A Project Management Institute report states that by 2027 there will be more than 87 million open project management roles to fill. Project-related job growth is predicted to reach 33 percent, according to data collected in 11 countries. Demand for such roles will continue to grow in fields like healthcare, manufacturing, and even the publishing industry.
Project management spans not only a wide range of industries but also role types. In larger organizations, project management will include multiple levels of management, including a senior project manager.
What is a Senior Project Manager?
A senior project manager differs from a project manager. While a project manager oversees one or two projects, the senior project manager manages and has a broader overview and scope of concurrent projects. In addition, a project manager reports to the senior project manager.
Senior project managers may differ from a program manager in terms of the duties they perform. For some organizations, these roles are separate with varying degrees of responsibility. Program managers typically have more responsibility, as they are charged with the strategic direction of projects and their alignment with organizational objectives.
If both a senior PM and program manager are present in an organization, the senior program manager reports to the program manager. In other organizations, a senior project manager is synonymous with a program manager, and it’s simply a matter of title.
Senior Project Manager Responsibilities
A senior project manager’s roles and responsibilities will vary somewhat depending on the organization type, size, and industry. However, the areas and duties below typically fall under their purview.
Program and portfolio management
Involved with multiple projects, senior PMs can support program management and project portfolio management if the organization conflates the senior PM and program manager into one role. They provide a big-picture perspective to manage projects to ensure they are in line with strategic business objectives. Senior PMs also manage a portfolio of initiatives that span across business units or lines of business, acquiring valuable insight as to how parts of the organization impact one another.
Goal setting and project planning
Senior PMs work with project managers and other stakeholders to set SMART project goals and objectives. They are also charged with identifying and procuring necessary resources, estimating project budgets, setting project scopes and schedules, and wrapping all that information into project plans.
Mentoring and coaching
One of the most important and perhaps most rewarding aspects of a senior project manager’s role is to coach junior project managers and elevate team morale.
Senior PMs provide leadership by building project teams and motivating them to hit project milestones. They participate in building and training project teams to expand their capabilities by establishing best practices, policies, PM methodologies, quality assurance and control, tools, and templates. Senior project managers also advocate for learning, process improvement, and project management in the company.
For more on mentoring, read also: Coaching & Mentoring Software Project Teams
Hiring and training
As senior PMs identify personnel needs for project requirements in the process of developing project plans, they occasionally help HR identify and interview qualified project team candidates. Since senior PMs have in-depth knowledge of project needs, HR sometimes involves senior PMs in project onboarding processes and other essential project training needs as well.
Project tracking and evaluation
The real meat of senior PMs’ responsibilities entail project monitoring, management, and evaluation.
They monitor, track, and control outcomes, facilitating project team meetings along the way to ensure performance, progress, and to address problems that arise.
The senior project manager’s degree of involvement in any one project may vary. On the one hand, in smaller organizations, senior PMs may be quite involved in a particular project’s day-to-day tasks. Yet, in larger organizations, senior PMs usually delegate tasks to individual project managers that report to them.
Issues that might come up include delays in resource procurement, sudden personnel shifts, or interpersonal conflicts. When problems emerge, project managers and other stakeholders may escalate problems to senior project management for resolution.
Once a project is completed, senior PMs assess not only a project’s overall success, but also the performance of those involved, such as the project manager and project team members.
Communications and coordination
The role of a senior project manager is cross-functional, meaning they work not only with multiple project teams and project managers but other professionals in the organization as well, such as:
- Project managers
- Project team members
- C-level management
Given the cross-functional nature of their role and their bird’s eye view over several projects, senior PMs often develop and execute a communication strategy for all project stakeholders.
They report to external clients or organizational leadership regarding project status, progress, metrics, risks, test results, and deployment activities. They also provide feedback, advice, and encouragement to the project managers and team members during project execution.
PM consultant and resource person
Senior project managers are a source of authority and advice for project managers. Project managers and other members of the organization will seek their recommendations for best practices and tools to increase efficiency, boost productivity, and achieve project and business goals.
As such, senior project managers need to keep a finger on the pulse of project management as a field, such as the latest developments, standards, best practices, tools, and project management software in the industry.
What is the Salary of a Senior Project Manager?
This career path also offers opportunities for advancement. Senior project managers can move up to project management office (PMO) director or chief operating officer (COO) roles.
Senior project manager typically emerge from a project management background with approximately six to ten years of project management experience under their belt.
Are you ready to level up in project management? Find out here: When Is It Worth It to Get a PMP Certification?
How to Become a Senior Project Manager
Moving into a senior project manager role requires certain educational qualifications, work experience, and professional skills.
Employers typically require a bachelor’s degree. Senior project managers sometimes but not always have a bachelor’s in business, management, or project management, though that specific area of concentration is not necessarily a prerequisite.
Possessing a graduate-level degree in project management is a huge plus when applying for a senior project manager role.
Read also: How to Get a PMI-ACP Certification
Even more important than academic credentials are the skills that come with years of work experience. Employers looking to fill senior project management positions favor candidates who have:
- At least five years related experience in project management, planning, and tracking, usually in a project manager role
- Experience working with business stakeholders in related industries
- Experience with and understanding of full project or product lifecycle
- Proficiency with project management tools, methodologies, and related technology
- Ability to demonstrate leadership, drive results, solve problems, and possess interpersonal skills
Read more: Best PMP Exam Prep Books for 2023
Professional skills and traits
Work experience equips aspiring project managers with the following hard and soft skills necessary to succeed on this career path:
- Data analysis
- Time management
- Written and verbal communication
- Demonstrated leadership through coaching, mentoring, and team building
- Problem-solving mindset
There is no one way to break into a senior project manager role. The path to getting there is often circuitous and draws in professionals from a range of educational and professional backgrounds. If you’re new to the field of project management, we highly recommend starting out with a certificate and gaining hands-on experience in project management.
To map your potential career path in project management, also read: 11 Opportunities for Your Project Management Career Path
Start Your Journey to a Senior Project Management Role
Senior project managers are versatile professionals who possess expertise in project management and process improvement initiatives. With demand increasing by 17 percent in the US alone over the next five years, a qualified senior project manager can access opportunities in virtually all types of industries and organizations and likely enjoy a high degree of job security.