How to Start Your Career as a Project Manager

How to Start Working as a Project Manager | How to Become a Project Manager | How to Get Started in Project Management

To start your career as a project manager typically requires at least several years of experience. You may need to obtain entry-level positions to understand your employer’s practices and procedures. Project managers also often need a postsecondary degree or certification related to their industry.

Many universities, colleges, and vocational schools offer training in project management. This training tends to focus on the frameworks and methods used to achieve successful outcomes.

Along with education and experience, there are certain skills and traits that you need to possess.  For example, managing people more effectively or managing a team and reaching specific project goals requires leadership, communication, and organization.

These skills can be gained from day to day real work environment.   

In some cases, the project manager is assigned based on seniority or technical aptitude. However, project management is also a distinct field.

First, What is Project Management?

Project management is a process or planning, organizing, controlling, and directing a project from start to finish.  It also includes managing and leading the project team to achieve specific goals. A project is a carefully planned undertaking with a defined objective or set of goals.

What is a Project Manager?

The person who is responsible for managing the project is referred to as the “project manager.”  A project manager leads the planning, execution, and monitoring to ensure that the project achieves its objectives.  

Leading a team and keeping the project on time and within budget are big responsibilities.

Project management is not easy. Your life as a project manager will always face challenges and stress. It can also be highly rewarding.  Find out if you have what it takes to be a project manager.

Overview of How to Start Your Career as a Project Manager

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After reading through each section, you should have a clear understanding of how to get started as a project manager.

1.0 Project Manager Job Description and Duties

If you enjoy taking charge and directing others to complete tasks, you may have what it takes to become a project manager.

Becoming a successful project manager requires the right attitude, skills, and education. Effective project managers are often extraverts and work well with others. They also have strong leadership and communication skills to delegate tasks and maintain productivity.

1.1 Standard Job Duties for a Project Manager

So, what do project managers do?  A project manager manages the day-to-day activities of the teams or individuals involved in a project. However, project managers also handle a wide range of additional tasks. Common duties include:

  1. Planning daily or weekly activities
  2. Acquiring and allocating resources
  3. Organizing and motivating team members
  4. Estimating costs and budgetary constraints
  5. Managing time to meet deadlines
  6. Analyzing the risk of potential processes
  7. Defining the outcomes for the project
  8. Monitoring the progress of the project
  9. Reporting and documenting each stage

The main duty of the project manager is to manage activities. They need to create a clear plan for team members to follow, ensuring that everyone is on the same page. This may involve delegating tasks and creating daily or weekly task plans.

Project managers are also responsible for ensuring that the team has the resources and tools needed to accomplish their tasks.

Time management and continuous monitoring of progress are also essential duties to avoid delays or increased costs.

The project manager is typically the intermediary between upper management and the team working on the project. The PM reports directly to executives, providing them with frequent reports and summaries.

1.2 Categories of Project Managers

The job duties and responsibilities also depend on the specific role of the manager. There are multiple types of project managers, each with slightly different job descriptions:

  1. Project coordinator
  2. Assistant project manager
  3. Project manager
  4. Senior project manager

Depending on the scale and scope of the project, some of these categories may not be necessary. A smaller project may not have a coordinator or an assistant. 

  • Project Coordinator

The project coordinator is an entry-level job position for aspiring managers. Large projects may require someone dedicated to the coordination of labor and resources.

Project coordinators are often responsible for scheduling activities and coordinating with vendors or suppliers.

  • Assistant Project Manager

An assistant project manager supports the lead manager or senior manager. This job title is more common when receiving on-the-job training for project management.

You work under a more experienced manager and are typically responsible for administrative tasks, such as documenting the progress of the project.

  • Project Manager

The project manager or “lead project manager” is the person with overall responsibility for the project. They take a lead role in every stage of the project, from planning to execution.

  • Senior Project Manager

A senior project manager is a job title given to managers with several years of experience and a track record of successful projects.

This person may manage larger projects with more moving parts, such as a project that involves teams from multiple departments.

1.3 Project Management for Different Industries

Another consideration is the industry that you work in. Not all employers have “project manager” positions. This is a job that is more common in the following industries:

  1. Construction
  2. Engineering
  3. Health Care
  4. Energy
  5. Information technology (IT)

Here is a closer look at how the duties of a project manager vary based on the industry.

