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How to Become a Project Manager

What is Project Manager?

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The responsibilities of a Project Manager include planning, executing, monitoring, steering, and closing projects. in short, Project Managers are responsible for the entire project scope, project team, resources, ensuring tasks are being completed on deadline, and ultimately, the success or failure of the project.

Project Managers are agents of change: they align their own goals with that of the project and use their project management skills and experience to guide the project team and keep them motivated, inspired, and focused on meeting all project objectives.

Now that businesses around the world have come to understand the immense value of effective project management, Project Managers are found in virtually every type of organization, business, and industry – as employees, managers, contractors, and independent consultants.

Project Management Disciplines

Project management is a field that uses a variety of skills to keep projects on time and within budget, successfully steering them to completion through the entirety of the project life cycle.

Project management is also an umbrella term that can refer to portfolio management, program management, and change management, three disciplines that are quite alike but with several key differences.

What Is Program Management?

Program Management comes into play when a number of different projects – possibly interrelated or just similar – can’t be managed separately, but instead must be coordinated in order to meet an organization’s goals. Program Managers would have to work closely with Project Managers to make sure the projects are proceeding in harmony with one another. They would also manage any dependencies between projects and address any issues that may threaten the success of the program.

What Is Portfolio Management?

Think of a portfolio as all an organization’s programs, projects, and operational work. Portfolio Managers work with company leadership to choose, prioritize, balance, evaluate, analyze, and steer the organization’s approved work to best meet its goals, taking into account total resources and risk factors.

What Is Change Management?

Change Management guides how we prepare, equip, and support people to successfully adopt changes that will help the company achieve more success and meet its goals. Ultimately, change management focuses on how to help employees enthusiastically embrace, accept, and use a change in their day-to-day work.

Project Manager Educational Backgrounds

Since the Project Manager role demands such a diverse cross-section of skills and competencies, Project Managers tend to have diverse educational and professional backgrounds, though many come from a background in business, tech more broadly, or computer science.

Although you don’t necessarily need a Bachelor’s degree to become a Project Manager, it is generally considered a standard qualification in most job descriptions. Some people with the time, money, and inclination have decided to pursue a postgraduate degree in the subject before beginning a career in project management -- Boston University, Penn State, and George Washington University's School of Business are among the institutions now offering fully online Master's degrees in project management.

Even those who acquire an advanced degree usually wind up also pursuing a certification. The Project Management Professional (PMP) certification from the Project Management Institute is recognized around the world as a feather in the cap of any Project Manager. Agile certification -- and there are many, with some focused on specific Agile Lean approaches like Scrum and Kanban -- is also very popular.

Characteristics of Successful Project Managers

While there are lots of technical skills and specific project management skills that a Project Manager needs to be successful, there are also a number of more intangible characteristics that seem to be shared by all successful Project Managers.

The following are the key attributes of a good Project Manager:

They’re Passionate About Leadership

The top Project Managers have excellent leadership skills, whether they’re natural leaders or it’s a quality they actively cultivate. As a Project Manager, you must be able to guide your team through the entire project life cycle without losing motivation or momentum. Your team members should know exactly what you expect of them. Good Project Managers are adept at assessing team member’s strengths and weaknesses and they put them in positions to maximize those strengths and mitigate their damage in the areas they don’t excel.

They Communicate Effectively

Strong project management means clear, consistent, and concise communication both within the project team as well as with key stakeholders outside the project team and any relevant clients or sponsors. There should be no surprises about the scope or unforeseen tasks that now might threaten a deadline or unexpectedly increase a team member’s workload. Not only do effective Project Managers have great communication skills – verbally and in writing – project objectives, project progress, and team members’ responsibilities. Likewise, they’re skilled listeners who take directions carefully and are adept at reading other people.

They Have a Great Sense of Time

Time management is a crucial skill for Project Managers to master. You not only have to manage your own time impeccably to juggle your many project management responsibilities, but you must understand how much time all the other project tasks -- some of which might be interdependent -- will take to complete and then follow up with the people completing that work to make sure you’re on track to meet those project goals. Time management often determines the success or failure of a project -- it’s that important.

They Love Problem-Solving

No matter how competent a Project Manager or how thorough a project charter and project plan is crafted, problems and unforeseen events will inevitably arise on any project. How you handle and solve those issues will dictate how well your project fares. A career in project management means you must be a quick thinker and creative problem-solver in many knowledge areas who isn’t daunted by unexpected setbacks. As you gain more project management experience and become more comfortable with your responsibilities, this will become more intuitive.

