Project Manager
All about the Project Manager (That's You!)

How to Excel at Managing Projects

Being a project manager is a fantastic job. It’s a career that will give you so many opportunities in so many different areas. But you have to deliver projects to build a reputation as someone who is successful in the role.

To do that, you need to understand the project manager skills, responsibilities and duties so you can apply them to your own work.

You’re here because you want to learn more about the role of a project manager and what it means to develop those skills to lead successful projects. The resources on this page will let you explore those ideas, guided by a range of expert interviewees who themselves have acted as senior project managers for many successful projects. What will you learn from them?

Let us help you learn more about the project manager function in an organization so you can build your career in the field. We’ll give you a description of what it means to be a project manager. You’ll take away practical tips and thought-provoking ideas for how to make your projects successful.

Featured Podcast: How to Influence Without Authority as a Project Manager

Listen now to this featured podcast on project management skills

In this interview you'll hear about the influence cycle and the associated skills project managers can use to get things done in situations where you have to influence without authority. You'll learn about the 5 stages of the influence cycle: Prepare, Ask, Trust, Follow up, and Give back. There are loads of helpful tips in this episode!
Kristine Hayes Munson and Cornelius Fichtner
Kristine Hayes Munson and Cornelius Fichtner
Please scroll down to see the full list of our podcasts on the role of the project manager.

What is a Project Manager?

Project managers are people who lead projects. They have responsibility for planning, scheduling, budgeting and monitoring the work until it is completed. They work with a team to achieve the expected results and use a range of tools and techniques to ensure a successful delivery.

You don't have to have the job title of 'project manager' to be doing project management in your role. Today, project management skills are in high demand. Research on the future of project management by KPMG shows that 35% of organizations have completed more than 50 projects in the past year. That's a lot of change happening in a lot of places!

All of those initiatives would have been led by a PM.

Your Project Management Career

There has never been a better time to become a project manager. Project management skills have been in demand since the Pharaohs commissioned the pyramids and the demand shows no sign of slowing down.

Here is why we think the outlook for project managers is more positive than ever before.

88 million roles

The PMI Project Management Job Growth and Talent Gap 2017–2027 report states that employers will need nearly 88 million individuals in project management related roles.

7.9% of all employment

A study on the contribution of project management by APM showed that 7.9% of all UK employment is in project-related roles. We can expect this to be similar in other countries with equivalent economies.

A third of national GDP

The project management impact on the economy is one third of national GDP according to research by IPMA. That's only expected to grow!

As you can see, the demand is there. That's because more and more industries are becoming 'projectized' which means they structure their work and deliverables via projects.

Organizations are keen to improve project management maturity across their departments, building a stable and repeatable framework for delivering change. In this fast-paced, complex world, being able to adapt to market conditions and respond to disruption is key to staying in business.

That means project management is definitely a viable career choice. Whether you want to work in catering or construction, or any other industry, the people making changes and keeping pace with the evolving economy are project managers. Sometimes they might be behind the scenes, but they are definitely there... and you could be to.

Where Are Project Managers Needed?

Projects managers are needed across all industries and verticals including:
  • Engineering
  • Leisure and sport
  • Hospitality and travel
  • Retail
  • Marketing and sales
  • IT
  • Oil and gas
  • Manufacturing
  • Finance and insurance
  • On mega projects and small projects

As you can see, project managers work across all industries and professions. The importance of project management skills remains the same, regardless of the discipline. While it might be difficult for a digital project manager to suddenly pick up managing a large oil and gas project, the core project management process groups and skills remain the same.

You can change industry, but many people choose one industry to make their project management career in so they can develop deep subject matter knowledge in that field.

Different Types of Project Managers

As we've seen, project managers work across all industries and all sizes of companies, both commercial organizations and non-profits. Our podcast episodes include experts from a range of different organizations to show you the full extent of how project management is used.

Are you ready to take your next step in this exciting career? Here are some of the different types of project manager role you’ll see in job adverts.

