A project manager — often referred to as a PM — is responsible for managing the entire scope of a project, including planning, organising and directing projects to completion for a company. Project management is a complex and exciting career choice where no two days are ever the same.
Because project managers are highly skilled individuals who can oversee radical change in the industries in which they work, they are often in high demand. Project managers are paid well — often over and above the national average salary, depending on their experience — and typically have an excellent career path.
Opportunities for project managers are increasing. According to LinkedIn, there are currently more than 21,000 project management jobs available in the UK. Because of the rapidly changing political and social landscape in the UK and beyond, organisations are seeking project managers with a vast range of skills to adapt and be flexible with the evolving needs of the business.
PMs operate with a high level of attention to detail and structure and often juggle multiple deadlines. They interpret business requirements and understand when to use specific methodologies to bring a project to successful completion.
The great news is that project managers don’t necessarily need to be experts in the industry in which they work. So, if you’re a career changer with the right skills to be a project manager, changing your sector is typically not as challenging as it might be with other career choices.
If you’re interested in a role as project manager, or you’re just starting your journey into the exciting world of project management and want to know what the job involves, then you’re in the right place.
In this guide, we’ll discuss:
- What is the role of a project manager?
- What does a project manager do?
- What’s the difference between a project manager and a business analyst?
- What is a project manager career path?
- What qualifications do you need to become a project manager?
- What skills do you need to become a project manager?
- What personality attributes do you need to become a project manager?
- Why choose a career as a project manager?
What is the Role of a Project Manager?
A project manager oversees a project team, resources, budgets, KPIs and timescales, to ensure a project is completed in line with business goals and doesn’t spiral into failure.
It’s a project manager’s job to manage the process and a team that either:
- Creates a solution or a product that a business can use, or
- Reinvents a solution or a product that already exists but needs improving or fixing.
PMs typically manage the entire project scope from start to finish until the solution or product is ready for handover to the broader business.
Good project managers come from all walks of life. If you’re a person who enjoys organising projects, then this role might be for you. For example, you already have some of the skills required to be a project manager if you’ve previously:
- Arranged a school trip or a bake sale.
- Organised a party or a wedding.
- Led a group of people, perhaps as a troop leader for the Scouts, Girl Guides, or your local singing group.
- Enjoyed setting goals and ensuring your team is on track to complete their tasks.
To remain competitive, organisations need to create value by increasing customer satisfaction or driving down costs. Projects drive change, and change is necessary for businesses to flex and adapt to market demands. These changes require skills to help them become part of the company’s fabric, otherwise known as Business As Usual, or BAU. And these skills are often delivered by project managers. Therefore PMs are essential to any business.
What does a Project Manager do?
All projects start with a business need or goal that will lead to some sort of business change. This need is often driven by the business’s desire to:
- Optimise, scale up or scale down its internal resources
- Meet market demand or a change in market conditions
- Introduce a new technology
- Respond to external influences that affect business decisions
- Branch out into new territories
- Release a new product into the market
- Change its core operating processes
In the first instance, the need for change is typically identified and investigated by a business analyst, who then gains the buy-in from the business to initiate the project to drive the necessary change. Read more about a career in business analysis and how to get started.
Once the business analyst has provided a scope of works for the project, and the business has agreed to implement the change, it’s then the PMs job to manage the entire project lifecycle, which typically consists of four stages:
- Initiation/investigation – The PM assesses the viability and investigates whether the project is realistic and can be achieved to meet the requirements and expectations promised to the business by the business analyst.
- Planning – The PM puts together plans, processes, costings, resources, and the project management team.
- Execution – The PM leads their team to execute the project through to completion.
- Close – The project is handed over to the business for rollout as part of BAU.
As part of the project’s planning and execution stages, the PM needs to build on the insight that the business analyst has already established. It’s the PMs job to delve further into the expectations of the business and ensure each part of the project is delivered within the budgets and timescales that the business can afford. Projects that run over budget or time can cost the business tens/hundreds of thousands of pounds and have disastrous consequences if the PM loses oversight of any aspect.
Because PMs and business analysts work so closely together, it’s not uncommon for them to cross skill into each others roles. A PM with good BA skills (and vice versa) is a valuable asset to any organisation.
There’s no typical day as a project manager. However, you should expect to be:
- Holding daily project meetings, often referred to as a ‘scrum’, where every team member gives a brief update on the progress of their part of the project delivery.
- Looking for and appropriately responding to issues that might affect the success of the project.
- Facilitating the right environment for your project team to learn, develop and grow.
- Balancing the changing needs of the business as it relates to the project.
- Monitoring and assessing external influences that could have an impact on the project.
- Responding to queries and communicating with stakeholders.
- Continually assessing the project and working to time, quality and scope requirements.
As well as bringing a project to successful completion, the hardest part of the job can be if an element of the project is not functioning as expected. Then, it’s the PMs responsibility to reject the work, investigate what went wrong, and communicate this to the business. The PM then needs to schedule the necessary changes into the project plan, ensuring the work is still completed within the current project timescales.
Many businesses choose to employ an internal PM to deliver projects because they know the business best and understand the culture and internal politics to support the project through to completion. However, some companies outsource their project management responsibilities to an external Project Management Office (PMO) and bring in expert support if the necessary talent doesn’t exist in-house. If you’re looking for a new job as a project manager, you’ll find both in-house and external roles available.
What’s the difference between a Project Manager and a Business Analyst?
