How to Become a Project Manager

By May 3, 2016 Careers

This continues our IT Career series. These are designed to introduce you to the variety of career options in information technology and how you can get started.

Project management is a fairly wide field that encompasses a range of functions involving the coordination of activities in an organization. Depending on the type of background you have and what industry you work in, project management can be a supporting administrative function or a supervisory management function. The education and experience required also varies with the type of work being done, and some information about how to become a project manager in various fields is provided below.

What is a Project Manager’s Job?

No matter what field or type of project management job you are dealing with, you’ll need to organize information, resources, and people. You’ll also need to communicate within a project team, act as a liaison outside of the team, and work with project teams to ensure endeavors are within budget and compliance requirements. You might work with bookkeeping, complete administrative duties such as notetaking and supply orders, or help teams apply project methodologies such as Six Sigma.

How is the Job Market for Project Managers?

Project managers continue to be in high demand across a variety of industries, due in part to the need for enterprises to work smarter, reduce expenses, and constantly improve processes. Project managers are a resource that can help teams do all of those things, regardless of industry. Perhaps most commonly, project managers are associated with computer and technical departments. Often referred to as information system managers, these project managers work with teams to develop software, hardware, and other technical products or processes. Information system managers earn a median salary of $127,640 annually according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and job numbers are expected to grow 15 percent between 2014 and 2024.

Another industry where project management goes by its own name is construction. Construction project managers bring the same organizational and administrative skills to the job, but instead of a computer science background, they typically have experience in building or engineering. Construction managers earn around $85,630 at the median level each year and job growth is about 5 percent, which is on par with total job growth nationally.

A more general type of project management job is project coordination, which is more administrative and less specialist in nature than either computer- or construction-based project management. The BLS categorizes project coordination under business operations specialists, who make a median salary of $67,280 each year.

What Education is Required?

The education required to become a project manager depends heavily on what field and level you plan to work at. Project coordinators in many fields don’t need a secondary degree at all, especially if they have enough on-the-job experience and have proven impeccable organization and administrative skills over time. Some companies draw project coordinators from executive administrative staff for this reason.

In a few cases, project managers don’t need a secondary degree either, though most organizations do want to see a certification in project management or a project management methodology such as Six Sigma. These project management jobs are usually administrative in nature and involve working with teams from across an enterprise on various projects.

Individuals who manage projects in specific fields or departments, such as information systems, typically have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree related to that field. They might also have a project management certification. One of the most common certifications is the Project Management Professional, or PMP, certification. PMP certification is managed by the Project Management Institute and requires applicants to have a high-school diploma, 35 hours of project management education, and 7,500 hours of experience directing and leading projects before they can take the exam. Alternatively, someone with a four-year degree only needs 4,500 hours of experience. The test offered by the Project Management Institute includes 200 multiple-choice questions. Once certified, PMs must maintain certification with continuing education every year.

Who is Hiring Project Managers?

Corporate organizations in almost every field hire project managers. The higher pay does seem to sit within the computer sciences, which means potential project managers might want to seek an associate’s degree or hire in technical fields. Other fields hiring project managers include healthcare, finance, construction, research and development, retail and ecommerce, and manufacturing.

Project management is a field that is open to anyone with organizational and administrative functions. You can take any experience and education you have and turn it into a project management career, especially if you are willing to seek a PMP certification. To differentiate yourself even further, you might consider learning about or becoming certified in process improvement methodologies such as Lean or Six Sigma.

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