  • Construction project manager
  • Agile project manager
  • IT project manager
  • Engineering project manager
  • Construction Project Manager

    Construction project managers work on build projects. Managing a build site is a complex project, often with many suppliers and trades who need to be coordinated to ensure the construction completes on time and to the expected budget.
  • Agile Project Manager

    Agile project managers work across a range of Agile disciplines. The role can be varied, depending on what the team needs. For example, the role of project manager in SAFe Agile would be different to someone taking on the project management responsibilities in a small team using Scrum. Becoming a project manager in an Agile team is a good choice if you want to work in a fast-paced environment delivering incremental value to users and customers.
  • IT Project Manager

    The IT industry is huge, and there are lots of options for project managers wanting to make this area their career. For example, you could work in software design or development, infrastructure, IT architecture or digital. IT project managers need to be able to see the big picture, handle complex technical environments, and work with a range of skilled IT colleagues and teams from around the business. The project management salary in IT can be very good, especially at the top level when delivering complex business systems.
  • Engineering Project Manager

    Project management in an engineering environment involves leading a team to develop and manufacture a product. The team takes the product from concept to completion, and the project manager plays a critical role in ensuring the work is coordinated, planned, managed and delivered on time and on budget, meeting all quality criteria and the client’s specifications. Project management skills in the engineering disciplines would include a detailed knowledge of relevant safety standards, laws and regulations as well as a good working knowledge of the manufacturing process and the ability to work with various suppliers and subject matter experts.
Now you know about the different fields, industries and verticals where you can find work as a project manager, let's look at what a project manager does all day by focusing on the job description and responsibilities.

The Project Manager Job Description

As we saw in the project manager definition above, a project manager is someone who delivers change.

The job description for a project manager varies from company to company, role to role. You’ll see project manager jobs advertised at a relatively low salary, responsible for largely administrative projects, and other roles that require deep project management skills and industry knowledge, that command a much higher salary.

However, the core responsibilities for a project manager remain the same across roles and industries. A project manager is responsible for:

  • Directing, coordinating, managing, and implementing the work
  • Defining the tasks required to deliver the work
  • Scheduling and planning the work
  • Putting together the project team and allocating resources to activities
  • Tracking, controlling and reporting on progress, issues and other things management needs to be aware of
  • Engaging stakeholders as required to gain support for the work.

You’ll see these responsibilities on job descriptions. The level to which the role has responsibility for these tasks depends on the seniority of job in the organization and the type of project the role will be leading.

Below, you'll see those core responsibilities outlined in more detail by two career stages. Find out what a project manager does at the beginning of their career and also at the point where they have more professional experience.

Task

Directing, coordinating, managing, and implementing the work

Junior PM

At the beginning of your career, you work under the direction of an experienced project leader. You are responsible for managing a small part of a project, such as an individual workstream. You coordinate the work involved in completing that activity.

Experienced PM

With more experience comes more responsibility, so at this level you are leading the whole project. You set the direction for the team, ensure roadblocks are removed, deal with issues and create an environment where people have the resources they need to complete their tasks.
Defining the tasks required to deliver the work
You work with one or more subject matter experts and help them decompose their work into specific tasks.
You facilitate workshops and perhaps work alongside a business analyst to ensure requirements are elicited, the WBS is created and the scope management plan is defined.
Scheduling and planning the work
You create a project plan for your part of the project (or your small project). You put the tasks in order and set delivery dates for each one.
You manage a complex schedule in a project management software tool. You monitor task dependencies and control the critical path so the work stays on track to deliver in a timely fashion.
Putting together the project team and allocating resources to activities
There might only be one or two people working on a small project or workstream. Your role is to ensure they know what they have to do and what tasks they are responsible for.
Your team could be hundreds of people, and they all need clear roles and responsibilities to avoid duplication of effort and miscommunication. You create a team structure and ensure individuals understand their contribution.
Tracking, controlling and reporting on progress, issues
You keep track of how the work you are responsible for is going. You report progress to the project manager at least weekly, using a standard report. You attend meetings as required to provide an update and if anything looks like it isn't going to plan, you make sure the leadership team know about it.
You use best practice techniques to track and control the work, making changes to the schedule as required. You attend the Project Board meetings to provide reports and updates, escalating issues that are outside of your area of control.
Engaging stakeholders as required
You identify and talk to key stakeholders regularly so they know what's going on.
You have a detailed stakeholder engagement plan that is regularly updated. You manage communications across the team. You liaise with executive stakeholders and the project sponsor to manage expectations.

