I may be aging myself here but when I was choosing a focus for post-secondary education, a project management major didn’t exist. To say I stumbled into a project management career is quite accurate.
Growing up in a very organized household and developing my project management skills through chore lists, household processes, and my parents always talking through the consequences of various decision paths is a huge part of the success I’ve had in my career in project management.
Is Project Management A Good Career?
Project management is an ever-growing, fascinating, and rewarding career field that is gaining more and more attention. This is especially true in a post-pandemic world where more and more companies are hiring dispersed teams all over the globe and a remote-first mentality is gaining traction.
Project manager roles are more important than ever before, acting as a critical pathway from remote workers to the main functions and operations of the business.
But is it the right fit for you?
Project management is a great career choice for those who are looking for potential career advancement and the opportunity to work with a variety of people, organizations, and teams.
It requires a blend of technical and soft skills, and the ability to manage complex projects with skill and agility. With the right combination of skills and attitude, project managers can be successful in their careers and enjoy the many benefits that come with it.
If you are able to handle the stress and pressure of the job and have the skills and experience required to succeed, then project management could be the perfect career for you. However, it’s important to consider the challenges that come with the job, which we will touch on later.
To help you decide if a career in this field suits you, I will explore the benefits and challenges of a project management career, the skills you need to highlight or hone in on, and the qualifications you may need to get there.
What Does A Project Manager Do?
The real question is what do project managers not do?
If you tend to be the kind of person that wants to learn and know a little bit about all aspects of the business, can manage people and set them up for success, have extraordinary attention to detail, and enjoy continuous shifting of priorities and tasks throughout your day, you are likely a born project manager.
Those inherent and intuitive soft skills will launch you quickly into your project management career path because they already come naturally to you.
Education on top of these innate abilities will then give you the wonderful ability to step into the majority of industries and play a major role in the project, client, and organizational success.
Read more about the daily routine of a project manager to see if it sounds appealing to you.
Advantages Of Choosing A Career In Project Management
A career in project management has many benefits. It provides the opportunity to work with different and distributed teams and stakeholders, gain a global perspective, and work with leading-edge technologies and tools.
Project managers also have the opportunity to develop their skills and knowledge in a variety of areas, from project management processes and techniques to people management and communication, setting themselves up for a variety of career paths to grow into.
Project management offers a wealth of advantages.
- Opportunities to work in a variety of industries all around the world, as skills and knowledge are transferable. Project managers can work in a wide range of industries, from IT and healthcare to finance and manufacturing, and let’s not forget digital. This means you’ll have the opportunity to work with a variety of teams, learn new skills, and network with professionals from different backgrounds. Here's a list of cool jobs you can do with your transferable skills!
- Opportunity to take on a wide range of responsibilities. As a project manager, you’ll be responsible for overseeing the entire project from start to finish, from planning and budgeting to implementation and completion. This means you’ll be involved in every aspect of the project, giving you a chance to learn and grow professionally.
- Flexibility and remote work options. Project management offers a great degree of flexibility, making it a great option for those who need to balance work and family life (especially if you are looking to be a freelance project manager). If you’re looking for a remote-first job to suit your lifestyle, project management is a great one. I’ve been remote-ish for the majority of my career.
- Great salary potential. Project managers are often well-paid for their work, and project manager salary potential is high depending on the industry (average salary can vary widely between industries). With the right experience and expertise, you can earn a comfortable living and save for the future.
- Possibility of advancement. As a project manager, you’ll be in a position to take on more responsibility and progress up the ladder due to your level and range of skills and years of experience. With the right qualifications, experience, and skills such as time management and problem-solving, you can move up to higher-level positions. People, product, program, operational, and process management are a few that I’ve dipped into.
- Challenging and rewarding work. Project management is a challenging and rewarding field of work. With the right skills and knowledge, you’ll be able to handle complex projects and provide valuable solutions to the organization. This can be a great source of job satisfaction and motivation.
- Positive impact on an organization. As a project manager, you’ll be able to make a real difference to the organization. By completing projects on time and within budget, and building and adapting processes, you’ll be able to help the organization achieve its goals and objectives. This can also be a great source of pride and satisfaction.
