How to Become a Project Manager

Learn more about a project manager's responsibilities. Find out how you can become a project manager.
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  • Project managers oversee teams and keep projects on schedule.
  • Salary surveys report six-figure median salaries for project managers.
  • A project management degree, certificate, or classes help professionals enter the field.

In the U.S., project managers make median annual salaries of around $116,000, according to a 2020 salary survey from the Project Management Institute. But what is a project manager? And how can you become a project manager?

Our guide walks you through the steps on how to become a project manager.

What Are the Requirements to Become a Project Manager?

Most project managers enter the profession with a bachelor's degree. A degree in project management can give learners the knowledge and skills required for the field. So do programs in business, logistics, or management.

Professionals can also gain project management experience outside of degree-granting programs. For example, they can take on project management tasks at work, enroll in online project management courses, and learn to use project management software.

Project managers increase their earning potential by pursuing professional certifications. Common options include the project management professional (PMP), the certified associate in project management (CAPM), and the PRINCE2 credentials.

Candidates for certification typically need a mix of education and experience. For example, a bachelor's degree plus three years of project leadership meets the PMP requirement, as does an associate degree plus six years of experience. Candidates then must pass an examination and maintain their credential through continuing education.

Find the Right Project Management Bootcamp For You

What Does Project Management Training Look Like?

Project management training takes many different formats. Multiple paths help professionals launch careers in project management. In addition to earning a project management degree, learners can take classes or earn a certificate in the field.

Professional certifications differ from certificate programs in key ways. A certification evaluates a candidate's skills and experience through an examination. In contrast, a certificate program trains learners through coursework and assessments.

Most certificate programs take less than one year, and many programs offer online project management certificates.

A number of educational websites, including Coursera and Udemy, offer project management classes online. They may also award certificates in project management.

While studying project management, learners build hard and soft skills, also known as people skills. The most in-demand project management skills include:

  • Cost management
  • Scheduling and planning
  • Forecasting project outcomes
  • Collaboration and communication
  • Process optimization

Prospective project managers can also gain experience working in common project management software programs. Helpful tools and applications from project managers include:

  • Trello
  • Microsoft Project
  • Asana
  • ClickUp
  • ForecastApp

However, since different industries and companies use different tools, focusing on transferable skills may benefit project managers more than studying specific tools.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Project Manager?

Becoming a project manager generally takes 1-4 years, depending on the path.

Earning a bachelor's degree in project management typically takes four years for full-time students. A project management certificate program often takes less than one year. And learners enrolling in project management classes may spend as little as a few months adding new skills.

However, in addition to educational programs, prospective project managers also benefit from gaining professional experience. As a skills-focused field, demonstrating project management experience helps professionals advance.

Professionals working in related fields can often gain project management experience in their current role. Taking project management classes or adding certifications helps professionals transition into project management.

For example, gaining certification in project management software or pursuing a project management certificate demonstrates career-focused skills.

Taking on project management tasks at work also lets professionals strengthen their project management resume.

For example, volunteering to take on project manager responsibilities adds valuable experience to a professional's resume. So does running projects outside of work, such as through a volunteer organization or as a side job.

Prospective project managers need a clear plan to gain the knowledge and skills necessary for careers managing projects.

Frequently Asked Questions About a Project Manager's Career

Do project managers have good salaries?

Yes, project managers benefit from above-average salaries. According to 2020 data from the Project Management Institute, the median project manager salary in the U.S. hit $116,000 per year.

Is project management a good career?

Many project manager jobs earn six-figure salaries, making the field a smart career move. Prospective project managers can strengthen their skills through certification, online classes, and work experience.

What's the difference between project management, portfolio management, and program management?

All three careers require strong organizational and leadership skills.However, project managers focus on the project lifecycle, from conception through completion. Portfolio managers oversee a portfolio of investments and bring a strong finance background. Program managers lead a specific program.

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