What Does a Project Manager Do?

We are privileged to work with experts all around the world creating our podcast series, and they all have experience to answer the question: "What does a project manager do?" Here is a list of the common duties of a project manager, drawn from the combined experience of over 100 podcast guests.
  • Create a project management plan to structure the work
  • Define the project scope
  • Create a schedule to manage the timeline
  • Create all project documentation and keep it up to date
  • Direct the project from initiation to closure
  • Monitor progress for the duration of the project life cycle (which might involve maintaining time sheets)
  • Schedule and chair project meetings and workshops
  • Manage stakeholder expectations at all levels
  • Put together a team and allocate resources to the appropriate work
  • Forecast project performance and make the necessary changes to stay on track
  • Use a coaching leadership style to support, encourage and develop the team
  • Plan and deliver project communications
  • Track and manage actions
  • Uncover and prioritize how to manage risks, including capitalizing on opportunities (“positive risk”)
  • Deal with issues as they come up
  • Plan for quality and ensure those plans are carried through
  • Ensure the customer feels included and their satisfaction is kept in mind at all times
  • Use project management software to track, measure and report on progress and performance
  • Maintain an audit trail and archive of project information for the future
  • Be “the face” of the project and lead the change

As you can see, when you look at what exactly does a project manager do, the list is long!

In summary, project managers are people who know how to organize the work and other people in order to achieve a goal. They spend time looking at the big picture but also diving into the detail – and they know when to do each of those. The role of the project manager is quite special. You motivate a team, manage and control the work and provide leadership. But you rarely have people working directly for you on a project.

In today’s economy, project managers work in environments where there is much uncertainty and complexity, and when you are trying to get things done, that can be difficult! That’s why the project manager’s role is one that navigates office politics with ease. You’ll spend a lot of time engaging stakeholders and communicating, building trust throughout the team at all levels. In fact, some people say that communication is 80 per cent of the project manager’s role.

Whether you work in healthcare or heavy engineering, policy or procurement, catering or construction (or any other industry), there will be project managers in your field. You can work as a project manager in an employed capacity, or as a contractor. You can work via an agency or run your own independent consultancy. It’s a very flexible career and those who invest in their development find there are almost endless opportunities to make the job your own.

Reasons for Choosing a Career in Project Management

Project management is a diverse and exciting business area. You can put your skills to use in any industry, from architecture to zoology. There are lots of opportunities to specialize, either in a methodology, framework or project management approach, or in a particular type of project, such as oil and gas or hospitality.

Here are some of the top reasons we hear from students about why they want to choose a career in project management.

  • You want a job with a lot of variety
  • You want a job that is well paid
  • You want a job with professional recognition
  • You want a job with a clear career path
  • You want a job that will let you work anywhere in the world
As you can see, there are plenty of reasons why a PM career is a good career choice. Those aren't empty statements, though: let's review the benefits in a little more detail.
  • Project management is a varied job
    Each project is unique which makes it the perfect career choice for people who want a job filled with variety. One day you might be working with the Sales and Marketing team, the next with the team running your product distribution warehouse. As you move between projects, you will build up a network of contacts across the organization. You get to see multiple facets of a business, interact with people in many roles and make a real impact in the company and the community.
  • Project managers are well paid
    Salaries for PMs are good, and if you hold a professional certification, they are even better. Compensation improves as you move up the career ladder and become responsible for larger projects. At a department role or as Head of PMO you can command the same salary as any other senior executive or director. It's a role that comes with influence and you can become a trusted advisor to senior leaders. Your earnings reflect that.
  • The profession is recognized
    Project management is a well-respected career path with internationally-recognized certifications. There is a large and active community of practice providing professional development. There are also plenty of opportunities for continuing your learning throughout your career, including earning approved PDUs.
  • Career progression is possible
    There is a clear career path for project managers, and we'll see more about that later in this article. You can start with an entry-level role straight out of education, or even take an apprenticeship or internship. As you gain experience and certifications, you manage larger and larger projects. You can move on to department management or program management and beyond, depending on where you want your career to take you.
  • Project management is a global profession
    You can work anywhere in the world when you are a project manager, because it truly is a global profession. The easiest way to travel with your career is to work for a company that has offices overseas and then get transferred to another part of the business located somewhere you want to work. Even if your current organization doesn't have overseas operations, perhaps your work will let you travel to visit clients or suppliers. PMs are needed all around the world so there are opportunities internationally if you want to take them.