Challenges Of A Career In Project Management
Despite the many benefits, project management can be a demanding and stressful career path. It requires a high level of organization and a commitment to meeting tight deadlines.
In addition, project managers also must be able to manage a range of team members personalities and make difficult decisions in challenging situations.
You are the cheerleader keeping everyone motivated, the coach to ensure everyone knows what they should be working on at a specific time, and the principal taking on tough decisions and conversations with both team members and clients.
If any of the following make you want to run for the hills, a career in project management may not be the right fit for you.
- High stress level: There is a constant need to adapt, put out fires, hit tight deadlines, and constantly plan for the worst (while hoping for the best). Managing this level of stress can be difficult if you aren’t fully engaged and enjoying the role. Risk management is a daily task and requires a lot of critical thinking.
- Difficulty in balancing work and personal life: In some industries, you may be working for clients that work around the clock. There may be an expectation for your availability to extend beyond typical working hours or adapt to the work time zone of your client.
- Lack of recognition: Although this is not the case everywhere, project managers are often the ones cleaning up all the difficult situations, but when it comes to the final product launch, all the credit is given to the design and related data improvements, for example (ie. what the client actually sees). The project manager’s invisible management to get everyone to that point is often forgotten.
- Need for constant learning: It is important to keep up with industry trends and know a little about all aspects of the talent you are managing (design, UX, development, etc.). This allows you to be strategic about decisions and explain all aspects of a project to your client in a way they can fully understand it.
- Difficult to manage client expectations: Unrealistic deadlines on deliverables are a real thing and they are quite difficult to manage in the best of circumstances.
- Unpredictable budgets: This is unfortunately a common occurrence and sometimes more of a deep-rooted problem within an industry or company.
Potential Project Management Career Paths
Nowadays there are many different project management positions that don’t fit into the typical project management box. I’m not going to go into each one in-depth, but here are a few roles that fit under the project management career umbrella.
The Scrum master is there to streamline and clarify the process and workflow for the project team as they achieve their goals. They do so as a team member or collaborator, and ideally not as someone in control. This role is typically associated with software development.
Here are some of the skills required for a Scrum master:
- Communication and listening
- Conflict resolution
- Agile management and development
- Planning and organizational skills
- Coaching and mentorship capabilities
- Knowledge of cloud-based technologies, tools such as Jira, or other agile project management software aimed at development teams
Learn about the differences between Scrum masters and project managers here.
Many organizations use these titles interchangeably, and understanding their differences is imperative to improving your workflow and efficiency. Put very simply, the typical project manager manages both the work effort and staff. The producer is more involved in the critical thinking and creation of the work itself.
Product managers identify the customer need for existing and new products and the larger business objectives that a product or feature will fulfill, manages and prioritizes product requirements, articulates what success looks like for a product, and rallies a team to turn that vision into a reality.
Here’s a summary table of the differences between project managers and product managers.
|Type of work||Project||Product|
|Timeframe||Limited in time||Ongoing|
|Team Type||Often part-time and managing other projects||Full-time team member|
|Goal||Complete on-time, in scope, and budget||Creating product value|
|Typical methodology used||Waterfall or hybrid with agile||Agile|
Senior Project Manager, Program Manager, or Portfolio Management
In many companies, you can graduate to a higher-level PM role based on your years of project management experience, more strategic critical thinking skills, and project management education or professional certifications.
Learn more about how to become a senior project manager.
A Real-Life PM Career Growth Example
All of the above is excellent on paper but let me take you briefly through the roles I’ve had so you can see an example of how every role and skill led me to the next and how these achievements allow me now to be an expert consultant, advising and mentoring others in the project management field.
Request for Proposal (RFP) Coordinator
Completing each RFP was a project in and of itself, requiring resource planning and booking, a deadline, and a vetting process to determine if we should even put in the time and effort to submit. I also started building a process around this to make RFP responding more efficient.
