaningful change. As you advance in your career, being able to manage large, complicated projects and teams is absolutely vital to success, and every amazing leader I've worked for has been a strong project manager as well.

What does your typical work day look like?

I schedule my day very carefully and try to ensure a balance of meetings and solo working time to maximize my productivity. I'm up at 6:30 a.m. and working by 7:30 a.m. most mornings. I use the first hour and a half to catch up on email and handle any pressing tasks.

Meetings begin at 9 a.m., and typically about half of my day is spent in meetings with a strong emphasis on using that time to gain alignment and push projects forward instead of using that time for updates or check-ins. I take an hour lunch and the remainder of my time until 5 p.m. is spent going back and forth from meetings, emails, and individual time spent planning and overseeing various projects.

What are some of the most rewarding aspects of working in project management?

  • You can create a whole greater than the sum of its parts. If you're an effective project manager, you're able to take a disparate group of people and bring them together in a way that delivers productivity and results much greater than their individual efforts. Good project managers are results multipliers.
  • This is how big things get done. Big, important things don't get done by accident. You need good project managers if you want to tackle any large or difficult project. Being one of the key enablers of important work is very rewarding.

What are some of the more challenging aspects of project management?

  • Managing differing communication and work styles. When you're leading projects, especially large ones, you are constantly navigating different work and communication styles. It can be very challenging to figure out the best way to communicate with and influence a team.
  • Lots of meetings. Project managers are in a lot of meetings throughout the day. If you let it, it can take up all of your working hours without much to show for it. You're constantly battling to protect your time and your team's time to ensure the right balance of meetings and productivity.
  • Stress. Project managers often have a lot of responsibility without an equal amount of direct authority. You're often working with people whom you don't directly manage and who may not have the same interests as you. With so many things outside of your control and lot of responsibility and visibility, it can get very stressful at times.

What education have you attained, and how did it prepare you to become a project manager?

I have a bachelor's degree in finance and a master's degree in business administration. Finance was a great foundation for project management because every project ultimately revolves around its budget. Being able to easily work with finance professionals and understand the numbers myself has made being a project manager a lot easier.

My MBA helped fill in a lot of gaps in my business knowledge and helped me develop a lot of soft skills that made project management easier and more effective. When you see a lot of different management styles, and the pros and cons of each, you can really figure out what works for you.

What was your career path that led you to project management?

I started working in finance across several roles, all with a project management component. I eventually gravitated toward roles where I was given more responsibility and more flexibility in how I managed large projects.

What do you think helped you most on your journey to become a project manager?

  • Always testing new things. A big part of becoming an effective project manager is figuring out what works and what doesn't, especially for your own personal style. That means not being afraid to try out new things and then diligently reviewing performance. If you can get better with every project you manage, you're going to get very good eventually.
  • Really building my communication skills. Perhaps the most important component of effective project management is communication. As the manager, a lot of your job is going to be ensuring the proper flow of information within the team in the most effective method possible. Focusing on building those skills has saved me a tremendous amount of time and led to better results.

What other career opportunities do you feel your project management skills prepare you for?

Project management really prepares you for most careers, especially as you climb the ranks. Every manager is a project manager, and the projects only get larger as you go up.

What advice would you give to students considering pursuing a career in project management?

  • Find domain expertise as well. Becoming an effective project manager is great, but you also want to develop domain expertise. That means becoming more proficient in marketing, finance, product management, etc. Doing this can make you much more marketable and open up a lot of doors that may not be available for a more generic project manager.
  • Get reps and work your way up. Project management is a skill that you build through experience, trial and error, and time. Look for opportunities to practice your project management abilities and gradually manage larger and larger projects.

What Is the Salary and Career Outlook for a Project Manager?

Most project managers can look forward to healthy occupational growth in the coming years.

PMI released growth projections for general project managers from 2017 to 2027, which forecasted that the U.S. economy would add over 2 million project management positions in that time frame (an increase of more than 30%).

It can be tough to nail down specific growth projections for project managers because the BLS doesn't collect data for the overall occupation. The BLS does, however, collect and report data for broader categories of managers — which include operations managers — across several sectors. See below for occupational growth projections for managers in each BLS-reported sector:

The BLS projects a 4% national average growth rate for all occupations from 2019 to 2029, meaning all of the above categories of managers can expect faster-than-average occupational growth during that decade. However, project managers working in medical and health services can expect occupations in their field to increase particularly quickly — at eight times the rate of growth for all jobs nationwide.