It’s common for the roles of project managers and business analysts to become confused, often because there can be a great deal of cross over between the two.
Project managers are accountable for initiating, planning, executing, and closing a project in its simplest terms. In comparison, business analysts are typically responsible for identifying and working out the best way for a company to change its behaviour (BAU). Often this change will result in the need to initiate a project, which is where the PM then takes over.
However, as we’ve already discussed, PMs and BAs have many similar skills and can offer a lot of input and experience to each other’s roles.
What is a Project Manager career path?
Whilst there isn’t a traditional route to becoming a project manager, PMs enjoy good salaries and career progression opportunities.
If you’re exploring a career as a project manager, there are a few avenues to consider:
- Become a business analyst first
- Business analysis is a good option for those who want to cross-skill and learn the route into project management from the ground up.
- Find entry-level or project assistant role
- These roles will give you an entry point to the start of your career in project management and is an excellent route to experience working on a project team.
- Look for opportunities as a project support officer or a junior PM
- These are excellent entry-level roles for people who have some experience or are career changers.
However, going straight into a PM role is also a viable route once you’ve gained the relevant project management qualifications.
Project management is an excellent career choice. According to the job search engine, Adzuna, the average salary of a PM is around £48,000, with entry-level project administrators earning around £32,000 and senior PMs around £57,000.
What qualifications do you need to be a Project Manager?
Although it’s possible to become a project manager with no prior experience, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to enter the profession without qualifications or an understanding of the used methodologies. This is because employers are keen for project managers to hit the ground running.
Most importantly, you’ll need to be familiar with PRINCE2®, and AgilePM methodologies, as these are the world’s most widely used project management methodologies. Many organisations use a hybrid of both these methodologies and qualifying in both PRINCE2 and AgilePM boosts your CV and can open the door to more job and career opportunities.
Many organisations will require proof of knowledge even from the most experienced project managers, so gaining qualifications in project management is equally essential for new PMs entering the market and those with more experience.
Qualifications and certifications back up your expertise and prove that you can work to the required professional standards. They also increase the potential that your projects will run with a high degree of success.
Additionally, project management qualifications are helpful for those invested in running large-scale personal projects, such as building a house. A solid understanding of PRINCE2 and Agile methodologies will help you to improve processes, remain on budget, manage risk and effectively handle suppliers, therefore ensuring the success of the project.
What skills do you need to become a Project Manager?
Project managers are very skilled individuals with a lot to offer to any organisation. However, although you’ll need a specific set of skills to be successful in a project management role, likely, you’ll automatically pick up these skills during your career.
- Organisational skills
- Leadership and management skills
- Networking skills
- Emotional intelligence
- Communication skills
- Analytical skills
- Problem-solving skills
- Being able to work under pressure
- Decision-making skills
What personality attributes do you need to become a Project Manager?
Although no two PMs are the same, many will have similar skills set and personality traits. If you recognise that you have several of the personality attributes listed here, the chances are that you’ll make a great project manager.
Strategic thinker with a world view
Understanding how complex internal and external factors (economic, political and social) can impact the success of a project and puts plans in place to mitigate risk.
Generous and team focused
An appreciation of how a project cannot be successful without input from the whole team and someone who gives credit where it’s due.
Has a high level of integrity
Puts the needs of the business, project and team before their own agenda. A natural leader who stands up for the team and the project in the face of adversity and isn’t afraid to own up and learn from their own mistakes.
A good PM will rally the team and motivate them to continue to the finish line. They’ll have the confidence to communicate with stakeholders and the resilience to be the one to keep things moving even when faced with tough challenges.
On the other side of the coin, they’ll also keep a team motivated even if the project seems almost too easy and will ensure that every person involved in the project is doing their best to ensure delivery.
Adaptable and versatile
If the COVID pandemic has taught us anything, we need to embrace change and adapt our way of thinking to survive. The best PMs will build contingency plans into their projects and adjust their processes to suit a constantly changing environment.
Why choose a career as a Project Manager?
A career in project management is exciting, challenging and rewarding. Project managers have impressive skill sets, they’re good networkers, and they can manage multiple tasks and deadlines at once.
According to the Project Management Institute, there will be a demand for 88 million professionals for project management roles worldwide by the end of 2021. Project management, along with business analysis, is listed as one of the top ten in-demand technical skills in the UK, with project managers in very high demand.
If you choose a career in project management, you can expect:
- A varied role – no two days are the same in project management. And because a good PM can work anywhere, it’s much easier to change industries as a project manager than it is in almost any other career.
- A great salary – PMs are paid over and above the national average, with a median salary of around £48,000.
- Build a wide range of skills – PMs are constantly learning new things. Because every day is different, you’ll never be short of learning opportunities, and you’ll have the potential to become the best in your field.
- Become a contractor – if you’d like the freedom to pick and choose where you work, contracting as a PM is always an option. According to APM (the Association for Project Managers), the average day rate for contract project managers is around £450 per day, which rises for those who work in London.
Taking the next step towards becoming a Project Manager
Hopefully after reading this guide you have a better understanding for the world of Project Management and the exciting career prospects that it holds. Now all you need to do is take that leap into becoming a PM and gain those all important qualifications that are going help you stand out.
Here at Manager Training, we specialise in providing accredited qualifications to professionals looking to pursue a long and rewarding career. If this is the ideal career path for you, our Course Advisors are ready to discuss your options and help you take that first step towards becoming a PM. Get in touch today to start your journey.