Leaning on my experience with RFP projects, this role got me into project managing quick, small-budget projects for the company. We used the PMI methodology, and this is where most of my learning and execution of project management best practices became stronger. The more experience I gained, the more I worked on larger projects.
Process Efficiency Coordinator
As the company was going through an acquisition, a team was compiled to ensure all processes, new and old, aligned with the two companies and could scale in the years to come.
This is where my experience in project management stepped up, as I added experience in process vetting, management, building, and training.
Process management is a valuable skill to have in today’s landscape, as many agencies work with a variety of clients and a one size fits all project management process may not always work. You need to know how to adapt and be flexible when managing projects.
Supervisor, Manager, & Director of Remote Teams
Project management naturally leads to people management, and that is the path I followed. Managing a team comes with the accountability of client satisfaction, team growth, and contribution to the department and company through process improvement and improving ROI.
Freelance PM Consultant & PM Mentor
I’ve taken all the skills and techniques I’ve learned along the way out on my own. I’m now choosing where I work, in roles that fit my lifestyle. As a freelancer, I’ve tackled creating project management departments, being a Scrum master, managing a digital project, and managing a PM team (and writing, based on my experience and expertise in the field).
I also have the opportunity to mentor and coach project management professionals, both entry-level and long-standing, through their life and career.
Project Management Qualifications & Skills
Project management jobs can feel difficult to break into, but the good news is that there are many resources available to assist aspiring project managers.
Professional development like online courses and project management certifications can provide the skills and knowledge required to succeed in this field. With the right training, project managers can acquire the tools they need to achieve success in their jobs.
Some typical certifications and credentials include:
- Certification from The DPM School
- PMP Certification from the Project Management Institute (PMI)
- CAPM (Certified Associate in Project Management). This is a great starter certification if you don’t have enough project management experience to take the full PMP exam
- Agile certifications such as Certified Scrum Master (CSM) or Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)
- Bachelor’s degree in project management, or a master’s degree (for more senior roles)
Experience is often a key factor when it comes to becoming a project manager. Ideally, you should have some experience in leading projects and project teams in a related field such as project planning, process improvement, or project coordination. Having hands-on experience in project management is also beneficial.
Soft skills are also important for project managers. This includes good communication skills with both stakeholders and project teams, as well as the ability to work well with these teams. Strong problem-solving and decision-making skills are also beneficial, as is the ability to remain organized and manage time effectively.
Becoming a successful project manager requires a combination of hard and soft skills, as well as the right attitude and mindset.
A good project manager should:
- Be a team player
- Have excellent communication skills
- Be comfortable with change
- Be able to think strategically
- Have an understanding of the technical aspects of project management
- Be able to manage resources effectively
Learn more about becoming a digital project manager here.
Tips For Being Successful As A Project Manager
Project management can be a difficult field to navigate, but here are some tips and strategies that can help you become a successful project manager and continue to build on your base skills:
- It’s important to stay organized and plan ahead. Project managers should set clear goals, create detailed timelines, and assign tasks to team members. Additionally, project managers should be proactive in communicating with team members and providing support when needed.
- It’s essential to stay on top of the latest trends and technologies in the field. Project managers should stay informed on the latest tools and techniques to help them manage projects more efficiently and contribute to solving process inefficiencies within the project life cycle.
- It’s important to build strong relationships with clients and team members. Project managers should be able to foster trust, inspire collaboration, and ensure that everyone is working together towards a common goal.
The moral of this story is that project management isn’t always about being specifically trained or certified. I’ve laid out my career path because it is unique in that I haven't had many traditional project manager roles in my career but am still considered an expert in the field.
So when choosing a new role, try choosing it based on gaps in your skillset. If you have already held a project management position giving you years of experience, maybe try a program manager or people manager role. Look for different job titles that may fit your skills and not the job titles you have had in the past.
Read about the differences between project managers and program managers here.
Project manager skills are so incredibly transferable so don’t let doors close. Take a look at your skills with a different mindset and your number of job opportunities will increase.
Becoming a project manager is a challenging but rewarding career path. With the right qualifications and experience, you can become a successful project manager and build a lot of movement in your career. Good luck on your journey!
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