What's a Project Manager? And How to Become One

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

If you enjoy planning and know how to set goals and inspire others to meet them, becoming a project manager may be the right fit for you. Find out project manager education requirements, salary ranges, and more as you consider this growing field.

[Featured Image] A female project manager, leads her project management team in a brainstorming session at a whiteboard.

If you have a knack for organizing people and tasks to complete a job, consider becoming a project manager. These professionals are often natural leaders who know how to break big projects into smaller tasks, establish deadlines, and support others who help them meet their goals. They work for public and private organizations in various industries, which should allow you to find a job in a field that suits your personal and professional needs.

What is a project manager?

Project managers help plan and implement projects from start to finish in order to help an organization meet its goals. In this role, some tasks include: 

  • Helping define the project

  • Setting desired outcomes

  • Organizing teams

  • Tracking progress

  • Managing resources 

Project managers also spend time training team members and liaising between clients, teams, and upper management.

Duties and responsibilities of a project manager 

The duties and responsibilities of a project manager include:

  • Creating timelines

  • Selecting team members

  • Tracking deliverables

  • Supporting the team 

Your duties can vary depending on who you're working for and the nature of the assigned projects. For example, one company may put you in charge of hiring the team, while another may already have a team in place for you. In addition to these responsibilities, you may do the following as a project manager:

  • Adjust timelines as needed.

  • Allocate resources.

  • Close the project with the client.

  • Communicate with team members, clients, and management.

  • Establish performance criteria.

  • Evaluate performance accuracy.

  • Keep track of deadlines.

  • Manage the budget.

  • Notify clients and management about delays.

  • Provide necessary information to team members.

  • Train team members.

Project manager skills

As a project manager, you need a combination of workplace and technical skills, including effective communication, time management, and data analysis skills. Many project managers use their workplace skills when interacting with project stakeholders throughout a project. They also rely on their technical skills when handling specific tasks like reviewing the budget. Essential project management skills include:

  • Budgeting: Projects typically come with budgets, and project managers often manage them. Not only do you keep track of how much money the team is spending, but you also may need to reallocate resources to stay within the budget and meet deadlines.

  • Communication: It's essential to express your ideas clearly when speaking or writing to team members, clients, and supervisors. Project managers listen to the needs and concerns of stakeholders when issues arise during a project.

  • Critical thinking: As a project manager, you'll need to consider factual information to evaluate options and make decisions. This includes gathering information objectively and avoiding assumptions.

  • Data analysis: Project managers usually monitor how well the team meets performance metrics. These metrics may include the number of errors made, percentage of tasks completed, cost performance index, and more.

  • Decision-making: You will listen to the concerns of stakeholders and consider their ideas. You’ll manage input and make decisions that keep the project on track.

  • Leadership: As a project manager, you will be leading teams, so it’s essential to support and motivate team members to meet deadlines and achieve project goals.

  • Problem-solving: Project managers may expect delays in their projects, but they also should have what it takes to solve problems when they arise. This includes defining the problem, exploring solutions, and eliminating what created the problem.

  • Time management: You will keep track of deadlines and monitor how well the team can do them. Your ability to create a usable timeline and anticipate challenges supports your team's success.

Educational requirements and qualifications

There are various ways to pursue a role in project management. Starting with a high school diploma, you can gain on-the-job experience that will lead to a project manager role. Alternatively, you can earn a project management certificate to gain the skills you need or certification to complement your experience leading projects. You can also pursue a formal associate, bachelor's, or master's degree in business administration, project management, or a related field. 

Whether you decide to earn a degree or certification depends on where you eventually want to work. For example, if you want to work in the construction field, you may find it helpful to have a degree in construction or engineering. The knowledge of construction methods, materials, and scheduling learned in coursework can transfer directly to your work in the field.

Read more: Do project managers need a degree?

What kind of experience do I need before working as a project manager?

In some cases, relevant experience in organizing, planning, and managing can be more useful than a degree. Leadership skills tend to be universal and applicable to multiple industries. You can build these skills with volunteer work and entry-level jobs where you have opportunities to lead teams. For example, if you want a career as a marketing project manager, you could build your resume with experience as a marketing assistant or coordinator.

Where do project managers work? 

