Project Manager Career Path | A Comprehensive Guide

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If you’re looking to join a fast-moving, in-demand industry, a career in project management can be a great fit for you. With the Project Management Institute (PMI) recent jobs report projecting a need for 88 million project management professionals before 2027, there’s never been a better time to explore a career as a project manager. Read on to learn more about project manager career paths, educational opportunities, and job titles.

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Top Project Management Careers

Job TitleYears of ExperienceAverage Salary
Project Management Intern0 – 6 months$15.55 per hour
Project Coordinator6 months – 1 year$58,967
Assistant Project Manager1 -2 years$67,732
Project Manager2 – 4 years$93,481
Senior Project Manager5 – 7 years experience$160,300
Program Manager5 – 8 years experience$101,202
Portfolio Manager8+ years experience$155,740

*Salary information sourced from Glassdoor, as of October 2023

Why Choose a Career in Project Management?

A career in project management can be an exciting career path for individuals who enjoy coordinating project details, managing team members, and strategizing high-level organizational efforts. According to the PMI Project Management Growth Report, each year approximately 214,000 new project management-related jobs will be created in the United States, with the market requiring over 88 million additional PM jobs before 2027 to meet demand. 

Overall, careers within the project management career field are growing faster than the global average, making it an appealing choice for young professionals and those who are looking to make a career shift. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for a project management specialist is $95,370 per year, 60% higher than the average national salary of $59,428.

Top Project Management Job Titles and Responsibilities

Project Coordinator

Project coordinators typically report to project managers, organizing key project details and coordinating teams, essential resources, and stakeholders. While their day-to-day tasks may vary, their essential goal is to ensure that the project is moving forward smoothly while making the process as easy as possible for everyone involved by managing all of the “moving parts” that make a project happen. 

Some of their key responsibilities include: 

  • Taking ownership of project scheduling, budget, and organizational details
  • Coordinating team activities, meetings, and activities
  • Maintaining and organizing project documents and records

Assistant Project Manager

Assistant project managers report to the project manager and provide support to the project team in a variety of ways, including conducting research, performing administrative tasks, and maintaining meeting notes. Throughout the project lifecycle, assistant project managers provide support in a variety of ways, at the discretion of the project manager.

Some of their key responsibilities include:

  • Emailing key stakeholders and team members as needed to facilitate communication
  • Conducting admin tasks, such as maintaining meeting notes
  • Organizing crucial project documentation for the project manager

Project Manager

The job of the project managers involves taking ownership of the project lifecycle overall by guiding teams and staff, facilitating communication between stakeholders, and monitoring progress toward project goals. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the project manager to ensure that the project is completed successfully and provide support as needed to team members and stakeholders as they complete essential tasks. 

Some of their key responsibilities include:

  • Establishing and pitching a clear project execution plan, complete with milestones and goals
  • Coordinating and executing team meetings and stakeholder discussions
  • Holding team members and staff accountable to goals and providing leadership along the way

Program Manager

One of the top project management careers, program managers focus on managing a group of projects within an organization that all aim to meet similar goals, called a project program. In the larger hierarchy of an organization, program managers serve as advisors to project managers within their department, guiding them as needed and providing support. The program manager’s ultimate responsibility is to ensure that projects conducted within their department address larger organizational goals effectively. 

Some of their key responsibilities include: 

  • Coordinating activities and programming across multiple projects within the organizational program
  • Monitoring project progress across the program
  • Supporting project managers within the program and helping clear project obstacles

Portfolio Manager 

While often confused with program managers, portfolio managers focus on the totality of all projects going on within an organization at a given time, analyzing relationships between them and ensuring their importance to organizational goals. Portfolio managers have the highest level of responsibility in project management careers. While they don’t often have a hands-on role in the completion of projects, they spend a great deal of time relaying information about projects to organizational leadership. 

Some of their key responsibilities include: 

  • Analyzing high-level trends of projects across the organization at large, tying projects back to goals specifically
  • Creating a pipeline of future projects and programs
  • Communicating the ROI of projects based on the successes and outcomes of organization-wide projects and programs


Read more: What Is a Project Coordinator? Job Description, Skills & Salary


Example of Career Progression for Project Managers

Project Manager Careers Across Top Growth Industries.