Project Management Salaries

PMI regularly carries out a career survey that answers the question, “How much do project managers make?” The average project manager salary depends on where you are based in the world, how much experience you have, what certifications you hold and other factors like your industry.

The PMI Earning Power: Project Management Salary Survey—Eleventh Edition (2020) shows that an experienced, certified project manager in the United States can earn around $124,000 per year including a bonus.

Popular Project Management Career Paths

Your project management career is as unique as you are. You can become a project manager straight out of college, after graduating with a relevant degree. You can move into project management later in your career, after becoming a subject matter expert in your field and taking on more and more project work.

Here are some common project management career paths.

  • Project Coordinator to Project Manager
  • Project Manager to Program Manager
  • Program Manager to Portfolio Director
Let's look at those different career journeys so you can decide if this is the right path for you.
  • Project Coordinator to Project Manager
    Many people begin their project management career in a coordinator role. This is a largely administrative support function, working alongside an experienced project manager. It is a good way to find out more about what is involved in project management. As you gain more confidence and learn more skills, you can take on portions of the project to lead independently.
  • Project Manager to Program Manager
    Many project managers go on to a program management role. The program manager job description shares many of the same skills as a project manager needs, but it operates at a more strategic level and with more team management responsibilities.

    You are juggling the requirements of multiple projects within a program. Typically, you are operating with a greater degree of uncertainty. Your role as a program manager is to ensure the program (and all the component projects) completes successfully and delivers business value, so you would be working on an initiative for a long period of time.

    In this role you would also carry out project manager coaching and mentoring to support the project teams working within the program.
  • Program Manager to Portfolio Director
    At the most senior level in an organization, the Portfolio Director oversees all the projects and change within the business. This role manages several teams including the Project Management Office and Project Management teams.

The Importance of a Project Manager

By now you can probably see why a project manager is important in an organization. Let's review the advantages: these are things you can use in an interview situation to explain why you are interested in the role and to show you understand what the role has to offer the organization.

A project manager:

  • provides direction for the project
  • ensures resources are used efficiently
  • communicates with the whole team
  • keeps the work on track
  • removes roadblocks and resolves issues.
Let's take a moment to explain those five reasons in a bit more detail.
  • Provides direction
    Project managers provide the direction for the team. The motivate and lead, ensuring the team keeps the end goal in sight at all times. The clear vision helps the team maintain momentum and make decisions.
  • Ensures efficient use of resources
    Companies want to know that their resources are being utilized efficiently. It's best to have people working at capacity so no one is overloaded or under-allocated. Resource management and capacity planning helps make this happen, and the PM is expert at both.
  • Communicates with the team
    The communications plan is an essential part of the effort, but simply having a plan isn't enough. The team also has to do the communications. The PM takes the lead on this, ensuring that the right stakeholders receive relevant information at appropriate times.
  • Keeps the work on track
    Monitoring and controlling are two important parts of the work, and are essential PM processes. It's important to manage the big picture but also to stay on top of the smaller details, like whether a particular task is on track to complete on time. As part of this, the project leadership team may use earned value management, critical path method or other techniques for monitoring progress.
  • Removes roadblocks
    The PM may nominally be 'in charge' of the project but the role really exists to serve the team and make sure they have what they need to do the work. After all, the bulk of the task delivery is done by people who are not the PM. Issues are resolved by listening out for them, understanding problems, and having the network and influence to be able to do something about them. When roadblocks are removed, the team's work is frictionless and can be completed successfully.

Project manager skills are important for business because they help deliver change in the most effective and efficient way. It’s crucial that organizations can quickly respond to change in today’s project economy.

A project manager is the person who champions the change and leads the team to deliver the results the business wants to see. They add value to the organization by ensuring work is planned and structured efficiently. When someone takes the project manager role on the team, the team members can focus on doing their work in a supportive environment. They can spend their time on what they do best. They are using their technical and subject matter expertise to deliver great results while the PM coordinates and provides the framework for the work.

