Considering how to become a project manager is not a straightforward matter. It is unlikely you will find an entry-level project manager role in a company, so thinking how to move from education through to your perfect PM position will take some planning.
Here is a guide to some of the steps you should take to enhance your chances in being successful in gaining a position.
Project Manager Role Explained
If we were going to be trite, we would say that a project manager is a manager of projects. If we were going to be even more reductionist, we would say a PM is a mover and remover of post-it notes.
Neither thoroughly explains the role of PM but they do give a good high-level view of the position.
To be more focused, the Project Manager initiates, plans, designs, executes, monitors, controls and closes a project. The difference between PM and just a manager is that the activity a PM undertakes is limited to a specific timeframe and a highly defined scope.
The qualities of the best Project Managers are the ability to ask penetrating questions, identify and manage risk and conflict and communicate the aims and objectives of the project to stakeholders. Ultimately, a PM makes and justifies decisions, both large and small, making sure that each risk taken is balanced against reward and mitigated where possible.
A PM will manage people primarily. Therefore outstanding communication and leadership skills are a given. However, they will also maintain workflow, so project management tools like RAID logs and GANTT charts help to organise and rationalise the tasks that need to be completed for the overall project to be successful.
What Are the Responsibilities of a Project Manager
The responsibilities of the Project Manager relate to a desired outcome of the project. In other words, a PM is responsible for making sure the project is successful as defined by the stakeholders, whether this is the executives or the customers. Accountability in this way is judged by the PM’s ability to:
- Plan and define the scope of the project
- Plan and sequence activity at a time relevant to this planning
- Plan the use of resources
- Develop the schedules, allocating tasks appropriately
- Estimating time requirement and managing time by reorganising the workflow, if necessary
- Determining a budget and managing a budget
- Producing relevant documentation to communicate the reasoning behind decisions and the record of
- the progress of the project
- Risk analysis and managing dependencies
- Ensuring quality
- Managing the team through effective communication and performance evaluation
- Scaling or migrating the project to other contexts if necessary
- Directing the strategic vision of a company through the projects deployed to undertake
It is easy to see from this list of responsibilities that the PM is a role closely aligned to the senior management of an organisation.
Indeed, a successful PM needs the full support and authority of senior executives if they are going to be effective in the role.
This means becoming a PM is a lofty ambition and one-step away from c-suite level. With this in mind, developing a career as a PM will require individuals to participate in management or activities lower down in the company, to gain the necessary experience.
What Qualifications Are Required to Become a Project Manager?
PMI or Project Management Institute certification is a qualification for Project Managers recognised globally. These certificates act as evidence of skills needed to work as a PM in an organisation. It validates your experience and your learning.
At the highest level, you can gain a PMP certification. It certifies that you are a Project Management Professional and that you have the skills and competencies recognised and demanded by organisations. It essentially validates your claim that you can lead and direct projects and teams.
PgMP is designed for those who want to prove that they have the skills needed to manage multiple, complex projects to achieve strategic and organisational results. A Program Management Professional (PgMP) is considered a step higher in scale to the PMP.
There are many more certifications that you can aim to achieve, including PfMP, CAPM, PMI-PBA, PMI-ACP, PMI-RMP, and PMI-SP. Each of these will prove competency in an area of project management, whether it is risk management, scheduling or business analytics.
There is also the option to achieve Six Sigma certification, which is a philosophy of PM that is led by data-driven methodologies.
PRINCE2 certification is UK government approved and the standard expected in the public sector, in particular. It is focused on business justification, defined organisational structures, product based planning approaches, etc.
Finally, there is the IIBA certification – International Institute of Business Analysis membership speaks of your level of professional competence and shows that you are signed up to their standards of professional excellence and discipline.
The standard entry-level qualification for a PM is a bachelor’s degree. However, a degree alone will not gain you your first position straight from graduation.
Can You Become a Project Manager Without a Degree?
It is not a requirement to have a degree to become a Project Manager. However, it is a highly competitive field, and you are likely going to want to have a degree on your resume to be considered a serious candidate.
What is interesting is the sort of degree you should choose, and this depends on whether you have interest in Project Management in a specific area or more generally.
If you have a specific technical or engineering specialism in mind, then you might want to consider a degree in this area. For instance, if you are interested in Project Management in a web-development company, then it may be more useful to have an IT qualification than anything else.
However, if you have a more generalised view of the PM, then you may want a business degree. You may want to take classes in analytics, risk management, team and performance management and organisation strategy. This more generic degree will give you the foundation in business management that you will then need to apply to specific environments using the experience as your teacher.
What Is a Career Path to Becoming a Project Manager?
There are lots of paths to becoming a Project Manager. You can, for instance, start in business analytics and move across, becoming a PM with experience with the company. You may equally begin in a specific department within an organisation and gain experience in the breadth of knowledge needed to become a PM – such as in engineering, design, logistics, finance, HR, and so on.
Once you have decided to become a Project Manager, there is the option of becoming a Project Administrator. It is a role beneath the Project Manager where you are less involved in the organisation goals and strategy but definitely beginning to take on some of the parts of scheduling and risk management.
As a project administrator, you only need to have achieved A levels or equivalent. You may be a better candidate with a degree, but this is not the case. You will report directly to the project manager and oversee the project from start to finish with them.
As a project administrator, you may be asked to coordinate meetings, make travel arrangements, complete budget reports and make appointments. This has all the time-sensitive quality of the Project Manager, without the ultimate accountability for the success of the project.
From Project Manager, you may further progress to Project Director. Here you will have strategic responsibility for a large project, or projects, which carry significant risk to the future success of a company.
Here there is accountability for high-level deliverables, assuring quality and develops policy and practice across an organisation. This is much more a financial and business role, but the professional will likely sit at the executive level of a company.
There is no single answer to how to become a project manager. You may choose to take the generic route, gaining a business degree and experience across a company. If you are more specific about your business specialism, you may select a bachelor degree in this specialism.
Either choice you will likely end up doing an entry-level managerial or administrative work in a company. As you gain this early experience in business, you may well seek certification in preferred project management qualifications.
You could choose to become an apprentice to a Project Manager and begin as a Project Administrator. This way you learn the job from someone directly and from the beginning of your career. These posts are rare, and they leave you in a narrow field of administrative experience.
Alternatively, you may choose to become immersed in all aspects of a company straight from school. You get to know all the different jobs and from this position become the perfect choice to coordinate the various departments with a company.
You would still need to secure your suitability for the position of Project Manager with certification from recognisable bodies, but essentially you have chosen to take a hands-on learning approach.
If you have any tips or experiences on how to become a Project Manager, share with us in the comments below!