CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become a project manager.
Is becoming a project manager right for me?
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High school presents aspiring project managers with two distinct opportunities to begin laying a foundation to work in the field:
Work on your people skills
No successful project was ever completed with the project manager sitting at a desk and typing away on a computer. Projects are made up of people. While in high school, put effort into getting to know and communicating with as many people as possible, including students, teachers, coaches, and administrators.
Gain informal ‘project management’ experience
The clubs and extra-curricular activities that are part of the secondary school experience present several occasions to develop and practise the organizational and leadership skills that every project management assignment demands. Work on your school’s yearbook as editor-in-chief or an assistant editor. Run for student government or manage another student’s election campaign. Look for ways to cultivate as many skills as possible.
While there is no set educational track to becoming a project manager, the path commonly begins with earning a Bachelor’s Degree. Typical majors are business administration, organizational management, marketing, finance, information technology, and engineering. Each of these backgrounds arms students with some of the academic and business tools required in the project management sector. Common courses include cost management, total quality management, business systems analysis, supplier procurement and contracts, human resource management, and communication in project management.
Some educational institutions offer a designated undergraduate program in project management, but these are more likely to exist at the graduate level.
Projects which require managers exist in every industry, so the fact is: any college degree is an asset for an aspiring project manager. Academic experience, in general, teaches students how to study, how to listen, and how to steadily acquire knowledge. This kind of education, regardless of its specific focus, is essential for project managers, whose common mandate is to learn everything there is to know about a project in a relatively short time.
Get a Project Management job or transition into one
Some prospective project managers tailor their education to become generalists in the field. Others, especially those who have an affinity for one industry, tend to complete their education in that particular discipline. For instance, if they love art and design, they may decide to earn a Fine Arts degree and pursue project management opportunities solely in that sector. Regardless of the credential they hold, project managers often transition into the role, rather than start out in it. Once they gain experience and knowledge of the various facets of their professional environment, they get assigned to manage in-house projects.
Therefore, if you want to make this your career, it is important to do a few key things before you enter or transition into it.
Take stock of the education and experience you have – and don’t have – in the areas listed below
• Developing and sticking to budgets
• Planning schedules and timelines
• Communicating with stakeholders, vendors, contractors, and teams
• Utilizing project management software
Once you have an understanding of the things you still need to learn, make a plan of attack and take advantage of opportunities at work and outside of the office to fill in the gaps in your knowledge.
Take some time to research formal project management positions
• Talk to project managers that you work with or have in your network and learn from them while you are in a non-project-management role
• Compile a list of your skills and experiences that are applicable to managing projects
Implement what you learn
If your employer has not been using formal project management processes, start building and implementing them once you are assigned to manage a project. Use these resources to make things easier on the team members you will be leading.
Remember that each project will be different
This is a particularly vital piece of advice for freelance project managers who elect to run their own business. The way you manage projects in a laid-back software company will not be the same way you manage projects in a healthcare institution. Even within a single company, managing a project for the human resources department will likely differ from managing one for the IT department.
Recognize that effective project management is an evolving art
As technology and best practices evolve, project management will look different. New terminology and processes will be introduced.
The following are considered to be among the best positions in which to gain experience to transition to a project management role:
• Project team member or assistant
• Line Manager
• Business Systems Analyst
• Team Lead
Graduate-level Education and/or Professional Certification
Many schools offer certificate programs in project management. These are typically advanced graduate programs intended for individuals who already have a Bachelor’s Degree, extensive work experience or both. Leadership, risk management, scheduling, and budgeting are among the topics covered.
Students who opt to enter a Master’s Degree program will study advanced topics in project control, administration, cost planning, and strategy. Project management may also be available as a concentration within a Master of Business Administration (MBA) program. It is not uncommon for programs at this level to include an internship or research project that demonstrates ability to apply theoretical concepts to real-world situations.
There are two common project manager certifications, available through the Project Management Institute: the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) and the Project Management Professional (PMP).
The biggest difference between the two credentials is that it is possible to earn the CAPM certification without specific project management experience. To be eligible to apply for the PMP certification, candidates must have a minimum of 4,500 hours of experience leading and directing projects. Formal education prerequisites (as little as a high school diploma) for each credential vary, depending on individual applicant’s work history, within or outside of project experience. The Project Management Institute also imposes various certification maintenance requirements.
How to become a Project Manager
The term project management is vague. The work that the profession can entail is diverse and it evolves along with every industry and business sector that exist. It follows, then, that the path to becoming a project manager is not particularly structured or defined. In fact, it has been said that you don’t become a project manager by opening up a project management stand or offering your services on Craigslist. You become a project manager by managing projects.
Often, project managers hold a Bachelor’s Degree in a business-related discipline, such as organizational management, marketing, finance, or information technology. While universities are increasingly offering designated project management degree programs, often at the graduate level, education in the aforementioned academic foundations is considered very applicable to carrying out the tasks that comprise most projects in the professional world.
Some aspiring project managers choose to earn an undergraduate degree in a more specific subject area, such as engineering or computer science, and then transition their targeted skills to manage projects within the sector where their skills are focused.
The Project Management Institute (PMI) offers two project manager certifications: the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) and the more senior credential Project Management Professional (PMP).