Project Management Guide
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How to Become a Project Manager

Are you thinking about becoming a project manager? It can be an exciting and rewarding career with opportunities across many industries. Project management experience can lead to other roles within a company, including executive-level positions. Many of the skills necessary for successful project managers are also crucial for people in Director and Vice President positions. While it’s possible to become a project manager without a professional designation, obtaining a certification can lead to certain benefits. The Project Management Professional (PMP) designation provided by the Project Management Institute (PMI) is the most widely accepted industry-recognized certification for project managers. If you want to be successful in project management, getting your PMP is a great start.

How to become a certified project manager

To obtain your PMP, you need to fill out an application, pay a fee, and pass an exam. However, to apply, you need to have any of the following:

  • A secondary degree, such as a high school diploma
  • 7,500 hours of experience leading and directing projects
  • 35 hours of formal project management education
  • A four-year degree such as a bachelor’s degree
  • 4,500 hours of experience leading and directing projects
  • 35 hours of formal project management education

A common concern for beginners is how to get 4,500-7,500 hours of experience without your PMP.

How to get into project management

The bar for obtaining a PMP is high because achieving project management certification is a big deal — 4,500 hours is the equivalent of roughly 2.5 years’ experience, working 35 hours per week. That can seem daunting, but ‘experience leading and directing projects’ does not only refer to working in an “official” project manager role. Any of the following positions can count toward your hours:

  • Project accountant or cost controller
  • Project scheduler
  • Project administrator
  • Project lead or assistant project manager
  • Any other team lead role on a project (such as lead engineer, lead buyer, lead operations contact, etc.)

It doesn’t have to be a large or complex project to qualify — charity events, functions, and small process improvement projects can all count towards your hours. Did your boss ask you to do a ‘special project’ to make your job more efficient? Even if it’s not a formal project, it’s still project experience. You may also consider doing one of the following:

  • Volunteering with an organization that allows you to help plan an event — a Christmas parade, a tourist festival, etc.
  • Checking for volunteer opportunities within your company. Is there a social committee that plans staff barbecues and other events?
  • Asking your boss for side projects. Think of some you can suggest taking on — for example, a project to reduce manual tasks or improve some aspect of your job or department.
  • Looking for a job that allows you to be a part of a project to get your foot in the door.

How to get your PMP

Once you meet the experience requirements, you also need 35 hours of formal education. Many recognized institutes offer exam preparation training that meets this requirement and helps you pass your exam. Costs vary across programs and depending on whether it’s delivered online or in person. Before signing up, make sure it’s a PMI-recognized institute and course. Once you have completed your course, you can fill out your application online on the PMI website. There is a fee of $555, but if you become a member of PMI, that fee is reduced to $405.

PMI membership is usually $129 per year plus a $10 application fee for the first year, meaning it’s cheaper to become a member than it is to apply for your PMP as a non-member. Plus, you get added membership benefits, including a free online copy of the PMBOK (Project Management Book of Knowledge). After your application is approved, you can schedule your exam at a testing center near you. You will have up to four hours to complete 200 multiple-choice questions. Once you’ve finished, you will receive your result on site. If you don’t pass the exam, you can attempt it two more times within a year without having to go through the application process again. However, there is a fee for retaking the test.

What does it take to be a project manager?

It takes more than a certification to be a successful project manager. Continued education is important for staying up to date with the latest trends, changes, and learnings. PMI requires all designated PMs to complete PDUs (Professional Development Units) each year to maintain certification. To gain PDUs and advance your project management knowledge, you can choose to take additional project management courses focusing on different methodologies, processes, or even tools. You can train in Scrum or PRINCE2 or take a course in project management software.

On-the-job experience is also critical, which is why PMI requires you to have over two years of experience before even gaining a designation. The hard skills you’ll need will depend on the industry, company, and position in which you end up working. Some project managers are expected to do all the planning, scheduling, budgeting, estimating, etc. Others have support staff that gathers the data for them to review, analyze, and approve. Successful project managers also tend to have the following soft skills and strengths:

  • Strong organizational skills
  • Excellent planning, scheduling, and budgeting ability
  • Solid communication skills
  • Leadership qualities, such as the ability to manage and motivate a team
  • Good task and time management skills
  • An eye for detail
  • Critical thinking skills
  • The ability to work under pressure
  • A willingness to adapt (projects, processes, and tools can change over time)
  • Risk and change management skills

Why be a project manager?

If you have both analytical and people skills, project management can be a very fulfilling job. It provides you the opportunity to work with a team, contribute to the success of a project, and do something new all the time, as no two projects are the same. Project management can also be a very well-paying profession. The average project manager salary in the US is almost $66,137, and project managers tend to be in high demand.

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