It's possible to find project managers in just about any type of organization, however you may find greater demand in certain sectors. Typically, companies that have teams and organize work into projects like construction firms and advertising agencies, rely on project managers to oversee projects and meet deadlines. Here are some common industries and projects that project managers may work in.

  • Construction: Constructing new buildings, renovating existing structures

  • Finance and insurance: Implementing new technologies, transforming business operations

  • Information technology: Developing software, installing systems, building databases

  • Marketing: Developing campaigns, building a social media following

  • Website design: Creating a website, developing content for web pages

Project manager salary

The average annual salary for project managers in the US is $98,420, although it varies by industry [1]. Project managers working in the energy sector with oil and gas extraction tend to earn the most, with an average salary of $151,750. Individuals who work in specialized design services earn an average salary of $75,850. 

Salaries also vary by location, with project managers in the San Jose, California, metro area topping the list at $133,950 on average compared to those in northern Texas earning, on average, $74,500 per year [1].

Job outlook

Analysts project that the number of available project manager jobs may reach 88 million worldwide by 2027 [2]. This growth will likely be most significant in industries that already account for the greatest number of project managers. This includes health care, information services and publishing, and utilities.

How to apply for a project manager job in 4 steps

When applying for project manager positions, start by researching the available jobs in your desired area. As you scan the job listings, look for the specific requirements you need to qualify for the position. These requirements should include education (including the type of degree), experience, or certifications.

1. Earn a degree.

Although it is possible to get a job as a project manager without a degree, you may find it helpful to have a degree in a related field. Each company sets its requirements for the position, and some companies accept field experience in place of a degree. If you pursue a degree, you can find bachelor's and master's degrees in project management. Another option is to earn a degree related to the industry you want to work in, such as engineering, marketing, or business administration. This degree, combined with management experience, can be helpful when you begin applying for positions.

2. Enroll in certification courses.

Another option is to enroll in certification courses related to project management. Earning a certificate demonstrates to employers that you have the knowledge and skills to succeed as a project manager. Certification courses cover conflict management, team empowerment, risk assessment, continuity, and more.

You may be able to earn some certifications if you have at least a high school diploma or GED. For other certifications, you need a bachelor's degree or some experience as a project manager. You also may need to pass a formal exam to demonstrate that you've learned the competencies covered in the coursework. 

For example, the Project Management Professional certification offered by the Project Management Institute (PMI) requires 35 hours of project management education or training plus 36 months of experience leading projects if you have a bachelor's degree or 60 months leading projects if you don't have a bachelor's [3]. You also need to pass a 180-question multiple-choice exam.

Read more: How to Get a PMP Certification: An Overview

3. Build your resume and gain experience.

You can begin building your resume before applying for project manager jobs or pursuing a degree or certification. One option is to work in positions that allow you to use and refine your leadership skills. Look for team and decision-oriented jobs that have opportunities to motivate your co-workers. You can also gain experience through volunteer work and internships. This experience may be directly related to a specific industry, like finance, or general leadership roles.

A career path for a project manager can start with an entry-level position as a department assistant or project scheduler. From there, you can pursue a role as a project coordinator or assistant project manager. You may consider higher-level positions, including senior project manager and executive roles after gaining appropriate experience. 

4. Apply for project manager jobs.

You may find online job sites helpful to know which companies are hiring project managers and where they are located. The PMI maintains a database of jobs related to project management. You also can reach out directly to companies or your current employer to find out if they have project management jobs available. When reviewing listings, pay attention to the job description as well as education and experience requirements.

Get started 

If you’re ready to expand your project manager skills, you may find it beneficial to take courses related to your work. Learn the foundations of Agile project management and more through a Google Project Management Professional Certificate. Explore new techniques for leading people through the University of Michigan's Leading People and Teams Specialization or consider earning a degree like a Master of Business Administration all at your own pace.

Related articles

Article sources

1. US Bureau of Labor Services. "Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes131082.htm." Accessed May 11, 2022.

2. Project Management Institute. "Project Management Job Growth and Talent Gap 2017–2027, https://www.pmi.org/learning/careers/job-growth." Accessed May 11, 2022.

3. Project Management Institute. "Project Management Professional, "https://www.pmi.org/certifications/project-management-pmp." Accessed May 11, 2022.

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