Successful project managers are a valuable asset in any industry. They are responsible for organizing and maintaining a project throughout its lifecycle. The hard and soft skills they possess are built through education and years of experience.
Some start their project management career path by attending a university for a bachelor's degree in project management. This is a great way to get an entry-level position, but it isn’t the only way to become a project manager.
At start-ups and small businesses, you might fall into a project management role as you take on more responsibilitie and grow with the company. There is no right or wrong way to become a project manager.
Becoming a project manager does require education, hands-on work experience, building your skills and specializations, and, if desired, obtaining a project management certification.
1. Identify your existing project management skills and gaps.
Chances are you’ve already started to develop the skills of a project management professional. Being organized and having great time management are two examples of soft skills a project manager needs. If you have any experience researching, problem solving, budgeting, coordinating, or analyzing data, you have skills that are part of the project manager skill set.
The Project Management Institute (PMI) is a globally recognized organization and authority for project management professionals. They list 10 key knowledge areas of project management.
So, what skills do I need to become a project manager? According to PMI’s Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (or PMBOK Guide), the skills you need to become a project manager are:
Identify these skills with your current role on your project team and highlight them on your resume. The knowledge areas you didn’t match up with are the areas to focus on to become a well rounded project manager.
2. Develop your skills with on-the-job experience.
Even if you don’t hold the Project Manager title, you have the opportunity to sharpen your project management education on the job! Work on your leadership skills by volunteering to manage team members. Take initiatives when working on complex projects, and present workflows for better productivity.
Keep track of data with the initiatives you are taking and you’ll have tangible evidence to present to your senior project manager, or include it on your project manager resume.
3. Seek out project management certifications and credentials.
What qualifications do you need to be a project manager? There are no qualifications set in stone for becoming a project manager. Depending on the industry and the company, they may require a project management degree or even master’s degree. But project management certifications from respected organizations can be just as valuable in combination with real world experience.
There are certifications for all career stages and experience levels. To choose the best certification, you should see what is most common in your industry or look at project manager job listings to see the certifications they require.
Certifications from globally recognized organizations include:
Project Management Professional (PMP Certification) from PMI
Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM Certification) from PMI
Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP) from PMI
Google Project Management Credential
Projects In Controlled Environments (PRINCE2)
Each certification has a different set of prerequisites. Some of them require no experience, while others require a high school education, bachelor’s degree, or a certain amount of time in the field.
4. Choose and learn your methodologies.
Project management methodologies determine the priorities of a project and how it is planned, managed, and executed. The best system to guide a project team depends on the deliverables. Software development projects favor different methodologies than the healthcare industry, etc. Research your industry and job descriptions to get familiar with the methodologies hiring companies are using.
Popular methodologies include:
Waterfall: Sequential cascading tasks — great for large projects.
Agile: Adaptive methodologies with a focus on collaboration and efficiency.
Scrum: Includes sprints and a scrum master to iterate development, a popular choice for product managers.
Kanban: A visually focused method for projects that involve more stakeholder management
Lean: Prioritizes value and a clear understanding of goals. Often seen in manufacturing.
5. Familiarize yourself with project management software.
The preferred project management software depends on the company. Make note of the software and project management tools listed on job boards and check out some of these high performing software options:
6. Craft a great project manager resumé.
Review the job listings for project managers as you draft your resume. Feature your strongest skills, work achievements, and use metrics and milestones to make yourself stand out. Here’s our guide for writing your Project Manager Resume, including a template.
7. Apply for PM jobs — starting with your current company, if possible.
Once your resume is complete, start applying! Consider using your communication skills to approach the senior management team at your company and express your interest in a project management role. If you apply within your current company, use the data from your efforts on team projects to demonstrate your commitment to the project plan.
8. Keep learning.
Even after you get your first job, or you’ve completed your 50th project, it is important to keep learning. The only constant in the world is change, and staying up-to-date on methodologies, tools, and software will always be beneficial for you, your team, and the projects you take on.
Not only is it in your best interest to be a lifelong learner in your profession, many project management certifications require continuing education units to stay current.
Do I need a college degree to be a project manager?
No. A bachelor’s degree is not required to be a project manager. Real world experience can give you the education and skills needed to advance into a project management career.
How long does it take to become a project manager?
There is no set time frame to become a project manager. Some choose to study project management in college and go on to an entry level position right away. Others transition into the role after years in a different career. The PMP certification requires 3 years of experience in order to take the qualifying exam, but this certification isn’t required for your first management role.
What is a typical project manager salary?
According to Glassdoor, the average annual salary for a project manager is $90,031/yr. Holding a PMP certification tends to boost the average salary to between $114,000 and $144,000.
Can I be a project manager with no experience?
Project managers require business management skills and critical thinking. You don’t necessarily need experience as a junior project manager or a project coordinator, but with the right skills and knowledge of methodologies, you can work your way into a project manager position.
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