Essential Project Manager Skills and Characteristics

Effective project managers need a wide range of technical and professional skills. Here are some core characteristics of successful project managers, in no particular order.
  • Leadership
  • Communication
  • Planning
  • Scheduling
  • Risk management
  • Resilience
  • Teamwork
  • Ability to be calm under pressure
  • Assertiveness
  • Critical thinking and problem solving
  • Conflict management.

Leadership

PM is fundamentally a leadership role, despite having 'management' in the job title. You are responsible for leading the team and supporting them in achieving the Project Sponsor's vision. You have to be able to take decisions, demonstrate credibility and influence others: all factors of leaders. Look at the leaders in your organization and try to work out what makes them effective. What strategies could you borrow to have the same result?

Communication

It has been said that project management is 80% communication, and we agree. There are lots of meetings and discussions, all with the goal of ensuring the team and key stakeholders understand and agree with what is happening. You’ll spend time briefing executives and making recommendations. Part of your role is to make sure all voices are heard, even if some carry more weight than others. Only by listening will you fully understand the project's objectives and how you can achieve them.

Planning

Planning is the act of working out how to do and what to do. This is where you'll work with the team to set the rules of engagement for the project. You'll review the processes that will help you stick to the plan, and put in place the frameworks and tools that will underpin how you approach the rest of the work.

Scheduling

Creating a schedule is an important part of managing the work. You will meet with experts to estimate how long each task will take. Document task dependencies so you know what order the activity needs to be schedule in. Then build out a Gantt chart or other project schedule to show everyone a visual representation of the timeline for the project. The schedule becomes your ultimate guide for what needs to be done when.

Risk Management

All projects face risk, so the skill is in knowing what to do about them. Risk identification is where this process starts, and then you'll work with subject matter experts to consider the different ways you could plan to address the risk. Typically, PMs seek to reduce the impact of the risk through mitigation activities, but you could also manage it in other ways such as transferring the risk to a third party or even trying to capitalize on it if it may lead to a greater opportunity.

Resilience

Resilience is the ability to bounce back after a setback... and there are plenty of those in a project environment! The best PMs manage well under pressure and can cope with the highs and lows of project delivery. Resilience is also about helping your team build the structures and culture to ensure the project remains resilient in troubled times. Put some slack in the schedule, for example, to help cope with any last minute crises.

Teamwork

The PM can't do the project alone -- that's where the team comes in. You should understand concepts like Tuckman's stages of team development to help steer the team through the challenges of coming together to work for the first time, through to becoming a cohesive, trusting unit with a common goal. Another part of the role is supporting the team by removing roadblocks and seeking out the resources they need to get the work done.

Calm & Assertive

Your approach to work should be both calm and assertive. Change initiatives can be challenging and fraught situations at times, with high levels of conflict because of the nature of the work. As a team leader, your role is also to set the tone for the culture of the team. Be calm under pressure and assertive around decision making and accountability. The team will need you to step up in these ways when times are tough.

Critical Thinking

Projects exist to deliver new things for the organization, whether that is a process, a service or a product. Doing new things often involves solving problems because issues crop up along the way. That's normal when you haven't done a project like this before; you're constantly learning. However, it also means that PMs and their teams need to be smart about problem solving. Learn some critical thinking techniques to apply to solving problems, and you will be well on the way to helping your team deal with whatever challenges they come across.

Conflict Management

There is often tension when people come together to agree what needs to change. They may have different expectations of what they want, or different views about how it should be done. You need to be a skilled facilitator and able to resolve conflict between team members and stakeholders. The objective is not to 'win' but rather to create clarity so the team knows what is expected and can get on with the work.

Project managers have access to a range of tools and techniques that help them plan, track and manage the work. Part of the skill of being a project manager is knowing what tool to use when, and how to adapt it to fit your environment. Projects all have unique characteristics, and what worked on your last project might not be appropriate this time round. That’s why tailoring is core project management skill, so you always apply the right techniques to the project you are currently working on.

How to Become a Project Manager

By now you might be asking yourself, “How do I become a project manager?” There are 4 steps to consider.

  • Confirm that this is the right path for you
  • Learn the skills and techniques
  • Gain experience
  • Take a project management certification.
That was super-quick overview on how do you become a project manager! It's a topic that warrants a bit more explanation, so let's review those 4 steps again in the guide below so you can create your own career plan to get the job of your dreams.