Salary Expectations for Project Managers

A 2020 salary survey from PMI reported that project managers in the U.S. earned a mean annual salary of $118,970. Their total compensation — including salary, bonuses, and other forms of compensation — averaged $130,090. Project managers in the 25th percentile of earners brought home around $98,000 in total compensation annually, while those in the 75th percentile earned approximately $153,000 annually.

However, a project manager's salary varies significantly depending on industry, job level, geographic location, and prior experience. For example, according to PMI, low-level project managers (with the title "project manager I") make a mean annual salary of $91,250, while directors of project management offices earn an average $148,260 each year.

Degree level affects project manager salary as well, though not as drastically. PMI reports that project managers with doctoral degrees earn a mean annual wage of $129,690, while those with just high school diplomas make $108,360 per year. Project management professionals with bachelor's degrees make a mean salary of $114,550 each year.

Field experience demonstrates a significant effect on salary, as illustrated in the table below.

Annual Salary by Years Worked in Project Management, 2020

25th Percentile Median 75th Percentile Mean
Less than 3 Years $65,000 $83,000 $103,00 $87,460
3-5 Years $75,000 $90,000 $110,000 $94,820
5-10 Years $85,610 $103,410 $125,000 $107,670
10-15 Years $100,000 $120,000 $140,000 $122,460
15-20 Years $107,710 $126,690 $150,000 $131,100
20 Years or More $112,500 $135,000 $160,000 $138,130

Source: PMI

Career Growth Opportunities for PMs

Field experience unlocks higher earning potential for project managers and prepares them to advance and transition in their careers. Lower-level project management experience — as project management consultants, project management specialists, or project managers, for example — equips professionals to take on more responsibility as program managers, portfolio managers, or directors of project management offices (PMOs).

  • Program Manager: These senior-level professionals work to advance their organizations' strategic goals. They typically coordinate multiple projects, so they must demonstrate strong leadership skills. Program managers should pursue the program management professional certification from PMI. They earn a mean salary of $127,520 per year.
  • Portfolio Manager: Portfolio managers align projects, programs, and operations to match strategic objectives. They also work to invest resources in ways that deliver the expected value for their projects. These professionals should obtain the portfolio management professional certification from PMI, and they earn a mean annual salary of $140,780.
  • Director of PMO: PMOs are organizational units that support projects and management for project-based firms. They exist in a variety of industries, including consulting and professional services, cultural industries, complex products and systems, and high technologies. PMO directors oversee these offices, and they earn a mean annual wage of $148,260.

Where Can I Work as a Project Manager?

Project managers can expect the fastest occupational growth in the manufacturing and construction sector, according to PMI. For this reason, booming areas with lots of construction projects — such as California and Texas — often yield extensive job options for project management professionals. Project managers in these regions tend to earn higher salaries.

Other sectors where project managers can secure employment include information services and publishing, finance and insurance, and management and professional services. Aspiring project management professionals might consider looking for work in locations where these sectors thrive.

Locations

Geographic location plays a huge role in career opportunities for project management professionals. Project managers tend to work in technology- and construction-heavy areas, because those sectors provide the most employment opportunities for professionals in the project management field. For this reason, project managers in expanding, high-density, urban areas tend to find more high-paying job options than those in rural regions with fewer ongoing manufacturing and construction projects.

PMI doesn't break down U.S. salary data by geographical region, but the BLS and PayScale provide some insight as to how earnings fluctuate for project managers in various parts of the United States. Note again that BLS data refers to broader categories of managers, which include project managers. Moreover, PayScale reports generally lower salaries for project managers than PMI does.

Percentage Above Average Pay for Project Managers in Top-Paying Cities, 2020

Type of Project Manager Top-Paying Cities and Percentage Above Average Pay
Project Manager, General/Unspecified

Washington, D.C. — +14%

Houston, TX — +11%

Los Angeles, CA — +8%

Project Manager, Information Technology

Washington, D.C. — +23%

New York, NY— +11%

Houston, TX — +9%

Project Manager, Construction

Seattle, WA — +23%

New York, NY— +22%

Los Angeles, CA — +17%

Source: PayScale

States with Highest Employment of Managers, 2019

Career State Employment
Medical and Health Services Managers CA 36,940
Construction Managers TX 34,560
Computer and Information Systems Managers CA 75,700

Source: BLS

States with Highest Median Salary for Managers, 2019

Career State Median Annual Salary
Medical and Health Services Managers D.C. $150,040
Construction Managers NJ $147,410
Computer and Information Systems Managers NY $190,390

Source: BLS

Industries

Project managers work in just about all industries, but some areas demonstrate higher demand than others. As of 2020, the information technology sector employed the highest number of project managers at 1,647, according to data from PMI. Government employed 1,080 project management professionals, while financial services employed 640.