  • Construction

In the past, the person in charge of a construction project was often called the “foreman.” In today’s construction industry, many companies now have “project manager” positions.

The construction project manager is the person responsible for overseeing on-site activities. They manage workers, vendors, and supplies to ensure that the construction project is completed on time and budget.

Along with managing the efficiency of the project, construction project managers are also responsible for workplace safety. They are responsible for making workers and supervisors follow industry safety standards and government regulations to reduce the risk of workplace accidents.

  • Engineering

An engineering project manager shares many responsibilities with construction managers. They also need to maintain safe work conditions. However, an engineering project manager has distinct duties.

Before engineering activities start, the project manager needs to review the requirements of the project. They are involved in the early stage of research and development (R&D) and continue to manage the project through design and manufacturing stages.

  • Health Care

The healthcare industry uses project managers to oversee individual departments. For example, a hospital may hire a project manager to oversee the expansion of its facilities or the adoption of new workplace procedures.

Managers may also manage the development of healthcare initiatives.

Healthcare project managers are also often responsible for identifying and solving issues. Depending on the department or healthcare setting, the manager may need to manage nurses or doctors and coordinate the delivery of supplies and equipment.

  • Energy

Project managers in the energy industry are typically responsible for the development of new energy sources or connections. They may oversee the development of pipelines, electrical grid expansions, or the extraction of natural resources to supply energy.

Common tasks for project managers in the energy industry include budgeting and planning individual projects and managing multiple teams of skilled professionals and contractors.

  • Information Technology (IT)

IT project managers are in charge of individual IT projects. This may include deploying new software, improving data security, or upgrading outdated technologies.

Depending on the size of the employer, an IT project manager may manage a small team to carry out projects.

Becoming an IT project manager requires extensive technical knowledge and work experience. IT professionals may progress to the role of a manager after several years in the industry.

You also need to understand the technologies used, which often require advanced education. For example, you may need a Bachelor’s degree or a Master’s degree in Computer Science before reaching this position.

Keep in mind that these are just a few of the main industries that employ project managers. If you work in a different sector, your specific duties and responsibilities may vary.

2.0 Necessary Skills and Traits for Project Managers

The next detail to consider is the skills and traits needed to successfully manage a project. While the terms are often used interchangeably, “skills” and “traits” are separate qualities.

A skill is a learned ability that comes from your knowledge, aptitude, or experience. A trait is a distinguishing characteristic, such as an aspect of your personality. 

What skills are needed to be a project manager? You need a combination of hard skills and soft skills.

2.1 Hard Skills for Project Managers

Hard skills include abilities that you learn through training, schooling, or work experience:

  1. Task management
  2. Risk management
  3. Business process management
  4. Project planning
  5. Technical skills

You may need to further your education to develop some of these skills. Training programs and degree programs provide the knowledge needed to manage tasks, risks, and processes.

  • Task Management

Task management is one of the most central skills of a project manager. It involves monitoring the progress and quality of the work to ensure greater efficiency and fewer errors.

Task management relies heavily on organizational skills. You need to understand how completing tasks in a certain order can increase or decrease productivity. You must also remain aware of the time commitment for each task.

To work on your task management skills, make a list of everything that you need to accomplish in your current role. Divide your responsibilities into weekly and daily task lists and frequently update each list as you cross items off.

  • Risk Management

Risk management is the process of mitigating potential risks, including errors and setbacks. This involves evaluating the challenges of each task to define the possible risks. After identifying the risks, you need to develop strategies for avoiding them.

One solution for improving your risk management skills is to pay attention to previous mistakes. Learn from your mistakes and the mistakes of others.

  • Business Process Management

Business process management (BPM) involves five specific stages to improve the performance of individual processes:

  1. Analyze
  2. Define
  3. Optimize
  4. Monitor
  5. Control

BPM provides the tools needed to increase productivity, reduce costs, and minimize errors. This skill requires you to break down each process and analyze every moving part. You define the steps involved in the process and the desired outcomes.

By taking the time to review each step, you can uncover ways to optimize the process. You then continue to monitor and control the process to evaluate the success of your optimization.

  • Project Planning

Before delegating tasks to team members, you need to have a plan. Project planning requires you to outline objectives and milestones to keep things moving on the right track.

