What is a Project Manager?

According to the latest studies, nearly 90 million people will be working globally in the field of project management by 2027. This represents a collective job growth of 33% between 2017 and 2027, particularly in areas like the United States, Canada, China, India, Japan, and Brazil. With so many new job openings during this time period, and with the upward trend expected to continue for years to come, many are asking themselves: What is a project manager?

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What Is a Project Manager?

The average project manager (PM) is many different things to many different people. From the project team members’ perspective, the PM is their leader, supervisor, and role model. When viewed by top-level executives, the project manager serves as a bridge between senior staff and the general workforce. It’s the PM’s job to take command of each project while applying organizational goals and industry standards to the best of their ability – but that’s not their only responsibility.

Most PMs follow a similar pathway throughout their career. Although there are exceptions, organizations typically employ PMs at levels of increasing scope and responsibility. Not only does this keep everything running smoothly, but it gives established PMs the ability to consider their future goals and plan ahead. The average PM career path looks something like this:

  • Project Coordinator: PMs often make their start as project coordinators, who are primarily tasked with handling administrative tasks for individual projects.
  • Project Manager I: Many PMs oversee their first project while operating under this title, but they still report to senior-level officials.
  • Project Manager II: Those who are ready to tackle multiple projects are usually skilled enough to assume this role of increasing responsibility.
  • Project Manager III: The most skilled PMs – including those who regularly oversee high-priority projects – are often given this title.
  • Senior Project Manager: Individuals who excel at project management and demonstrate the ability to lead others can graduate to this senior-level position.
  • Program Manager: Professionals in this role are typically responsible for multiple projects at any given time.
  • Portfolio Manager: Senior-level PMs who have demonstrated success in planning, organizing, and leading multiple projects might be tasked with overseeing the company’s entire project portfolio.
  • Director of Project Management Office (PMO): Charged with strategic project planning and reporting to top-level executives, this role represents the pinnacle of the PM career path and the culmination of your hard work.

Remember, the examples above aren’t set in stone. Some organizations, for example, don’t distinguish between PMs I, II, and III. Instead, their rankings might go straight from the standard project manager to the senior project manager. Additionally, some organizations might rank their PMs across four or five different levels. The career path outlined above is really just a general guide for new PMs and those who are interested in pursuing a career in the field.

What Does a Project Manager Do?

Project managers work closely with teammates on all levels. In some cases, senior project managers work directly with company executives, including CEOs, general managers, and business owners, to interpret their needs and conceptualize projects on their behalf. Other times, the PM merely guides project members based on the directions of their supervisors. In either case, it’s ultimately the PM’s responsibility to drive the project lifecycle forward and produce quantifiable results.

Primary Responsibilities

Generally speaking, the PM’s role relies heavily on the project lifecycle and the five phases therein. These five steps are:

  • Initiation: Use this phase to identify the project scope, its primary purpose, and the key stakeholders involved.
  • Planning: Most project plans include a detailed brief on the project scope, expected costs, projected timelines, and any known risks. Additional metrics can be included as needed, such as known quality issues, project milestones, and more.
  • Execution: During this phase, the PM needs to keep their teammates on track, address any issues that occur, and maintain communications with key stakeholders.
  • Monitoring and controlling: Much of the PM’s work comes in monitoring project progress, managing budget constraints, and reviewing performance.
  • Closure: This is the project finalization stage. All work should be reviewed at this point, contractor invoices should be paid, and the client will need to approve the final deliverable to complete the final phase of the standard project lifecycle.

Although novice PMs have a habit of viewing these five phases as contiguous steps that need to be accomplished in order, they are – with the exception of the initiation and closure phases – a set of evolving processes that are interwoven throughout the entire project. As a skilled PM, it’s your job to know when to leverage each phase in order to maximize efficiency and productivity for your entire team.

Helpful & Necessary Skills

Traditionally, PMs work well under pressure, know how to lead others, and are skilled negotiators, but today’s PMs have taken these qualities to completely new levels. With the help of next-gen technology, skilled PMs can lead global teams of remote workers, analyze performance in real-time, and drive productivity — all from the comfort of their home office.