See the table below for information on the five biggest industries for project managers in the United States.

Industry Percent of Project Managers Employed Average Annual Salary
Information Technology 18% $122,250
Government 12% $116,660
Healthcare 9% $111,250
Financial Services 7% $118,360
Consulting 7% $134,150

Source: PMI

Major Employers

The biggest companies employing project managers globally operate in the information and technology sector, according to data from Glassdoor. The top companies for project management include:

  • Infosys: This technology services and consulting company is headquartered in Bengaluru, India, but works with clients in 45 countries around the world. It covers engineering, application development, knowledge management, and business process management. As of September 2020, more than 4,200 project managers working for Infosys reported an average base salary of $98,530 per year.
  • Wipro: Another Bengaluru-headquartered company, Wipro leads in global information technology, consulting, and business process services. More than 3,400 project managers had reported their Wipro salaries to Glassdoor as of September 2020, and they averaged an annual base salary of $79,510. However, overall project manager salary reports ranged from $61,140-$120,670.
  • Atos-Syntel: Anchored in Troy, Michigan, this leading provider of integrated information technology and knowledge process services employs 120,000 workers across 73 countries. As of September 2020, more than 980 project managers had reported their Atos-Syntel salaries to Glassdoor. These employees earned an average base pay of $91,040 each year.

What Do I Need To Do To Become a Project Manager?

Aspiring project managers can follow any of several career paths, but all of them require at least some formal education and extensive professional experience. Most project managers benefit from obtaining certification, as well.

A handful of global organizations offer relevant certifications, but PMI is arguably the most reputable. Those just kicking off their careers in project management might pursue the certified associate in project management (CAPM) or project management professional (PMP) designations from PMI. Both of these certifications require candidates to meet experience or education requirements and pass an exam, so prospective project managers should make sure to fulfill all necessary qualifications.

PMI offers more advanced certifications as well, but entry-level project managers should first focus on the CAPM and PMP designation options. Read on to learn more about how to become a project manager.

Steps To Becoming a Project Manager

  • – Complete the required formal education for your prospective certification — at least a high school diploma.
  • – Fulfill the project management education requirement for your certification.
  • – For prospective PMPs, complete the required months of project-leading experience.
  • – Sit for and pass the appropriate certification exam.
  • – Start the job search.

Project Manager Requirements

Education Requirements for PMs

PMI's CAPM certification is typically considered the institute's entry-level option, requiring candidates to hold a high school diploma, associate degree, or the global equivalent. The credential also calls for 23 hours of project management-specific education, which candidates must complete before they sit for the CAPM exam. PMI's online course in project management basics meets this requirement.

Project manager requirements for PMP candidates include at least a high school diploma and CAPM certification or 35 hours of project management education or training. Those with more advanced degrees must meet less stringent experience requirements. For example, prospective PMPs with four-year degrees must spend 36 months leading projects before they can apply for the designation. Those with lower-level credentials (a high school diploma or associate degree) must lead projects for 60 months before they may apply.

Aspiring project managers pursuing four-year degrees might consider bachelor's degrees in project management or operations management. Many schools offer project management programs as concentrations within broader business and management degrees. These programs equip learners to set clear goals, define the scopes of projects, establish cost estimates, manage timelines, and deliver successful projects.

Prospective students considering business degrees should seek programs accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) or the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP).

License and Certification Requirements for PMs

As mentioned above, PMI offers several certification options to aspiring project managers. These certifications cover all career levels, from entry-level fundamentals to advanced experience and specialized areas. PMI's most popular certifications are listed below.

Certified Associate in Project Management The CAPM designation demonstrates understanding of the fundamental processes, terminology, and knowledge of project management. This degree can act as a stepping stone to certification as a project management professional.
Project Management Professional PMI calls its PMP certification the "gold standard of project management." Organizations all over the world recognize — and often require — this designation, which verifies competence to perform adequately in project manager positions.
Program Management Professional The PgMP certification serves project managers who oversee multiple complex projects. These projects usually work together to achieve strategic, organizational results.
Portfolio Management Professional Portfolio Management Professional: PMI's PfMP certification caters to portfolio managers with advanced experience and skill. This designation demonstrates a proven ability to coordinate the management of one or more portfolios to achieve organizations' objectives.

