Organizations seem to have finally woken up to project management’s crucial role in closing projects successfully. Project managers are in high demand in virtually all industries, and the career trajectory is looking great for the coming decades.
What does project management entail? What do I need to become a project manager? Does this career pay well? These are just some of the questions prospective project managers ask. If you are looking into a career in project management, this comprehensive guide will help you get started on your career ambitions.
Why Project Management Is So Important
According to the Project Management Institute (PMI®), 93% of organizations have standardized project management practices in place. Clearly, project management plays a vital role in transforming what was once only an idea into a tangible product or service.
A typical team comprises people with different competencies, backgrounds, skills, and personalities. Ideally, the team should work cohesively towards the realization of the project. The role of project management is to provide essential leadership toward the predetermined goal. Since projects have specific deliverables during their lifecycle, effective project management ensures that milestones are met on time and within budget.
Furthermore, large projects are inherently chaotic. While the end goal may be simple, the steps to getting there aren’t always obvious. Project management’s role is to charter a clear path from start to finish, ensuring that the final deliverables are met successfully.
Additionally, project management helps identify and allocate team members, machinery, tools, budget, and other resources to bring the project to life. With clashing schedules, budgetary constraints, and other people, timing, or resource-related challenges, project management efficiently puts together and manages everything needed for the project’s successful completion.
Project management also helps to set realistic expectations around the project. Setting delivery timelines and coming up with budget estimates require taking multiple factors into account. It is all too easy to be overambitious with the timelines and estimates, causing stress, unsatisfied customers and stakeholders, or the project’s complete failure. In particular, project managers are tasked with putting together realistic project timelines and budgets, ensuring that all parties involved are satisfied with the process and eventual outcome.
Finally, project management helps with quality control. Getting a project completed on time and within budget is great, but that doesn’t guarantee that the customer will be satisfied. Quality management is an essential part of project management. The former ensures that outputs are tested and examined every step of the way to guarantee a high-quality outcome.
How to Improve Your Project Management Career Path Today
Project management spans multiple industries, and it can be hard to decide where to launch your career. If you are keen on a career in project management but have no idea where to start, a Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM®) can be a great starting point.
This entry-level credential from the Project Management Institute (PMI) covers all the basics of project management. The course is specifically designed for people with little or no project management experience or education. With your CAPM credential, you will be able to:
- Undertake a variety of project management roles
- Work competently as a member of a project team
- Demonstrate strong knowledge of project management techniques, tools, processes, and knowledge areas as defined in the PMBOK® guide
- Get on the path toward Project Management Professional (PMP) certification
Project management can be a lucrative and fulfilling career path. Virtually all industries require professional project managers. Industries with the highest demand for project managers include information technology, construction, financial services, healthcare, and law.
IT project managers oversee complex technical projects such as technology deployments and systems upgrades. More and more companies are implementing project-based methods and work with specialists to bring these projects to term. IT project managers also act as the bridge between the technical and business aspects of the project.
Most IT project manager positions require at least a bachelor-level degree in Information Technology, Information Management Systems, Computer Science, or a similar field. Since information technology is a specialized field, most employers or project owners prefer people with project management certification, particularly PRINCE2 certification.
You may also break into project management if you have previously taken on project support or project development roles.
Typical IT project manager responsibilities include:
- Setting IT system expectations with the client
- Planning the project stages
- Putting together and coordinating a team for the project
- Ensuring a smooth transition from old IT systems to new ones
- Evaluating and signing off on completed tasks
- Setting deadlines and deliverables and monitoring progress
Some of the critical skills IT project managers should possess include critical thinking, time management, personnel management, monitoring, information ordering skills, and inductive reasoning, among others.
As an IT manager, you can eventually progress to a Chief Executive Officer or Chief Executive. The average base pay for IT project managers is around $100,000 per year in the US.
The central role of a construction project manager is to oversee all phases of the building process. The project manager ensures that the building is completed on time and within budget. Some of the construction project manager’s responsibilities include:
- Working alongside architects and engineers to develop plans, budget, timescales, and resources needed for the project
- Overseeing day-to-day construction activities
- Developing daily work schedules from the project’s beginning to completion
- Tracking progress and quality control
- Reporting progress to the client
- Ensuring the site meets relevant health and safety regulations
While not mandatory, many construction project managers have a bachelor’s degree, usually in Building Science, Construction Engineering, or Construction Science. Courses in Construction Methods and Materials, Building Codes and Standards, and Project Control and Management can help you fast-track your career as a construction project manager.