Successful project managers possess a combination of soft and hard skills to achieve this. While some of the skills are applied daily in the field of project management, others are just helpful to have. Some of the most common and useful soft skills include:

  • Interpersonal communications
  • Team leadership
  • Decision making
  • Coaching and motivation
  • Research and analysis
  • Documentation and recordkeeping
  • Prioritization and delegation
  • Conflict resolution
  • Timeline management
  • Negotiations
  • Adaptability

Likewise, some of the most helpful and necessary hard skills include:

  • Project planning and organization
  • Risk management
  • Project budgeting and scheduling
  • Contract management
  • Procurement
  • Data analytics
  • Industry-specific knowledge or expertise

It takes a healthy mixture of soft and hard skills to make an impact as a PM. While the skills mentioned above are by no means an all-inclusive list, those who develop skills in these areas will pave the way for a successful and productive career in project management.

Training, Education, and Certifications

While there is no formal academic requirement needed to become a project manager, most successful PMs — approximately 68% — have a bachelor’s degree. Another 14% have a master’s degree, 11% have an associate’s degree, and 4% have a different degree altogether. Only 3% of current PMs hold their job with nothing more than a high school diploma.

Some degrees are more preferable than others, with most PMs obtaining business degrees. Other areas of study are becoming increasingly popular, however, including:

  • Computer science
  • Electrical engineering
  • Construction management
  • Mechanical engineering
  • Finance
  • Marketing

But today’s PMs aren’t defined solely by their academic background. There are a variety of targeted training and certification programs that are meant for those who want to strengthen their project management skills even further.

Many different institutions specialize in project management training and certification, but some organizations are more well-regarded than others. The Project Management Institute (PMI), for example, is one of the most reputable institutions in the world when it comes to project management training. Some of its most popular certifications include:

  • Project Management Professional (PMP): Widely considered the gold standard of project management certifications, the PMP certification is very common amongst top-level PMs.
  • Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM): This certification ensures your knowledge in the fundamentals and key processes associated with project management as a whole.
  • Program Management Professional (PgMP): Meant for leaders who are overseeing multiple projects at any given time, this certification really speaks to one’s versatility and their ability to prioritize assignments effectively.
  • Risk Management Professional (PMI-RMP): Those who demonstrate the ability to analyze project risks are recommended to pursue this accreditation.
  • Project Management Ready: Primarily designed for high school and early college students, this certification provides a full introduction to the field of project management.

Additionally, PMI offers several training courses that are focused on agile project management. The agile method focuses on four core values that focus on individuals, software, customer collaboration, and responsive project planning. Essentially, it’s a strategy for maximizing productivity on a per-project basis. While agile project management isn’t practiced at every organization, it is gaining in popularity.

  • Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP): Currently available in seven different languages, this certification ensures your familiarity and expertise with agile principles and practices.
  • Disciplined Agile Scrum Master (DASM): Demonstrate your understanding of Agile fundamentals, including different agile and lean methodologies like Kanban, SAFe, and more.
  • Disciplined Agile Coach (DAC): If you’re interested in training and coaching others in agile and lean methodology, this certification is a great fit for your chosen career path.

The Project Management Institute isn’t the only organization that provides education, training, and certification within the field of project management.

  • CompTIA Project+: Issued by CompTIA, this certification is meant for tech-savvy graduates and those who are primarily managing projects related to information technology.
  • Professional in Project Management (PPM): Offered by the Global Association for Quality Management (GAQM), this certification comprises numerous modules that focus on project planning, execution, and completion.
  • Certified Project Director (CPD): Also made available through the GAQM, this certification is meant for established PMs who are preparing to manage highly complex projects at the top level of their company.
  • Master Project Manager (MPM): Meant for experienced PMs, this is the highest accreditation offered through the American Academy of Project Management (AAPM).
  • PRINCE2 Foundation: Based around the PRINCE2 methodology, this licensure is actually a prerequisite for the more advanced PRINCE2 Practitioner certification.

While there are a myriad of different certifications and accreditations available in the field of project management, the ones mentioned above are among the most common. It’s a good idea for PMs to obtain the more well-known and reputable certifications in order to solidify their knowledge — especially if they plan on making project management a lifelong career — but some of the lesser-known certifications have some value to add, too.

