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. In addition, 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 important for people in positions such as Director and Vice President. While it’s possible to become a project manager without a professional designation, attaining 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, in order to apply, you need to meet one of the following:
- Have a secondary degree, such as a high school diploma.
- Have 7,500 hours of experience leading and directing projects.
- Have 35 hours of formal project management education.
- OR Have completed a four-year degree such as a bachelor’s degree.
- Have 4,500 hours of experience leading and directing projects.
- Have 35 hours of formal project management education.
A common concern for people starting out is how to get 4,500 - 7,500 hours of experience without your PMP.
How to get into project management
The bar for attaining a PMP is high because achieving project management certification is a big deal—4,500 hours is the equivalent of roughly 2.5 years, working 35 hours per week. That can seem daunting, starting out. However, experience leading and directing projects does not only refer to working in an “official” project manager role. If you’ve worked in any of the following positions, and provided advisement or oversight on a project, it 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 also doesn’t have to be a large or complex project to qualify. If you’ve planned and executed a charity event or function, it can count. Small process improvement projects can count as well. 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 was still project experience. If you don’t have any experience yet, consider doing one of the following:
- Volunteer with an organization that will allow you to help plan an event. It could be the next Christmas parade, or a tourist festival, etc.
- Check for volunteer opportunities within your company as well. Is there a social committee than plans staff barbeques and other events?
- Ask your boss to be allowed to do some side projects for work. Think of some you can suggest taking on, such as a project to reduce manual tasks or improve some aspect of your job or department.
- Look for a job that allows you to be a part of a project, in order 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. There are many recognized institutes offering exam preparation training that meet this requirement and help you pass your exam. Costs vary across programs and depending on whether it’s delivered online or in person. Before signing up for anything, 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. You will also either have to pay $555 USD, or become a member of PMI and only pay $405 USD.
Note: The PMI membership is $129 per year plus a $10 application fee for the first year. Which means it’s cheaper to become a member for a year and pay $405 than it is to apply 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 4 hours to complete 200 multiple choice questions. Once done, you will receive your result on site. If you don’t pass, you can attempt the exam two more times, within a one-year period 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?
Of course, it takes more than just a certification to be a successful project manager. First of all, continued education is important for staying up to date with the latest trends, changes, and learnings. For this reason, PMI requires all designated PMs to complete PDUs (Professional Development Units) each year in order 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. Such as Scrum or Prince2 training, or a course on how to use certain project management software. On the job experience is also critical, which is why PMI requires you have over two years worth before even gaining a designation. The hard skills you’ll need will depend on the industry, company, and position you end up working in. Some project managers are expected to do all their own planning, scheduling, budgeting, estimating, and so on. While others have support staff that gather the data and the project manager is only expected to review, analyze, and approve it. 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 ability
- The ability to work under pressure
- A willingness to adapt (as projects, processes, and tools 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, to contribute to the success of a project, and to do something new all the time, as no two projects are exactly the same. Project management can also be a very well-paying profession. The average project manager salary in the US is almost $81,000, and project managers tend to be high in demand.