Step 1

First, confirm that this is the right job for you. Listen to our podcasts about the realities of the role and review the skills required. Does PM sound like a career you would enjoy? Think about your own personal strengths and development opportunities and compare that to what is expected of you in a project delivery role.

Step 2

Next, learn the skills and techniques. You can learn on the job through volunteering with your local PMI Chapter. Listen to some of our skills-based podcast episodes and then try to apply the same techniques to the role you have now, whether that is planning your work for a student project or coordinating a team effort at the office. Tell your boss that you are interested in developing project management skills so they can support you. Start to build the relevant skills for project managers so that when a job becomes available you can apply for it with confidence.

Step 3

Next, gain experience in the workplace. Apply project management techniques to the role you are currently doing. Ask around in your current company to see if there are project management vacancies. Offer to take on projects when your department needs someone to manage them. If you are not currently working, look on social media for project managers like LinkedIn groups or Facebook communities and start to build connections. Your local PMI Chapter may also have job boards or networking events that you can take part in.

Step 4

The next step is to take a project management certification. Many of our students feel validated in their career choice once they have successfully earned their credentials. Having letters after your name shows the world that you know what you are talking about and that you have the skills to lead any initiative. Many employers fund project management certification courses and exams, so check with your manager to see if that is an option for you.

If you were wondering how to be a project manager, hopefully that has helped you think through the different stages of starting your career.

Our curated collection of podcasts on this page – and the other resources you’ll find in our archives – are also a great starting point for you, whether you are investigating if being a PM is the career for you, or if you want to build your skills to succeed at work. Which one will you listen to first?

Complexity is not increasing on all projects but generally speaking, the larger project is, the more complex it is. This is particularly true if your project involves a lot of technology, if it involves a lot of software and especially if it involves software and hardware integrated together. These are areas ripe with complexity.
Jordan Kyriakidis, CEO of QRA Corp

PM Podcast Episodes on the Project Manager's Role

Below are just a few, hand-picked episodes of The PM Podcast that talk about the role of the project manager and the skills you need to succeed.

How to Manage Conflict as a Project Manager

This interview is full of solid advice and best practices you can apply to the conflicts you will inevitably encounter on your projects. Learn about the definition and characteristics of conflict in a project management context and how to analyze a conflict. We also spend time looking at conflict resolution in project management and how you can help your team through the challenge. Get your notebook ready because you'll want to remember the tips from this episode!
Karin Brünnemann, PMP
Karin Brünnemann, PMP

How to Manage a Virtual Team

In this interview, you'll learn about how to succeed in a virtual team environment. You might struggle with time zone issues, language barriers, limited visibility, poor infrastructure, and so on. Sometimes we choose remote teams intentionally for their benefits. But often, this kind of organizational structure is handed to managers and team members without choice. Let's dive into how to deal with all those issues and strengthen your approach to managing virtual teams.
Cornelius Fichtner and Jesse Fewell
Cornelius Fichtner and Jesse Fewell

The Interpersonal Skills You Need for Project Success

In this collection of short interviews, you'll hear experts from around the world talk about the interpersonal skills in project management that they believe have helped them most in their career success. Spoiler alert: there's a theme, and it's to do with relationships!
Congress presenters reveal their most important interpersonal skill

How to Manage Your Work/Life Balance

If you have difficulty in juggling the demands of your job and your non-work life, you’re not alone. In this podcast interview, you'll take away meaningful information to help with your project manager work life balance, but also ideas to help you to achieve the integration that is most important to you.
Cornelius Fichtner and Neal Whitten
Cornelius Fichtner and Neal Whitten

The Demand for Project Managers is Growing

The role of the project manager is a fulfilling career option, and there are many opportunities for you to take your career journey in the direction that most appeals. Through the range of expert interviews in our podcast archives, you can listen to the experience of professionals from around the world, in a whole host of different industries.

Many commentators say that demand for people with PM skills is growing. We agree there has never been a better time to build on your skills and advance your career. We’re here to support you in the journey!

Project Management for Beginners and Experts

Going beyond Project Management Professional (PMP)®, PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)®, and Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)®

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