7 project management certs to help beginners and experienced professionals earn a higher salary

The Project Management Institute's Agile certification is the most popular program after the gold standard Project Management Professional.

Project managers can find a job in almost every industry and almost every country. There is always a need for someone to be the grown-up in the room to ask the difficult questions required to keep work on schedule. 

On-the-job experience can be as valuable as formal training, but it's also harder to quantify. Adding a certification to your resume will clearly communicate your project management skills to hiring managers. 

Michael DePrisco, vice president of global experience and solutions at Project Management Institute, said that the PMP is still the most popular certification with more than one million people holding the certification. 

"Having the credential allows project managers more opportunities to perform in a variety of roles and settings," he said. "In the current climate, we are still seeing project management as an in-demand role."

SEE: Top IT certifications to increase your salary (free PDF)

Glassdoor career trends expert Sarah Stoddard said the key to negotiating a good salary is for a person to make a strong case that includes specific examples to show how they've mastered certain skills crucial for the job. 

"If you have specific certifications, leveraging those during a negotiation could be the edge that puts a little more money in your pocket," she said.

Stoddard said certifications are one element of a job application.

"If you meet all of the requirements and ace the interview for a highly competitive job, but you've also obtained a relevant certification, you need to make it clear how that certification differentiates you from other candidates and how it will positively impact your work," she said. "If you can do that, then a certification might just be the secret sauce that helps you land a new job."

What certifications do you need to get a project management job?

Each project management role has its own set of requirements, but there are standard skill sets for beginning, mid-career, and experienced professionals. Employers usually look for these qualifications at each level of experience as well as a basic understanding of the principles of project management:

  • Entry-level skills: Customer service, staff management, change management
  • Intermediate skills: Budgeting, stakeholder management, scheduling>
  • Advanced skills: Construction management, Agile expertise

There are certifications for each phase of a project manager's career as well. For beginners, the Project Management Institute's Certified Associate in Project Management is a good place to start. This program will  give individuals the skills to manage larger projects and gain more responsibility. To take this certification exam, a person must have a high school diploma or an associate's degree and 23 hours of project management education.

Another good introduction to project management is the CompTIA Project+. It is designed for people who manage smaller, less complex projects as part of their other job duties. Project+ covers essential project management concepts beyond the scope of just one methodology or framework.

To pass this exam, candidates need to understand how to:

  • Manage the project life cycle
  • Ensure appropriate communication
  • Manage resources and stakeholders
  • Maintain project documentation

For mid-career professionals, the gold standard is the Project Management Professional certification from Project Management Institute (PMI). According to the PMI, certified PMPs report earning up to 25% more than non-certified professionals.  

The prerequisites for this certification are: 

  • A four-year degree
  • Three years leading projects
  • 35 hours of project management education/training or CAPM Certification

To qualify for the exam, applicants have to submit work experience then take the exam.

The Global Association for Quality Management has a Certified Project Director program. This one is for experienced professionals who want to acquire new skills and advanced techniques in managing complex projects and management issues, including managing risk and quality. This certification is also good for professionals who manage a team of project managers or multiple projects.

For people balancing a full-time job and a certification program, DePrisco recommends finding a local PMI chapter to connect with peers and find a certification study group.

"Having a network of like-minded people who can provide support and mentorship can serve as great motivation to complete your goal of obtaining a certification or learning a certain skill," he said.

The exams for the PMP, the ACP, and the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)  are available online.

PMI certifications require continued professional development to keep the certification in good standing. The Institute has recently launched a number of free online offerings and courses.  

What's the best certification choice for working with developers?

Certain certification programs are designed for project managers who work with software teams. As the Agile method to software development has become standard, project managers need to understand the demands of that approach. The PMI has one program for people interested in this speciality and the Scrum Alliance has two:

DePrisco said that outside of the PMP, the Agile Certified Practitioner is the Institute's  fastest growing certification. The ACP covers numerous agile frameworks, including Scrum, Kanban, and Lean.  

The Scrum Alliance supports development teams that use the Agile methodology.

A scrum master has these responsibilities to the development team:

  • Ensuring that goals, scope, and product domain are clearly understood
  • Understanding product planning  
  • Understanding and practicing agility
  • Facilitating Scrum events as requested or needed

Also see

Professional project manager with icons about planning tasks and milestones on schedule, cost management, monitoring of progress, resource, risk, deliverables and contract, business concept

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