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How to get into project management

Project management

Project management is a hot career these days — the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a job growth rate for IT project managers of 18 percent from 2010 to 2020. But being successful takes the right combination of personal traits, experience and training.

Here, two seasoned project managers explain what you need to do if you want to enter this in-demand field:

Determine if you have the right personality.

“A good project manager has to wear several hats — team shrink, schedule manager, accountant, administrative assistant and cheerleader,” explains Gil Lahlum, an online instructor of project management courses at University of Phoenix.

Effective project managers possess innate leadership abilities, patience, the stamina to deal with constant change and the drive to get things done, according to Lahlum, who joined the field in the 1990s from software development.

Spend time in the trenches.

Most project managers enter the field after working for years in other areas, developing a range of skills. “Project managers often need to be subject-matter experts,” Lahlum emphasizes, adding that they’re “needed in all industries,” so it pays to understand as many fields as possible.

Before Maxine Brooker became a project manager, she worked at software companies, in investment banking and for the U.S. Postal Service. “[My] transition from a systems analyst into project management was a natural progression,” says Brooker, an online instructor in the University’s project management certificate program, noting that the ability to corral different types of people and get them to work well together is essential.

Hone your communication skills.

If you’re uncomfortable talking to people and expressing yourself in writing, you must become proficient in both areas, which you can accomplish by taking courses in composition and public speaking.

“Project managers need to be able to communicate effectively,” Brooker emphasizes, to analyze data, make practical decisions and delegate.

Take classes.

Most project managers have enrolled in specialized classes to complement their work experience, often to help them obtain Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification from the Project Management Institute (PMI®).

While not all project managers have full certification, Brooker recommends completing at least some coursework.


Get certified.

An increasing number of employers require PMP certification, especially in senior-level positions.

To apply for PMP certification, you must first complete 35 hours of specialized coursework, Brooker explains, and finish a set number of project management work hours. For instance, an aspiring project manager with a bachelor’s degree must accumulate 4,500 hours of leading and directing projects, while someone with a high school diploma needs 7,500 hours.

You’ll have to prove you worked the hours by providing a list of employers, supervisors and relevant positions, which PMI will audit, Lahlum says. The final step is passing a four-hour national certification exam, and PMP test prep can help ensure success.

In today’s competitive job market, according to Brooker, most project managers either have the PMP credential or are actively working toward it.

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PMP and PMI are registered trademarks of Project Management Institute Inc.