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Project Management Salary Expectations and Specifics

The idea of becoming a project manager is exciting.

You may feel that it’s your calling. If this sounds like you, there is one thing you must check before you jump into this industry.

What?

The salary of course.

Are you willing and able to start at the bottom of the pay ladder and work your way up?

Is the money manageable for your lifestyle?

Can you budget your lifestyle as you start in this field?

These are questions you need answers to. And can’t ignore.

If you haven’t considered them yet it’s cool. That’s why you’re here.

Though they seem simple, you’re not alone if you haven’t answered them yet.

Let’s get through this labyrinth of questions together and help you set some realistic expectations.

Ready?

Why Project Management Salary Is So Important

Wouldn’t it be great to live in a world where money didn’t matter, and we could do what we wanted without concern for the pay? Chances are good no one would say “no” to that, unfortunately, that’s not the reality of the world.

We must take into account the salary of a job before we commit to taking it. In fact, we should take into account the salary of a job before we even consider a career in that field. And project management is no exception.

Like many careers out there, the earnings of a project manager vary a great deal. Your pay depends on your level of education, your experience, and several other things. According to a recent Project Management Institute study, the average salary for a project manager in the United States is $116,000/year. Remember, this means there are people in the industry making much more than that, and people also making much less.

While you may come into the project management field at the bottom and work your way up, there are a number of reasons why a career in project management will literally pay off for you.

  1. Demand. One Project Management Institute study found that the need for project managers is growing faster than other jobs. “Through 2027, the project management-oriented labor force in seven project-oriented sectors is expected to grow by 33% or nearly 22 million new jobs,” the study states.
  2. Salary. Because project management is a profession with room for advancement, that means your salary also has room for improvement. The higher you work your way up in this field, the more money you make.
  3. Necessary position. In any established company, a project manager is essential to the company’s continued growth and success. Thus, you have job security. In addition, you’ll have more opportunity to work in an industry that interests you, rather than having to take any PM job that comes your way.
  4. Position advancement. From entry to executive level and everything in between, there are several different opportunities to advance in project management. Here is the typical career path for PM:
  • Project Coordinator. An entry-level position that serves as an assistant to the management team. Typically more of an administrative role that helps create and distribute reports.
  • Project Scheduler. A position that uses software to manage the schedule of projects for a company.
  • Assistant Project Manager. Acts as an aid to a project manager working on a large project. This position exists to take on tasks that the project manager does not have the time to do on his/her own.
  • Project Manager. This role oversees entire projects from start to finish, including budgets, schedules, demonstrations, and more. This person often works alone or with an assistant or management team for bigger projects.
  • Senior Project Manager. This person manages multiple projects at a time and prioritizes project needs. A senior project manager typically has a team to help execute the individual projects.

How to Improve Your Project Management Salary Today

The range of a project manager’s salary is quite extensive and is dependent upon many different factors. If you are starting in the field and want to know what the future holds, this information will prove useful. If you are already in the project management field and are looking to make more money, this information should also be helpful. 

Here are the best ways to improve your project management salary.

Degree

The Project Management Institute’s 2020 Salary Survey shows that in the United States, 42% of project managers have a four-year degree as their highest level of education and 47% have a master’s degree as their highest. Only 1% of the project management population surveyed was able to land a PM job with just a high school diploma. 

This is clear evidence that having a bachelor’s degree increases your chances of getting a job in this industry and also your chances of a higher salary.

You don’t necessarily need a degree specific to project management, but a degree specific to the industry you’re interested in is best. This allows you to have a greater general understanding of the world you’re going into and that, paired with PM experience, is what will make you a strong candidate for the job and for raises in the future.

Some people in the project management field hold a master’s degree, and it can set you apart and potentially give you a greater chance at a higher salary. Earning your undergraduate degree in the industry you’re planning to work in, followed by a graduate degree in project management, creates a very strong resume. A graduate program in PM can provide you with specialized skills and experience to advance your career to the next level (which means more money, too).

Certification

Want to take your education one step further and thus take your salary further, too? Get a project management certification. The same PMI study we shared above found that those with a PMP certification earn, on average, 22% more than those without one. And this is across all countries and all industries. This certification can also take the place of an advanced degree in project management.

Why does the certification hold so much weight in the PM world? Because when you’re certified, it shows employers that you have the skills, knowledge, and ability to manage projects and manage teams. The Project Management Institute is the leader in certifications, and they offer several different certification options that will open new doors for you in your career and your salary.