Salary Expectations

As of late 2023, the average salary for PMs in the United States was hovering just under $100,000 per year. The actual salary varies based on a number of factors, however, including your geographic region, industry, the exact job title, and more.

In cities like Sunnyvale, CA, for example, the average annual salary is currently sitting at just over $125,000, or approximately $60 per hour. This doesn’t vary much from a city like Greenwich, CT, which is currently sitting at just over $119,000, but it’s quite a bit more than the average salary. It’s also quite a stretch from the average annual salaries seen in other cities, which can drop as low as $73,000 in states like Florida, Alabama, and West Virginia.

Salaries are also based on the exact job title or area of expertise. Those with the title of project manager IV, for example, currently earn an average annual salary of just over $134,000. Professionals with the title of senior technical project manager earn approximately $126,000 per annually.

What Industries Need a Project Manager?

Most of the theories and principles behind project management can be applied to nearly any industry and any project, regardless of scope, size, or scale. Successful PMs are hardworking, diligent, and organized professionals who thrive when faced with tight deadlines and strict budget constraints.

But there are some industries that are more oriented toward project management than others. Whether they traditionally revolve around project management or even if these principles were added after the fact, the following industries just wouldn’t be the same without an army of skilled PMs leading the way.

Information Technology (IT)

Given the prevalence of modern technology and computers, it’s safe to say that there will be plenty of IT projects to manage in the coming years. While next-gen artificial intelligence (AI) might replace some of the more menial or redundant tasks, there will always be a need for humans who know how to motivate others, address unexpected issues, and react to changes at a moment’s notice.

Project management is so important to IT that some certifications have been specifically created with IT professionals in mind. Whether they’re interested in software development, network security, or another area of IT, there are plenty of opportunities for skilled and motivated PMs.


The construction industry lends itself to project management more than most other industries. Most roles, from entry-level general laborers to skilled tradesmen, building inspectors, and real estate developers, rely heavily on the ability to multitask and switch between projects as needed.

Much like IT, the discipline of project management is so ingrained in construction that several certifications have been created specifically for the industry. Generally speaking, these accreditations teach you about estimating and procuring construction supplies, establishing construction project budgets, and leading a team of multidisciplinary workers.


While the manufacturing industry has undergone a series of extensive transformations since the dawn of the Digital Age, it still relies heavily on PMs to provide product deliverables on a timely basis. Project managers are needed to consult with stakeholders, plan new projects, and enforce quality assurance standards that can’t be measured with today’s smart factory machines.


The healthcare industry needs skilled PMs to oversee their projects, too. Unlike most other occupations in the industry, PMs don’t work directly with patients. Instead, they coordinate operations between departmental heads, team leaders, and other key stakeholders to plan, initiate, and complete new projects in and around their facility.

Projects vary greatly in the healthcare industry. Some common projects include transitioning to a new electronic health record (EHR) system, remodeling a waiting area, or reducing costs on behalf of the whole facility. If you’re a PM, this is one of the most diversified and multifaceted industries you can find.


PMs in this sector, which is another project-oriented industry, are typically responsible for planning and overseeing new advertising campaigns, prioritizing and delegating tasks amongst project team members, and ensuring productivity on a day-to-day basis. They’re also accountable for creating and observing campaign budgets, analyzing team member performance, establishing project timelines, and completing project deliverables in a timely manner.

Finance & Insurance

Project managers in the finance and insurance industries need to be good with numbers. Their primary responsibilities revolve around financial planning, performing cost-benefit analyses, creating financial reports as needed, identifying opportunities for increased revenue, and managing project-specific budgets. Like many other PM roles, it’s a job that requires versatility, adaptability, and industry-specific expertise.

How to Succeed as a Project Manager

The role of the typical PM requires long-term dedication, a passion for leading others, and the ability to juggle evolving priorities on a daily basis. A PM’s true worth is only measured by the success of his team, and a skilled PM understands that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Modern PMs can apply this concept by opening up clear lines of communication with teammates, taking accountability as necessary, and driving the productivity of everyone involved.