Project Manager Career Path: From Entry-Level to VP

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Project managers might go on to become senior project managers, directors, or even vice presidents and other executives.

Project manager checks team progress on her tablet

There’s no one way to become a project manager. And although that means you’ll have many options as you embark on your project manager journey, it can make deciding what to do next a little confusing. Plus, what options do you have after you’ve been a project manager for several years?

An aspiring project manager might build experience in an industry before stepping into this role, then go on to become a senior project manager, director, or even vice president or other executive. Here’s a closer look at a project manager’s potential career path.

All salary information comes from Glassdoor as of December 2021.

1. Work in the industry

Many project managers get their start in non-managerial roles and work their way up to project manager as they take on more responsibilities. A software development project manager, for example, might start out as a software developer, and a construction project manager might have some experience as a civil engineer. Others may work as consultants to get exposure to business processes and sharpen management skills.

Doing hands-on work in your industry can give you an advantage as a project manager. You’ll understand the ins and outs of the work required, empathize with team members, and have a better grasp on how to approach a project.

2. Entry-level project management 

As you launch your career, consider spending some time in an entry-level project management position like project coordinator, assistant project manager, associate project manager, or junior project manager. These positions help project managers plan and oversee a project’s success. 

Working in these roles can help you learn more about this field and bolster your experience before you apply to project manager positions. 

Average US salaries:

  • Project coordinator: $53,561

  • Assistant project manager: $75,523

  • Associate project manager: $68,969

  • Junior project manager: $64,756

How to become a project coordinator (or a similar role): If you want to be a project coordinator or work in a parallel role, it’ll help to develop good communication and organizational skills, and have some experience in the industry you’re working in. You can also consider an entry-level certification, like the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) certification, or a certificate like the Google Project Management: Professional Certificate.

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Google Project Management:

Start your path to a career in project management. In this program, you’ll learn in-demand skills that will have you job-ready in less than six months. No degree or experience is required.

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BEGINNER level

Average time: 6 month(s)

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Skills you'll build:

Organizational Culture, Career Development, Strategic Thinking, Change Management, Project Management, Stakeholder Management, Business Writing, Project Charter, Project Planning, Risk Management, Task Estimation, Procurement, Quality Management, Project Execution, Coaching, Influencing, Agile Management, Problem Solving, Scrum, Effective Communication

Read more: What Does a Project Coordinator Do?

3. Project manager

Project managers plan and execute projects to help organizations improve processes, develop new products, build structures, or complete other initiatives. A project manager shepherds a team through the project by making sure the schedule, budget, and communications are aligned in order to hit the project’s goals. Project managers can work in many different industries, including construction, health care, tech, finance, government, and IT.

Average US salaries:

  • Project manager: $88,907

  • IT project manager: $104,126

  • Technical project manager: $108,337

  • Construction project manager: $89,474

  • Health care project manager: $86,604

How to become a project manager: Working your way up from a non-managerial position or junior position can be a good way to start. Earning certifications like the Project Management Professional (PMP), or others in Scrum or Agile, can be helpful.

Read more: What Does a Project Manager Do? A Career Guide

4. Senior project manager

Senior project managers help execute projects with larger scopes, like scaling processes across teams, developing complex products, or leading projects with longer time frames. They generally have several years of experience in this field. 

Average US salary for senior project managers: $119,754

How to become a senior project manager: Gaining hands-on experience managing different types of projects with different people will be the main way you step into a senior position. You’ll want to prioritize gaining as much knowledge of project management as you can as well, either through coursework or by certification. Sharpen your managerial skills, as you’ll often be planning the work of other project managers. You can also find a mentor to help navigate your next steps.

5. Director of project management

Directors of project management oversee the strategy and success of a project management division within a business. They work to ensure individual projects are aligned with the larger goals of an organization and create a blueprint for how those goals can be achieved as a project management team. They can manage multiple project managers, work cross-functionally, and interact with higher-level leaders within the organization.

Average US salary for director of project management: $140,465

How to become a director: You’ll want several years of management experience, plus exceptional leadership qualities, like communication, problem solving, and the ability to influence people.

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6. VP of operations, COO

Several years of being a leader in project management might get you to high-level positions, like vice president of operations, or executive positions like Chief Operating Officer. These high-ranking business leaders implement new strategies across the business.

Average US salaries:

  • Vice President of operations: $148,283

  • Chief Operating Officer: $158,826

How to become an executive-level manager: You should have extensive experience building and managing teams, and have strong business acumen. Getting an MBA may also help you learn the business skills to enable you to succeed at the executive level.

Is project management a good career path?

This career is in high demand. The Project Management Institute (PMI) estimates that the global economy will need 25 million new project professionals by 2030 in order to keep up with demand [1]. A report by Burning Glass Technologies found that there were over 280,000 postings for entry-level project management positions from 2019 to 2020 [2]. 

This career path can be a satisfying one for those who enjoy working with people and have strong organizational skills. Planning and starting a project from scratch, collaborating with others to overcome challenges, and seeing your efforts end in measurable success can be hugely rewarding. Project managers can also enjoy being able to work on many different types of projects and learn from each of them, as no two are the same. Some potential downsides include the demanding nature of the job and the emphasis on meeting deadlines.

Getting started

The variety encountered in a project manager’s career path means there are plenty of opportunities to shape your own trajectory. If you’re ready to start learning, consider the Google Project Management: Professional Certificate to learn the fundamentals.

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professional certificate

Google Project Management:

Start your path to a career in project management. In this program, you’ll learn in-demand skills that will have you job-ready in less than six months. No degree or experience is required.

4.8

(44,937 ratings)

616,434 already enrolled

BEGINNER level

Average time: 6 month(s)

Learn at your own pace

Skills you'll build:

Organizational Culture, Career Development, Strategic Thinking, Change Management, Project Management, Stakeholder Management, Business Writing, Project Charter, Project Planning, Risk Management, Task Estimation, Procurement, Quality Management, Project Execution, Coaching, Influencing, Agile Management, Problem Solving, Scrum, Effective Communication

Related articles

Article sources

1. Project Management Institute. "Talent Gap: Ten-Year Employment Trends, Costs, and Global Implications, https://www.pmi.org/learning/careers/talent-gap-2021." Accessed August 4, 2021.

2. Burning Glass Technologies. "After the Storm: The Jobs and Skills that will Drive the Post-Pandemic Recovery, https://www.burning-glass.com/research-project/after-storm-recovery-jobs/." Accessed August 4, 2021.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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