CXO

How to become a project manager: A cheat sheet

If you are interested in pursuing a career in project management and don't know where to start, here's your go-to guide for salaries, skills, and interview questions.

By 2027, employers will need nearly 88 million professionals in project management-oriented roles globally, according to a report from the Project Management Institute (PMI). The profession is expected to grow by 33% between 2017 and 2027, the report found, adding 22 million new jobs. This is a great time for professionals to begin building the skills needed to enter this lucrative career field and help companies meet their strategic goals across every industry.

To help those interested in the field better understand how to break into a career in project management, we compiled the most important details and resources. This guide on how to become a project manager will be updated on a regular basis.

SEE: IT Hiring Kit: Project Manager (Tech Pro Research)

Why is there increased demand for project managers?

Demand for project managers far outstrips supply, according to the PMI report. This is because project managers play a critical role in helping organizations meet strategic goals, as TechRepublic contributing writer Moira Alexander wrote. These professionals ensure projects ranging from the release of a new product or service to the implementation of an in-house technology for employees make sense for a company to undertake, and then manage that project by setting and meeting goals and overseeing the overall execution.

As companies digitally transform and seek to innovate in their field, they need project managers to handle many of the details of doing so.

Additional resources

What does a project manager do?

Generally speaking, a project manager is the person in charge of a specific project within an organization, including the planning, budgeting, overseeing, and documenting for that project.

SEE: Job description: IT project manager (Tech Pro Research)

A project manager's roles can be broken down by the five-phase project life cycle, according to PMI and described by Alexander.

1. Initiation

  • Taking responsibility for all activities relating to the development of a project charter.
  • Identifying and vetting all project stakeholders to ensure the project has all the necessary involvement at various levels of the business.

2. Planning

  • Developing a comprehensive project management plan that stakeholders, teams, and sponsors can follow throughout each phase of the project.
  • Defining and managing the scope of a project, creating a work breakdown structure (WBS), and gathering project requirements.
  • Developing project schedules, identifying activities, estimating required resources, as well as activity timelines.
  • Estimating all-in project costs, and determining the necessary budgets to complete the project.
  • Identifying the level of quality required to meet deliverables.
  • Determining the human resources needed to execute a project successfully.
  • Handling all aspects of communication with internal and external stakeholders, teams, and vendors.
  • Identifying potential risks, performing risk analyses, and preparing and communicating risk mitigation strategies.
  • Determining which procurements and vendors will sufficiently meet the intended goals.
  • Ensuring all the stakeholder identified and agreed upon needs and expectations are met at all times.

3. Executing

  • Guiding and managing the project in every aspect, including the intersection of technology, processes, and change management.
  • Effectively managing the level of quality in deliverables.
  • Identifying, developing, and managing all team members.
  • Developing and managing team and stakeholder communications.
  • Identifying, securing, and effectively managing all necessary procurements.
  • Carefully managing all stakeholder expectations to ensure there are no miscommunications or misunderstandings.

4. Monitoring and controlling

  • Monitoring and controlling the project work and managing any necessary changes by working closely with change management experts.
  • Analyzing, validating, and controlling the scope of the project to ensure projects are not side-tracked or intended goals are not missed.
  • Controlling project costs to avoid cost overruns.
  • Controlling the quality of deliverables to avoid missed stakeholder expectations.
  • Controlling all team and stakeholder communications.
  • Controlling procurements.
  • Controlling stakeholder engagement to keep everyone on the same page at all times.

5. Closing

  • Closing all phases of the project once objectives have been met and customers have signed off on a successful project.
  • Closing all project procurements.

Additional resources

SEE: All of TechRepublic's cheat sheets and smart person's guides

What skills or certifications do you need to become a project manager?

There are many paths to becoming a project manager, and no right or wrong way to approach the career, according to PMI. Similarly, no one project manager is the right fit for all of a company's projects.

Generally speaking, project managers must have strong verbal and written communication skills, as prompt and honest communication immediately gives a project manager credibility, and increases the likelihood of a successful project. These professionals also must be able to interact with and manage members of cross-functional teams. Project managers must be highly organized, and be able to interpret data and disperse results to stakeholders. Soft skills, such as empathy and emotional intelligence, are also important to succeed in this role.

To increase earning potential and credibility, many project managers pursue one of eight project management credentials that are offered exclusively through PMI. These credentials are as follows:

  • Project Management Professional (PMP)
  • Program Management Professional (PgMP)
  • Portfolio Management Professional (PfMP)
  • Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)
  • PMI Professional in Business Analysis (PMI-PBA)
  • PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)
  • PMI Risk Management Professional (PMI-RMP)
  • PMI Scheduling Professional (PMI-SP)

PMI certifications are considered the gold standard by organizations and leaders around the globe in career advancement.

The PMP is the most globally recognized certification in project management. PMI recommends this certification for experienced project managers who handle all aspects of project delivery, leading and directing cross-functional teams.

SEE: Quick glossary: Project management (Tech Pro Research)

Other project management certifications to consider are CompTIA's Project+, Certified ScrumMaster, PRINCE2 Foundation & Practitioner, and the IPMA Four-Level Certification (4-L-C) System.

Additional resources

What is the average project manager salary?

The median project manager salary in the US for those with a PMP certificate was $112,000 as of 2017, according to PMI data. The median salary for those without a PMP certificate in the US was $92,000.

Project management salaries vary depending on the position, the PMI data found. For example, in the US, a director of project management earns a median salary of $140,000, while a project manager I earns $87,426, and a project management consultant earns $115,000.

The average salary for project managers in the US was $115,761, according to PMI.

Additional resources

Where are the hottest markets for project manager jobs?

Project managers earn the highest median salaries in Switzerland ($130,966), the US ($112,000), Australia ($108,593), Germany ($88,449), and the Netherlands ($86,292). In terms of growth of positions, the most new jobs for project talent are projected to arise in China (1.1 million annual jobs from 2017-2027), India (706,682 jobs), and the US (213,974 jobs), according to PMI data.

Additional resources

What are typical project manager interview questions?

Project managers can expect questions like these during a job interview:

  • Describe the process you would use to manage scope on your project.
  • How do you manage risk on your project?
  • What do you do to determine if a project is progressing as planned or getting off track?
  • What tools do you use to manage projects? Why and what are the benefits they provide you?
  • Give an example of a time when you improved communications within your current team.
  • How do you communicate project status to your client and sponsor?
  • How do you resolve conflict on a project team?

SEE: More must-read IT project management coverage (TechRepublic Flipboard magazine)

While it's important to prepare for the questions you might be asked by the employer as a project manager job candidate, it's also key to know what questions you will ask them. Some questions might include:

  • What is your company's approach for managing projects? Do you follow a specific methodology, or use specific tools?
  • What kind of stakeholder support do you have on this project?
  • How many clients do you typically assign to each project manager?
  • Which KPIs do you track in your teams, and why?

Additional resources

Where can I find resources for a career in project management?

Professionals can enter the project management career path from a number of other positions and experience levels; these professionals may come from a technical, customer service, or administrative background. Often, requirements for project manager positions vary depending on the individual company and industry.

The PMI and the International Project Management Association (IPMA) are two go-to resources for all things related to project management careers, including certifications, professional learning, and events.

In terms of education, project managers often hold bachelor's degrees in management, business, or a related field. More than 800,000 project managers hold an active PMP certification, according to the PMI. Many colleges and universities now offer master's degrees in project management as well.

Additional resources

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Image: iStockphoto/monkeybusinessimages

About Alison DeNisco Rayome

Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.

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