The Definitive Guide: How To Become A Project Manager

Published on: 16 Nov 2017
project manager

If you’re a fan of TV’s The Apprentice, you’ll probably have heard the role of ‘project manager’ bandied around a few times – and the simple reason is this: each and every year, there’s always at least one candidate who comes into the process having made waves in that role.

And if you quite fancy the idea of becoming a high-flying business man or woman – and working your way up to a project management role – you’ve come to the right place. We’ve compiled a handy guide offering all the info you’ll ever need when it comes to getting started in this ever-competitive but highly lucrative industry. Read on…

What is a Project Manager?

  • Job Description

    So, what does a project manager actually do? And are you cut out to begin a career in that industry as well?

    In short, a project manager plans and organises resources and people to ensure projects finish on time. Not only that, but they’re responsible for projects staying within budget and meeting the overall requirements of the business, too. It’s a lot of pressure for one person to have on their shoulders but the role can be rewarding and the pay scales fairly high.

    Working across all industries – from hospitality to fitness – project managers generally have a high-powered, highly stressful job, which means it’s certainly not one for the faint-hearted.

    They’ll be no starting at 9am and clocking off at 5pm in this role. Instead, project managers are expected to put the hours in until a job gets finished – and more importantly, until they achieve the results his or her boss is hoping for.

  • Hours of Work

    Few people enter the project management position for the hours alone, which are generally 9am to 5pm but can involve some overtime. Instead, those who put in the groundwork to get a position like this do it for the love of seeing a project right through to the end, and witnessing the rewards such success can bring.

    Anyone who enjoys the routine of a ‘normal’ office job might like the hours a project manager keeps though. Of course, weekends are usually kept free but you may be required to knock some mid-week social plans on the head if a project overruns.

    Few project managers work part-time; most, if not all, are full-time but the salary typically reflects this – put in the hours and you’ll reap the rewards.

  • Main Responsibilities

    If you’ve ever wondered what a project manager’s week goes like, below are just a few of their general responsibilities. These could be daily, weekly or monthly, but be aware that this can be a stressful job which you’ll more than likely have to be on the ball with.

    Budgets not met and missed deadlines will only make you look bad and won’t stand you in good stead when it comes to a promotion later down the line.

    Here’s what you might find yourself doing day-to-day

    • Agreeing objectives for a particular project
    • Representing the client or your company and the interests of a specific organisation
    • Offering advice when it comes to managing projects
    • Organising the people working on a project
    • Carrying out risk assessment
    • Ensuring that all the project’s aims are met and quality standards are kept
    • Keeping track of people and progress via the use of specialist IT programmes
    • Recruiting specialists, sub-contractors or freelancers and monitoring them to ensure guidelines and standards are met
    • Overseeing costing and billing in relation to a project, in order to meet budgets

Key Project Manager Qualifications

By now you might be wondering how you can make like The Apprentice candidates and become a project manager. Of course, as with many well-paid roles a certain amount of training is involved.

To becoming a project manager, you’ll need to first gain experience in the relevant field. However, some people find their way into the industry by starting out on a graduate scheme, in what’s known as an ‘assistant project management’ role.

To do this, you may be required to be part of a professional or chartered body – such as the Association of Project Management, who offer good industry-recognised qualifications. This isn’t an essential route into the industry but it’s definitely something to think about.

Do you have a full, clean driving licence too? Typically, project managers may be required to drive around – to meet sub-contractors or for monthly updates at, say, a client’s head office – so it’s important you hold a licence and have access to your own vehicle, too.

Of course, it’s extremely useful to have some qualifications under your belt when entering the world of project management. In an interview process it could well be the thing which sets you apart from your competitors. If you’re considering becoming a project manager, below are a few qualifications to consider first:

project manager

Alongside the qualifications you see above, you could also look into taking a degree or a master’s course – both can be beneficial when it comes to achieving both the APM and PRINCE qualifications.

Have you considered taking an engineering degree, for example? Many project managers find they’re accepted for a role in the industry following a complementing degree such as this.

Vital Project Manager Skills

As well as the necessary qualifications required to become a project manager, you may find that you need a certain set of skills too. Here are just some of them:

  • Organisational skills
  • Analytical skills
  • Interpersonal and communication skills – being a good ‘people person’ will stand you in good stead
  • Numeracy skills
  • Commercial awareness
  • The ability to work well as part of a team
  • Diplomacy
  • The ability to motivate people, and good all-round management and leadership skills

If you think there are areas you can improve on, consider ways you can put the hours in ahead of an interview to display such traits or skills. For example, if your team work could do with a boost, why not join a football team or an evening group or course? You may not possess all the skills a prospective employer is looking for but if you can demonstrate that you’ve shown the initiative to work on yourself and your skills, you’ll certainly stand out.

What is a Project Manager's Salary?

Now we’re getting down to the nitty gritty…

While it’s true that most people enter the project management industry because they are natural leaders who enjoy seeing good, tangible results, it has to be said that some are drawn in by the salary.

Even junior project managers can earn a good wage – from £25,000 to £30,000 a year, on average, with experienced project managers taking home £60,000 per year or more.

The average salary for an experienced project manager is £55,711, so you see it really isn’t a bad profession to enter.

project manager

How To Become a Project Manager

If, by now, you’re thinking about packing in your current role and retraining to be a project manager, you’ll probably benefit from our quick rundown on how best to enter the profession.

As mentioned earlier in this guide, you could begin by studying towards a foundation degree. Alternatively, a straightforward university degree or postgraduate award in business or project management is a great route to take, too. If you’d like on-the-job experience, though, consider a work placement, which will allow you to discover if the role’s for you without putting up the necessary funds to take a course.

You might even be able to move into project management on the strength of your experience too. For instance, some people start out as a member of a project support team, or they might even move up after managing smaller projects in another role. Experience is key, though – and to work as a project manager, you will normally need experience of applying project management principles and methods, such as the aforementioned PRINCE2.

Are you proficient when it comes to using software like Microsoft Project or Open Workbench, too? There are lots of software packages available and the one you use will depend on the organisation you work for, but a good knowledge of at least a couple of them will definitely help you out when it comes to the interview process.

How To Develop Your Project Manager Career

So, imagine for a second that you’ve been a Project Manager for some time – what next?

For many people, it’s simply not enough to enter a profession and stay within that particularly industry throughout their working life. Great salary aside, many will want the reassurance that they can go onto an even more fruitful position following a career as a project manager.

So what might you do next? Many project managers go on to become management consultants, with others going down the route of programme managing, or maybe even portfolio managing. You might also go on to become a director of projects, for example.

Of course, in much the same way as project management is a highly stressful role, so are some of the jobs we’ve mentioned above. That said, they also come with much higher salaries – particularly so in management consulting, which can see you earning up to £80,000 a year, depending on the company you work for.

If you think project managing’s for you and you can see yourself in a high-powered role as a management consultant later down the line, you should definitely check out entry level positions and how you might bag one. It all begins with having the right attitude and putting in the groundwork – good luck!

So there you have it; everything you need to set out on the road to a new Project Manager career!

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