Experience

Education is a must for your career, but a significant piece of the salary puzzle in project management is experience. The more experience you have, the more chance you have for increasing your salary. The PMI study shows that project managers with 5-10 years of experience make $20,000 per year more than those with 3-5 years of experience. That is quite a jump!

So, if you’re looking to increase your salary in project management, keep gaining experience and stay on top of industry trends that can help you stay at the forefront of this industry’s advancement, and thus, your career.

Specialization

There are different areas within the field of project management that you can specialize in, each offering different types of work and salaries.

Industry

If you find you aren’t getting the salary you want, then it may be time to switch to a different industry. Like other jobs, the pay for a project manager depends on the industry you’re in and how lucrative and successful it is.

The industries with the highest-earning project managers are STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math). That is because these industries are rapidly growing, and demand is increasing along with it. According to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2017 study, “The national average wage for all STEM occupations was $87,570, nearly double the national average wage for non-STEM occupations ($45,700).” And those statistics are not limited to just a couple of jobs within the STEM field–93% of STEM jobs have salaries far above the national average for all occupations ($48,320).

If you’re looking to take your salary to a much higher level, consider a job in project management one of these industries:

  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Resources (agriculture, mining)
  • Consulting
  • Aerospace
  • Engineering
  • Information Technology
  • Food and Beverage
  • Financial Services
  • Legal

Location

As with many jobs, where you live and work affects your salary. According to Zippia, the highest-earning project managers in the United States are in Massachusetts, with an average salary of $101,716.

While other countries worldwide have great project management opportunities, the pay in most places is not nearly as good as the United States. However, if you’re ready to make a move for a job that will be an excellent boost for your career, your salary, and possibly your life, consider moving out of the country. In Switzerland, project managers are paid an average of $132,086 per year. With a country at the forefront of innovation, it seems high-paying project management jobs are not going anywhere.

5 Best Practices for Getting Paid More as a Project Manager

In addition to the above, there are other things you can do to show your value and your worth and get a higher salary for your project management position. 

Ask

The first step in getting a higher salary is to just ask for it. Whether you have been offered a new position or are currently a PM looking for a raise, ask your supervisor for more money.

This is not a conversation you enter without first doing some work. Do some research and prepare a case to present to the hiring manager or your current manager. This information should show statistics of your work experience, the successes you’ve had, and more. Use metrics and quantifiable reasons why you deserve a raise. 

The key is letting the manager know what you are worth and why. Be confident and purposeful in your conversation.

Many people don’t realize that you can simply ask for a raise without waiting for an annual review or for a manager to come to you and offer one. 

Check what other companies are paying

You may be able to get paid more for your PM job simply by looking at others’ salaries in your industry or similar ones. This requires some dedicated research time on your end, but it may be worth it if you make a case as to why you should be earning as much, if not more, than others in your industry.

This is known as the market salary for your level of education and experience. Research competitors in your industry to find out what their PM salaries are. You can use sites like Glassdoor and Indeed or even reach out to other project managers and ask.

Work on bigger projects

Do you feel you’re ready to advance your work to the next level and take on larger projects and responsibilities? If yes, that’s a great way to increase your salary.

It should be no surprise that the bigger the project, the bigger the team, the bigger the budget, and the bigger the PM’s check. The more people you oversee, the more opportunity you have to earn more money.

Consider benefits aside from salary

While the salary is the number that gets all of the attention, a lot more goes into how much a project manager makes beyond the paycheck.

Some companies offer strong benefits packages that include things such as:

  • Matched 401(k) contributions
  • Health insurance subsidized
  • Help with childcare
  • Coverage of certification/education costs
  • Coverage of conference costs
  • Coverage of training event costs
  • Help with transportation costs
  • Vacation
  • Other paid time off
  • Subsidized food

When looking at your salary, your base compensation is only part of the equation. For example, if you get 401(k) matching that ends up being around $15,000 per year at your job, but a similar role is paying $10,000 more in base compensation with no matching, you are getting a better overall deal. Same with if your company covers more of your insurance benefits and another company doesn’t. 

Be careful to weigh non-monetary compensation benefits and perks. There may be areas where you can negotiate better overall compensation that are not just adding to your base pay.

Be realistic

Managing your expectations here is important. If you’re new to project management, don’t expect to go into a job making $150,000/year. And if you’re looking for a raise, don’t expect a 50% raise. Know what your worth, know the industry, and know your company. You’re more likely to get what you want if you approach the situation from a place of research, knowledge, and reality.


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