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Careers in project management

By Brian Fairbanks
June 01, 2021 • 4 minute read

For people with strong leadership skills who love the satisfaction of a job well done, project management could be a natural career path. However, there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to training for a career in project management. Here’s what you need to know.

What is project management?

At its core, project management is the art and practice of managing teams and specific tasks on a short-term job within a company. These professionals manage and motivate teams and ensure a project is seen through to the end. For instance, a project manager might track marketing projects and measure their success; design costs and timelines for the launch of a new project; analyze the implications of change and develop solutions; or oversee different functional areas of an organization as they organize the launch event for a forthcoming product.

There are big differences between the roles and responsibilities of a project manager and a general manager or supervisor. Namely, a manager oversees the day-to-day operations of a department or company. Whereas, a project manager is dedicated to the completion of a finite task. Project management professionals often work within breakout groups created to accomplish a one-off job, as well. (Examples might include what to do with an unexpected grant at a nonprofit or how to put an empty building on a company property to use.)

Project management and business operations specialists are, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in high demand nationally, with 1.4 million people employed in project manager roles. The median annual wage was $77,420 in May 2020, according to BLS.

What does a project manager do?

On each project, a project manager might put together a team, create checklists for critical steps, track progress (including data, if applicable), and share updates on each milestone the team reaches.

According to APM.org (Association for Project Management), project planning and project management may include some or all of the following:

  • Laying out the vision for the overall project (e.g., identifying short-term goals to achieve the larger goal)
  • Explaining why the project is important to the business, and what the company expects to achieve (e.g., “We hope to use this new information to better target our market”)
  • Describing what the finished product or result of the project should look like (sometimes in terms of quantity or quality of the deliverables, such as how many alternative choices there might be)
  • Determining resources a team will need (access to company documents, laptops, graphic design programs, etc.)
  • Creating a project template
  • Creating memos for upper management on the project, its expected costs, the potential return on investment, etc.
  • Organizing morale-boosting events (after-work happy hours, daytime field trips)
  • Tackling unforeseen issues (departure of a key worker, partial loss of funding)
  • Collecting receipts and invoices and tracking expenses against the overall budget to make sure the project comes in on time and on budget
  • Keeping upper management abreast of developments, including setbacks and achievements, to let company leaders know if the project is on track to finish on time and within budget
  • Concluding the project (e.g., “We have achieved the overall goal and are winding down the project, department and team.”)
  • Recapping/summarizing the process, looking at next steps, identifying what went right or wrong, and preparing a report containing all the metrics and deliverables (this is usually for the company leadership or the project manager’s supervisor)

What makes a successful project manager?

Project managers can tackle a whole host of issues along the way — no two days may be alike on a given project. Thus, project managers must be prepared to address unpredictable and unforeseen hurdles. Successful project managers have to be able to pick up someone else’s slack, readjust the vision for the entire project, and work with specialists or in a topic area with which they are unfamiliar.

Often, employers hold project managers accountable for meeting goals or deliverables. Therefore, they must be able to overcome multiple and diverse challenges. In other words, project managers must be the type of professionals who get things done. This is why having up-to-date and expert project management skills are critical for success.

Top project management skills

A project manager needs to possess a host of skills and competencies. They can learn these skills through a degree or certificate program. Successful project managers rely on a variety of skills. However, some of the most mission-critical skills for project management are:

  • How to develop project costs and timelines
  • An understanding of project management software
  • How to conduct statistical analysis
  • Methods to motivate and manage teams
  • How to track and measure progress
  • Knowledge of finance, marketing, accounting and other business practices
  • An understanding of legal, ethical and regulatory considerations
  • Ways to effectively communicate in a business environment
  • How to implement successful management strategies

How to become a project manager

So, how does one turn natural skills and interests into a career in project management? One way is to seek out an education specifically geared toward that very career. Look for degree and certificate programs aligned with industry standards established by the Project Management Institute® (PMI). With this alignment, courses are developed with the standard processes, best practices and terminology within the project management industry.

University of Phoenix offers both bachelor’s degrees and certificates that are aligned with PMI® standards. Our Bachelor of Science in Business with a Project Management Certificate, for example, is a four-year program that covers accounting; communication; diversity and inclusion; economics; finance; business law and ethics; management; marketing; organizational behavior; and business analytics and information systems, among other subjects and skills. Students who complete this program emerge with a bachelor’s degree and a certificate in PM. This prepares them for roles in project management.

Other options include focusing specifically on the online Project Management Certificates or PMP certification. This option can be completed in approximately seven to nine months, depending on whether you pursue an undergraduate certification or graduate-level certificate programs. Professionals with a Bachelor of Science or a bachelor’s in another field should consider the latter.

Online classes let aspiring project managers develop their skills and earn their certification in convenient formats. Whether you’re seeking a project management certificate, a bachelor’s degree with a project management certificate or your Master of Business Administration (MBA), there are several flexible options.

Need help deciding which path to project management is right for you? Then reach out to an enrollment representative at the University about which option might work best for you.