There are a variety of reasons why a project manager might choose to specialize within a specific industry, such as higher pay, preexisting experience, or even just the opportunity to explore a new and exciting field. Specialty project managers focus their experience within a niche field, honing their skills to meet the needs of that particular industry. Here are some of the most notable, fastest-growing industries for project managers: 

Healthcare

Healthcare is the fastest-growing sector for project management jobs, with 17% growth since 2017, according to the Project Management Institute. 

  • Healthcare project management professionals frequently work closely with the administrative team within doctors’ offices and hospitals to ensure that the organization is operating at peak efficiency while prioritizing patient well-being.
  • Common objectives or projects that project managers undertake within the healthcare industry include: optimizing operations within a hospital, decreasing patient wait times, etc. 
  • The average salary of a healthcare-specific project manager is $96,011, according to Glassdoor, 2.59% higher than the average salary for a non-specialized project manager. 

Construction

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 7.6% employment growth for construction managers between 2021 and 2031.

  • Construction project managers work alongside engineers and superintendents to ensure construction projects run smoothly and on budget.
  • Common objectives or projects that project managers undertake within the construction industry include: completing the renovation of an apartment building, planning the construction of a new building on campus without disrupting existing structures, and outlining the construction of a new neighborhood with a home contractor.
  • The average salary of a construction-specific project manager is $111,515, according to Glassdoor, 19.29% higher than the average salary for a non-specialized project manager.

Technology & Software Development

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, new jobs for computer and information systems project managers will grow by 11% from 2020 to 2030.

  • Technology and software project managers help manage projects within the information technology and software development industries, ensuring that technical teams have the room to innovate while delivering products to key stakeholders on time.
  • Common objectives or projects that project managers undertake within the software development industry include: ensuring that a new software product is delivered on time, overseeing team progress as edits to an existing application are rolled out, and coaching team members throughout the ideation phase of developing a new video game.
  • The average salary of a project manager in the technology and software development industry is $114,805, according to Glassdoor, 22.81% higher than the average salary for a non-specialized project manager.


Read more: Scrum Master vs. Project Manager: What’s the Difference?


Common Traits & Skills of Project Managers Professionals

While project managers’ specialties and areas of expertise may vary based on industry and individual project type, project managers as a whole share specific traits and skills:

Strong Leadership Capabilities

Project managers must possess leadership skills to properly guide the teams they oversee, understanding that each unique project requires a different leadership style. Remaining flexible is a key competency while simultaneously prioritizing a servant leadership approach and understanding that the true metric of success as a project leader is the success and confidence of your team members.

Clear Communication Skills

Communication is key when it comes to managing projects, regardless of size or scope. Especially in hybrid and remote teams, prioritizing clear communication should be a top priority for effective project managers. Establishing pre-determined meeting times and facilitated check-ins is a great way to ensure that the flow of two-way communication continues throughout the project lifecycle. 

Thorough & Organized

It goes without saying that an effective project manager needs to be thorough and organized when it comes to staying on top of project details, communicating with key stakeholders, and staying ahead of potential roadblocks. Utilizing note-taking solutions, project management software, and workflow automations can make it easier to stay on top of projects from start to finish. 

Well Versed

Project managers need to understand the full scope of project management methodologies and their potential applications. Having the knowledge and experience to know when and how to deploy a particular project management methodology is essential to running successful projects or managing a multi-project portfolio. 

Agile Problem Solver

Throughout the project lifecycle, things can change in the blink of an eye. A strong project manager is agile, able to adapt to changing situations, and responds quickly in the best interests of the team and the project itself.

Most Common Project Management Certifications

The Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) certification is an entry-level certification administered by the Project Management Institute that’s appropriate for new graduates, new project management professionals, and those making a transition into project management for the first time. While the CAPM certification may prepare you for an entry-level position in project management, it can also prepare you to sit for the PMP exam.