As far as specific construction project management goes, the Construction Management Association of America and the American Institute of Contractors offer project management certifications that can help you further your career.
Work experience in the construction industry also works in your favor, especially if you already have project management certification. Entry-level project management roles include working as an assistant construction manager. This route can be considered an apprenticeship on your road to becoming a construction manager.
Specific skills required in construction project management include problem-solving, organization, attention to detail, leadership, interpersonal skills, risk management, and technical skills.
Construction project management also encompasses many industries, including government, manufacturing, utilities, and corporations, so there are plenty of career directions and progression options.
The average salary for a construction project manager in the US is $75,000 per year, with the possibility of earning up to $119,000 per year.
Finance project managers are tasked with planning and administering finance-related projects, including planning and analysis. More and more organizations have a finance project management role within their finance department. This role is proving critical in an organization’s overall financial health.
Finance project management roles are projected to grow by 16% through 2028.
Some of the essential roles for finance project managers include:
- Financial planning and analysis
- Budget management
- Organizing and scheduling
- Preparing financial reports
- Putting together teams of people to deliver projects
- Presenting findings to stakeholders
- Identifying areas to improve efficiency, performance, and cost-saving
While not mandatory, many organizations prefer project managers with bachelor’s degrees in business or finance-related fields. Advanced degrees in these fields can also work to your advantage. PRINCE2 qualification and Project Management Professional (PMP) certification are also a common requirement, especially for larger organizations with complex projects.
Experience organizing and managing financial resources and costs can work in your favor if you do not have a strong educational background. CAPM certification will undoubtedly complement your on-the-job experience in this case.
Essential skills for finance project managers include financial analysis, team coordination, communication skills, budget and forecasting, problem-solving skills, organizational skills, and people management skills.
Salaries in finance project management range from $50,000 to $137,000 per year, according to PayScale.com. A finance project management role can also set you up for a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) job.
Healthcare is one of the fastest-growing industries in the United States. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates more than 71,000 new medical and health service management jobs through 2029.
Healthcare project managers help oversee a wide range of projects within the organization. These projects may include increasing emergency response, building a new hospital wing, securing medical supplies, and hiring new doctors.
Some of the key responsibilities of healthcare project managers include:
- Working with healthcare professionals to improve service quality and efficiency
- Managing healthcare facility budget
- Ensuring compliance with new laws and regulations
- Creating work schedules for team members
- Communicating with the hospital board and department heads about projects
- Identifying problems and providing solutions
Critical skills for healthcare project managers include problem-solving, leadership, interpersonal skills, multitasking, and flexibility.
Since healthcare is a specialized field, there are relatively high requirements for becoming healthcare project managers. These requirements typically include a bachelor’s degree in Nursing, Health Management, Public Health Administration, Business Administration, or Health Administration.
An advanced degree can also be an added advantage and will set you apart from the competition. In addition to your degree, many employers prefer project management-specific certification, including:
- Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM®)
- PRINCE2 Foundation and Practitioner
- Project Management Professional (PMP®)
- Business Analysis Foundation and Practitioner
- Change Management Foundation and Practitioner
Healthcare project managers earn an average of $107,000 per year in the US.
Legal project management (LPM) is hardly an entry-level position, but it is an excellent option for someone pursuing a career in law. With increasing client demands for greater efficiency, many of today’s law firms seek legal project managers as a matter of necessity. Legal project managers bring project management principles to legal service delivery.
Some of the key roles of legal project managers include:
- Working with lawyers and other legal professionals to deliver effective legal services
- Communicating with clients
- Scoping, planning, and monitoring projects
- Integrating technology to the law practice
- Providing clients with project transparency
- Conducting formal post-project evaluation
- Ensuring consistent results and reduce project cost
- Meeting with stakeholders to project goals and objectives
- Identifying available resources required for projects
While some legal project managers transition from other careers, most are lawyers or have a background in law. Lawyers typically have on-the-job experience managing projects, so transitioning to a professional project management role within the industry makes sense.
As of right now, specific law project management certification is not mandatory. In fact, professional project management is relatively new to the industry. However, a PMP or CAPM certification can help to distinguish you from other applicants.
The average salary for legal project managers is $109,000 per year in the United States.
5 Best Practices for Project Management Success
According to the Project Management Institute, best practice is defined as “…an optimal way currently recognized by industry to achieve a stated goal or objective.” (PMI, 2003, P.171)
The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK®) Guide is the best resource for learning project management best practices. Below are a few of these best practices aimed at setting you up for success in your career.