Required Experience for PMs

The best project managers hold professional designations, such as PMI certifications — most of which require prior professional experience in project management. PMP designation, for example, calls for candidates to obtain 3-5 years of experience leading projects before they can even apply.

However, as previously mentioned, advanced degrees can reduce experience requirements for prospective PMPs. While candidates with high school diplomas or associate degrees should demonstrate five years of experience leading projects, those with four-year degrees need only three years of experience. Moreover, documented experience for PMP applicants must be professional project work experience. Personal project-planning experience does not apply; for example, professional projects exclude personal weddings, academic research for degree programs, and/or personal home improvement projects.

More advanced PMI certifications require even more prior professional experience. The program management professional designation mandates 48 months of project management experience or PMP certification, plus 48-84 months of program management experience within the last 15 years, depending on degree level. The portfolio management professional designation calls for 96 months of professional business experience in the last 15 years and 48-84 months of portfolio management experience — again, depending on level of education.

Finding a Project Manager Job

Once properly certified, project managers can begin their job search. Job-seekers benefit from connections in their field, often previously established through educational communities or professional organizations. For example, business honor societies like Beta Gamma Sigma, Sigma Beta Delta, and Delta Mu Delta can help college students forge connections, which they might later leverage in their search for project management positions. Professional associations offer similar benefits to recent graduates and working professionals.

Project managers should also turn to job boards to find open positions at companies in their respective areas (and across the country). For example:

  • Project Management Institute: PMI offers its own career center to job-seekers, where they can upload their resume and browse project management listings all over the United States. The institute even provides a "featured employers" listing, which includes some of top-employing companies for project managers.
  • Glassdoor: Glassdoor lists open positions for all kinds of occupations, at companies and in industries scattered around the globe. The site also publishes company reviews, salary data, and interview tips, all submitted by Glassdoor users.
  • LinkedIn: LinkedIn provides a massive online professional network to users, acting as a platform for working professionals and job-seekers to connect. The site also offers a job board, which allows project managers to search for relevant positions all over the world.
  • Indeed: Indeed users can upload their resumes to the platform and take advantage of expedited applications for qualifying jobs. Even users without Indeed accounts can use the site to browse thousands of job listings for project management positions across the globe.

Resources

Frequently Asked Questions

Is project management a good career?

Yes. Project managers can expect faster-than-average occupational growth across all industries from 2019 to 2029, and most of them garner above-average wages, as well. This makes project management a dependable, lucrative career for professionals at all degree levels.

Is it hard to be a project manager?

Yes. Project manager requirements don't necessarily entail advanced degrees, but they do call for strong leadership and organizational skills, in addition to extensive professional experience. Project management certifications also feature stringent requirements to ensure high standards.

How do I become a project manager with no experience?

Gain experience. PMI's CAPM certification doesn't require professional experience, but all other tiers of certification call for several years of project leadership experience. Candidates with advanced degrees, however, enjoy reduced experience requirements.

What qualifications do you need for a project manager?

Project managers should hold certification. Designation from PMI or another globally recognized project management association indicates that a professional has completed formal education and relevant experience. This type of credential also verifies that they've passed an exam testing them in various areas of project management. PMP certification from PMI acts as the "gold standard" for project managers.

What do project managers do?

Project managers oversee pieces of work from conception to completion. They manage teams, keeping them happy and productive. They also track progress, manage budgets, update stakeholders, and channel feedback into improvements. These professionals work in all industries, but construction, information technology, and health services are some of the biggest sectors for project management.

Professional Organizations for Project Managers

International Association of Project Managers

This association is headquartered in Liechtenstein but spans the globe, acting as a professional organization and certifying body for project managers. The IAPM aims to uphold a high standard for project managers certified through the association.

A/E/C Project Management Association

AECPMA works to advance the skills of project managers in the construction, engineering, and architecture fields. The association acts as a certifying body and serves professionals at all levels of project management.

Project Management Institute

PMI's membership program gives participants access to the world's largest community of project managers. The organization also offers free study guides for PMI certifications, discounts on said certifications, and regular publications to keep members up to date on the field.

International Project Management Association

IPMA aims to promote competence among project managers, enabling "a world in which all projects succeed." The association nominates and recognizes individuals and projects at its global awards, which celebrate outstanding project management achievements.

Additional Reading