They Delegate

Effective project management means delegating tasks to the right people at the right time. This isn’t just because your own plate will be full and you can’t spend your time working on tasks that could easily be completed by more junior employees. It’s also because keeping your team motivated means giving them meaningful work and trusting them to do work worthy of the project.

They Take Pride in Their Work

Project Managers may only be with a company for a short time, or they may work exclusively as contractors or consultants. To continue to work in the project management field you must have a proven track record of delivering on-budget, on-schedule projects that stakeholders are consistently happy with. Doing that requires caring deeply about a project. Your team members will see that devotion, and it will be a powerful motivator to exceed expectations.

Project Management Jobs

As you climb the ladder in the project management field, you’ll likely cycle through a number of different job titles within the project management profession.

Here are many of the most common:

  • Industry-Specific Project Manager. Many industries have specific postings for Project Managers with experience working within their unique circumstances and knowledge areas. For instance, a Construction Project Manager or Engineering Project Manager would have extensive experience working in the construction industry.

  • Project Coordinator. An administrative entry-level Project Manager position, Project Coordinators generate reports and assist the management team as needed.

  • Project Scheduler. This is a project management role that requires technical skills and a knowledge of some project management software, but not much actual management is involved in the work. Project Schedulers use project management software to input data and update files on larger projects.

  • Project Manager. A Project Manager will guide the project through its project management phases to its entire project life cycle, either running the project alone or at the head of a management team. They communicate project progress to stakeholders, oversee budgets and schedules, assign tasks, and take responsibility for the ultimate success or failure of projects.

  • Senior Project Manager. At this level, a Senior Project Manager might be responsible for multiple projects at the same time.

  • Program Manager. The job of this project management professional is to craft a program’s strategy, goals, and objectives and assesses how it will positively or negatively affect a business. Program Managers are responsible for a list of dependent projects needed to be completed to reach the program’s overall goals.

  • Portfolio Manager: A similar role to that of a Project Manager, with the difference being that a Portfolio Manager has a larger collection of projects, programs, sub-portfolios, and operations.

  • Chief Project Officer: The Chief Project Officer (CPO) is a more senior-level position within project management, responsible for leading the group through the project and provides organization, prioritization, resource supply, and internal consulting.

Reasons to Become a Project Manager

Project Manager is considered a great career for those with a varied skillset, keen mind, and the ability to thrive under pressure. Here are some of the reasons why it's a great time to start a career in project management:

You Never Stop Learning

Project Managers are a curious bunch. You never know what project is on the horizon – or which challenge or issue you might have to overcome – so a good Project Manager is always on the lookout for new information. Fortunately, there are training courses for all kinds of soft skills as well as hundreds of project management books. Further, most Project Managers see it as a professional duty to continuously up-skill and seek out new project management certifications to keep their skills sharp.

Every Project is Different

The scope of the project management field means that you could work in virtually any industry on an unlimited number of different projects, each totally unique. Each time, you work to create something completely new and then you move on to the next. You’ll never have to guide two projects that are exactly alike, and that variety is something that a lot of Project Managers enjoy about their jobs.

Project Management Has High Salaries

It’s not a secret that Project Managers are well-compensated. Indeed’s numbers show that Project Managers take home an average salary of $85,000 with bonuses of around $13,500, while larger companies pay their Project Managers in excess of $120,000-plus in salary. Some large companies even pay double that.

These big organizations have huge sums of money riding on the success or failure of these projects, and that amount of responsibility is reflected in the project management salaries they dish out.

Project Manager Jobs Abound

Since every business in every industry hires Project Managers, it’s not surprising that there are a ton of job openings for project management professionals. A recent report from PMI showed employers would need to fill nearly 2.2 million new project-oriented roles each year through 2027, with $208 billion on the line. In other words, job security should be high in the project management field for a long time.

Project Manager Careers Can Be Fulfilling

There’s no doubt about it: being a Project Manager is a hard job. It's not just the skills required for project management, but consistently delivering quality projects on-budget and in step with the project schedule comes with significant pressure, especially since Project Managers are often in a position where they’re reporting to the highest level executives in a company. Not everyone is cut out to deal with the stress of consistently delivering quality projects or the myriad Project Manager responsibilities that come with the job.

Those who do relish a challenge, however, will find project management a deeply rewarding career. A project management career will give you the opportunity to work with huge cross-disciplinary project teams of professionals from all different backgrounds and work in tandem to tackle your tasks. When you successfully complete a project, you will get the chance to celebrate with your project team members and savor your achievement, which isn’t possible in all professions. Then there’s the fact that Project Managers make companies more money and more efficient. In project management, you have the opportunity to make a large positive impact on companies as a whole – and the lives of the employees you’ll be working with – and that’s something many Project Managers find rewarding.

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