The planning process helps clarify the overall scope of your project. This makes it easier to divide the project into smaller milestones and task lists.

  • Technical Skills

Technical skills include skills that are specific to your industry or the types of projects that you work on. Most of the technical skills that you require are obtained through education and work experience.

For example, if you plan to be a project manager for a pharmaceutical company, you will likely need to take courses in medical terminology.

If you work at a construction firm, you may need knowledge of machinery, construction principles, and safety requirements. Project managers at IT companies may need a background in software development and programming.

2.2 Soft Skills for Project Managers

Soft skills are characteristics that combine traits and abilities, such as:

  1. Leadership
  2. Communication
  3. Critical thinking
  4. Prioritization
  5. Organization
  6. Creativity

Some people have traits that make it easier for them to acquire these soft skills. For example, some individuals are naturally creative or good at staying organized. However, you can also develop these skills by being more mindful of your actions.

  • Leadership

Leadership is your ability to guide others to achieve specific goals. A successful leader promotes confidence in team members and fosters a healthy work environment.

  • Communication

To become an effective leader, you need to have strong communication skills. The best leaders actively listen to concerns and feedback from team members, as they recognize that they do not have all the solutions themselves.

  • Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is the unbiased analysis of facts to form logical conclusions. Your critical thinking skills help you uncover potential errors and thoroughly evaluate the pros and cons of each decision.

Project managers need to critically assess the progress of their projects. This allows you to diagnose problems and find solutions that are not always obvious at first glance.

  • Prioritization

Prioritization is the process of arranging tasks in order of importance. It is a valuable skill for task management. When you create a task list, you need to prioritize the items.

Sorting tasks in order of importance provides a straightforward plan for the work that you and your team need to accomplish. It sets clear expectations and tends to improve productivity.

  • Organization

Organization skills help you stay focused and use your time and resources wisely. It encompasses many of the other skills required for project managers, including prioritization, task management, and process management.

  • Creativity

Creativity is sometimes needed to find new ways of solving problems or creating more efficient processes. Developing your creative skills helps you discover new opportunities in achieving goals and problem-solving.

2.3 Traits of a Project Manager

Along with hard and soft skills, certain traits make people naturally good at managing others. Some of the traits associated with successful project managers include:

  1. Confident
  2. Responsible
  3. Adaptable
  4. Detail orientated
  5. Empathetic

These are traits that some people naturally develop over time. Luckily, you can work on these traits by paying more attention to the way you interact with others and deal with challenges.

  • Confident

Confident managers are motivated and stand behind their decisions. They tend to be more productive as they spend less time second-guessing themselves. A confident manager also promotes confidence in others.

If you lack confidence in your abilities, you may struggle to manage others. You can build more confidence in the workplace by focusing on your strengths and learning when to receive support to deal with your weaknesses.

  • Responsible

A responsible manager is honest and accountable. They avoid taking credit for the hard work of others and take the blame when things do not work as planned.

To develop your sense of responsibility, avoid creating excuses for errors. Accept your failures and learn from them.

  • Adaptable

Project managers need to be able to adapt to changes. When a setback or challenge arises, you may need to suddenly shift the direction of your activities. An adaptable manager can easily roll with these changes without experiencing unnecessary stress or anxiety.

  • Detail Orientated

Being detail-oriented helps you stay organized. It also allows you to detect problems that others may not notice. You may find new ways to solve a problem or optimize a process due to your ability to examine every detail of a process.

  • Empathetic

A good manager is empathetic to the needs of team members. Showcasing your empathy by listening to others and addressing their concerns helps keep your team motivated.

It also encourages a healthier work environment, which improves morale and productivity.

3.0 How to Start as a Project Manager

The career path to becoming a project manager may take years, depending on the type of company that you work for and your current position.

The traditional path to becoming a project manager includes four main components:

  1. Educational requirements
  2. Work experience
  3. Training
  4. Certification

The details and requirements vary depending on the industry and employer. However, you typically need a combination of advanced degrees, work experience, and professional certification.

  • Educational Requirements

Project managers typically have a bachelor’s degree in business management, business administration, or a related field of study. Some schools also offer project management (PM) degrees.

If you already have a bachelor’s degree, earning a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in project management may increase your career prospects.

Keep in mind that you may need specific educational requirements to work in your industry. An IT project manager may need a bachelor’s degree in computer science while an engineering project manager may need an engineering degree.