Prerequisites and Requirements: 

  • Have a secondary degree, such as a high school diploma, GED (general educational development), or global equivalent
  • Have at least 23 hours of project management education completed before the exam (PMI’s online Project Management Basics course can help fulfill this requirement)

The Project Management Professional (PMP) certification, administered by the Project Management Institute, is widely recognized as the premier certification for project managers worldwide. The PMP certification is best for any project management professional looking to advance their career while highlighting a mastery of key project management concepts. 

Prerequisites and Requirements:

  • Bachelor’s degree
  • 36 months of experience leading projects within the past eight years
  • 35 hours of project management education/training or CAPM® certification

OR

  • High School or Secondary School Diploma
  • 60 months of experience leading projects within the past eight years
  • 35 hours of project management education/training or CAPM® certification

Compared to other certifications, the PfMP certification is best for seasoned project management professionals, and, accordingly, requires the most extensive prerequisites of any project management certification. The Portfolio Management Professional (PfMP) certification, administered by the Project Management Institute, is a certification for executives and senior project managers who are looking to expand their experience in multi-project portfolio management. 

Prerequisites and Requirements:

  • All applicants must possess a minimum of 96 months of professional business experience within the last 15 years AND
  • Secondary degree (high school diploma, associate’s degree, or the global equivalent)
  • 84 months of portfolio management experience

OR

  • All applicants must possess a minimum of 96 months of professional business experience within the last 15 years AND
  • Four-year degree (bachelor’s degree or the global equivalent)
  • 48 months of portfolio management experience


Read More: Top Project Management Certifications


Qualifications of Project Managers

To become a project manager, you will need a variety of hard and soft skills, professional experience, project management certifications, and education. According to Zippia, 68% of project managers have a bachelor’s degree, 14% have a master’s, and 11% have an associate degree. However, there are a variety of ways to become a project manager, including obtaining certifications to make a career pivot.

Project Management Exam Preparation

Project management certifications are a critical aspect of a successful career in project management – but obtaining those certifications requires dedicated exam preparation. Depending on your personal experience, the type of certification you’re seeking, and the prerequisites required to apply for the exam itself, it can take anywhere from one to six months to properly prepare for a project management certification exam. 

Each individual project management certification exam follows a unique format with specific question groups, making guided study programs and certification-specific study resources an essential part of exam preparation for project management professionals. Fortunately, there’s a wide variety of qualified exam preparation vendors that offer courses tailored specifically to each certification. 

Master of Project Academy is one of the top providers of project management certification exam prep, with students in over 180 countries and an average first-time pass rate of 99.6% in the certification exams.

FAQs

Believe it or not, you can shift careers into a successful career in project management without going back to school. Many professionals don’t even realize that they have project management experience, from implementing team ideas to managing budgets and other tasks that are lesser-known contributors to project management experience. By attaining certifications, such as a CAPM or PMP certification, and supplemental experience, for example, you can successfully pivot into a new role as a project manager.

While having a bachelor’s degree isn’t a must-have to work as a project manager, it can make becoming a project management professional much easier, as most key certifications require fewer prerequisites for applications with a four-year degree. Some universities have even begun offering project management as a major, with majors such as business administration, accounting, economics, and marketing standing out as top majors for future project managers.

There are numerous free resources available to support project managers throughout their careers, from free trials of top project management solutions to free seminars and even free certificate test prep courses. Currently, PMI is one of the top providers of free resources, offering users a free KICKOFF course that covers essential PM concepts and even free test prep for PMI-sponsored certifications, such as CAPM and PMP.

Depending on your level of experience, it can take anywhere from a few months to a year or more to become a project manager. If you have pre-existing experience or highly transferable skills, your transition into project management may take less time compared to someone who is new to the industry. Regardless of your level of experience, obtaining a project management certification can help speed up the process.

While Scrum Masters can be project managers and project managers can be Scrum Masters, the two terms cannot be used interchangeably. Project managers oversee the entirety of the project lifecycle, guiding teams and ensuring a smooth process as tasks are completed, whereas Scrum Masters are responsible for ensuring that teams are adhering to Scrum principles. 

Scrum Masters are also only present within teams operating under the Scrum methodology, whereas project managers can operate within a wide variety of teams implementing any number of project management methodologies and frameworks.

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