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 skills used by project managers 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 how to excel at managing projects. You’ll take away practical tips and thought-provoking ideas for how to make your projects successful and build your career as a project manager at the same time.

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 change agents: they make project goals their own and use their skills and expertise to inspire a sense of shared purpose within the project team... They work well under pressure and are comfortable with change and complexity in dynamic environments... Project managers cultivate the people skills needed to develop trust and communication among all of a project's stakeholders... They have a broad and flexible toolkit of techniques, resolving complex, interdependent activities into tasks and sub-tasks that are documented, monitored and controlled.

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.

Different Types of Project Managers

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. Here are some of the different types of project manager role you’ll see in job adverts.
  • 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.

What Does a Project Manager Do?

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. So how do you make the most of this unique situation?

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.

Project Management Career

There has never been a better time to become a project manager. 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.

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.

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.

Each project is unique which makes it the perfect career choice for people who want a job filled with variety. You get to see multiple facets of a business, interact with people across the organization and make a real impact in the company and the community.

Project management is also a well-respected, well-compensated career path with internationally-recognized certifications that can take you around the globe.

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
    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

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 project manager coordinates and provides the framework for the work.

Essential Project Manager Skills and Characteristics

So what are project management skills? What do people need to demonstrate to show that they can lead a project successfully?

People who excel in the role of project manager tend to be individuals who manage well under pressure and who can cope with the highs and lows of project delivery. You need to be skilled at managing conflict on teams and on advising senior managers. You’ll spend just as much time briefing executives and making recommendations as you will supporting the team by removing roadblocks and seeking out the resources they need to get the work done.

Here are some of the core project management skills, 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.

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?”

If you are interested in a project management career and you are currently working, ask 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. Tell your boss that you are interested in developing project management skills.

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 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.

Start to build the relevant skills for project managers so that when a job becomes available you can apply for it with confidence.

Our curated collection of podcasts on this page – and the other resources you’ll find in our archives – are a great starting point for you, whether you are investigating if being a project manager 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 project managers from around the world, in a whole host of different industries.

Many commentators say that demand for project managers is growing, 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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