  • Work Experience

After earning a degree, you are unlikely to land a job as a project manager without work experience. Most project managers start in smaller roles within an organization.

Depending on the industry, you may start as a general employee. For example, to become an IT project manager, you may start as a programmer.

After working on a few projects, you may get the chance to apply for an entry-level project manager position, such as a project coordinator or assistant.

  • Training

Along with industry experience, you may need to complete project management training. Some employers develop tailored training programs to ensure that you are ready to manage a project.

On-the-job training may involve shadowing an experienced project manager. With this type of training, you work under a senior manager.

You receive instant feedback, which makes it easier to grasp the responsibilities of project management.

Some training programs may include coursework. This is more common when an employer requires managers to follow standard operating procedures and carefully outlined project structures.

  • Certification

Project management certification demonstrates that you have the abilities needed to become a project manager.

There are over a dozen project management (PM) certifications offered through various professional associations, such as the Project Management Institute (PMI).

Some of the most common PM certifications include:

  1. Project Management Professional (PMP)
  2. Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)
  3. Certified ScrumMaster (CSM)
  4. Certified Six Sigma Black Belt (CSSBB)

These certifications typically require at least a few years of work experience. To obtain the certification, you also need to pass one or more exams and may need to complete a training program.

  • Project Management Professional (PMP)

PMP is one of the most common certifications for project managers. Many master’s degree programs in project management integrate PMP training, allowing you to earn a degree and the certification.

The PMP credential demonstrates your knowledge of the skills needed to successfully manage every stage of a project. It covers your experience with planning, scheduling, monitoring, controlling, and closing out projects.

  • Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)

The CAPM certification is considered an entry-level credential. While the PMP requires several years of work experience, the CAPM only requires 1500 hours of documented experience and a high school diploma.

  • Certified ScrumMaster (CSM)

CSM is another entry-level credential that focuses on the Scrum methodology for project management. Scrum is a common framework for project management that revolves around teamwork and accountability to produce more effective results.

  • Certified Six Sigma Black Belt (CSSBB)

The CSSBB certification is for project managers that follow the Six Sigma framework for project management. To obtain this certification, you need to complete at least two projects using Six Sigma standards and processes.

3.1 Average Project Manager Salary

According to the latest statistics, the average project manager makes about $86,383 per year. Some industries may offer higher or lower pay.

For example, the average salary for an IT project manager is closer to $100,000 per year. Construction project managers make an average of $74,729 per year. However, your pay is also related to your work experience and education.

4.0 Project Management Methods and Frameworks

If you want to know how to be a better project manager, explore the most used frameworks for project management.

Project managers need to have a plan to keep projects moving forward. The most successful managers tend to rely on time-tested project management processes.

The following methods and frameworks provide an overall structure for the way you manage people and tasks:

  1. Scrum – relies on small, self-managing teams to deliver fast results
  2. Agile – focus on collaboration to quickly complete tasks
  3. Kanban – limits the use of multitasking to deliver improved productivity
  4. Waterfall – involves planning every stage of a project starting work
  5. PRINCE2 – highly-structured approach with detailed planning for every stage
  6. PMI’s PMBOK – adds universal standards to the use of the Waterfall methodology
  7. Lean – focuses on eliminating waste to increase efficiency
  8. Six Sigma – focuses on detecting and eliminating inefficient processes

Each methodology is suited for different types of projects. As a project manager, you may need to understand the basic principles of several different methodologies, which may require professional training or college courses.

5.0 Summary – How to Become a Project Manager

Becoming a project manager starts with good work ethics. You need to demonstrate your skills to work your way up to the position of a project manager. You may also need training, certification, and a postsecondary degree.

Working on a project can be stressful for managers. Unlike the rest of the team, you have additional pressure to ensure the success of the project. To avoid unnecessary stress, focus on one project at a time.

One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a project manager is trying to do too much at once. For example, worrying about the next project while still completing another one distracts you from current tasks.

Focus on each task project by project. Create new task lists each day. Continually evaluate the progress of the project and avoid dwelling on things that you cannot control.

If you continue to analyze and improve your processes, you should have no problem becoming a successful project manager.

Now, after reading the article what do you think about project management?  Do you still need more information to know how to start working as a project manager?  Please leave your thoughts in the comment box below 

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