1. Define Clear Project Life Cycles and Milestones
This point should be obvious, but you would be surprised at how many teams work on projects without clear life cycles and milestones. At the beginning of the project, team members should be entirely clear about the project’s phases, deliverables, and critical milestones to achieve in the project.
For example, The Global Fund has standardized phases for all their projects. These phases include:
- Ideation and selection
- Monitoring and control
Having a clear purpose for each phase of the project and each stage’s objectives ensures that it runs smoothly.
It is imperative you ensure that all stakeholders and team members understand the project requirements. These include project deliverables, quality standards, success metrics, project timeline, budget, and available resources.
2. Create a Risk Management Plan
Risk is an inherent dark cloud looming over every project, and a proactive approach is the best solution to unforeseen or inevitable problems and challenges.
The first obvious step to this end is to identify and list all potential risks. Here, the project manager can draw on team members’ expertise and experience to identify potential risks that may negatively impact the project.
The next step is to analyze the risk. This step involves identifying each listed risk’s likelihood and the impact the specific risk would have on the project. Potential risk includes:
- Major stakeholder pulling funding
- Losing a key resource
- Losing a key tech component
- Executing a project during holidays
- Supply chain breakdown
After analyzing risk, ranking the risks in order of magnitude, likelihood, and consequences helps give you a better view of the way forward. A risk management chart helps to identify which risks are unacceptable and propose solutions to the risk.
A risk response team can also come in handy if you have identified high-probability risks. Dedicating professionals and resources to planning, monitoring, and controlling risk can ensure that the inevitable is dealt with quickly and efficiently without derailing the project.
3. Develop an Effective Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)
It is virtually impossible to stay on schedule without a work breakdown structure. The WBS helps to visualize, define, and track a project deliverable and each task required to create it. A good WBS breaks down the project into small, manageable pieces which the project manager can assign to teams and evaluate progress.
Most organizations base their work breakdown structure on deliverables. This approach is relatively easy to trace, manage, and control. Whichever option you choose (such as functional WBS), you need a coherent work breakdown structure to guide you through the project.
Some of the benefits of an effective work breakdown structure include:
- Estimating the cost of a project
- Determining a feasible project timeline
- Clarifying roles and assigning responsibilities
- Establishing dependencies
- Tracking the progress of a project
Whatever type of project you are working on, the process of creating a WBS is more or less the same. The first step is to note down the main objective that you want to accomplish. Next, break down the project into individual deliverables. Remember, the focus should be on the deliverables and not the actions needed to obtain the deliverables.
Finally, create sub-tasks or project phases depending on the nature of your project.
4. Build A Successful Project Team
Even the most qualified project manager will have difficulty managing a successful project without an effective team. Creating a successful project team largely involves putting the right people in the right positions.
To this end, you need first to create a plan to consider the staffing resources at your disposal and the deadlines for all your objectives. From here, you will identify the specific roles you need to build your dream team.
While credentials and qualifications can be attractive, you need team members best suited for their specific role. With clearly defined roles, you can identify individual members for the roles based on skillset and experience.
In addition to skills, individual traits such as habits, personality, and temperament come into play when assigning roles. Ultimately, you want a team that works cohesively, so make sure team members can get along and work together effectively.
Also, be sure to set the tone for the project early on. Make sure that each team member understands their role, that you have clearly defined reporting structures and team hierarchies, and that the team understands the project’s objectives.
Lastly, communication is essential to the team’s success. You are responsible for keeping team members in the loop if any changes or outside events may affect the project. Make timely communication a priority, and foster a culture where team members understand that sharing information works to the team’s benefit.
5. Assess, Monitor, and Improve Quality Standards
While assessing the quality of a product is relatively simple, creative projects are much harder to define in terms of quality. Whatever the case, the project manager should have a clear conception of quality throughout the project’s lifecycle.
Coming up with quality standards often involves working with stakeholders to determine acceptable standards. Additionally, measuring quality against industry benchmarks is an excellent way of getting around the problem of assessing quality, especially for creative work.
Clearly defined key performance indicators (KPIs) regarding budget management, time to market, and resources used on the project are great ways to measure and monitor quality standards.
You should also plan for quality from the beginning of the project. This may include assigning roles and responsibilities for quality management, determining what will be inspected and tested, and when, and the tools and techniques used to assess quality.
Reporting the quality of deliverables through each phase of the project will improve the next project’s standards.