What Is a Project Manager? A Career Guide

Written by Coursera • Updated on Sep 21, 2021

Learn about skills, salary, requirements, and reasons to consider a versatile career in project management.

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What is a project manager?

A project manager is a professional who organizes, plans, and executes projects while working within restraints like budgets and schedules. Project managers are in charge of leading teams, defining goals, communicating with stakeholders, and seeing a project through to its closure. Whether running a marketing campaign, constructing a building, developing a computer system, or launching a new product, the project manager is responsible for the success or failure of the project.

The project manager role is in demand in just about every industry. Let’s take a closer look at what project managers do, why you should consider a career in project management, and how you can get started.

What does a project manager do? Tasks and responsibilities

A project is typically divided into five different phases: initiation, planning, execution, and closure. 

Throughout the lifecycle of a project, the project manager is responsible for:

  • Defining the scope of the project

  • Staying on schedule

  • Planning a project’s cost and sticking to a budget

  • Managing project resources (including teams and workers)

  • Documenting the progress of the project

  • Communicating with stakeholders

  • Assessing risks

  • Troubleshooting

  • Leading quality assurance

The sheer variety of tasks means no two days on the job (or two projects) are quite the same. On any given day, you might be interviewing and hiring new talent, managing team meetings, reallocating resources to cover an unexpected expense, or updating stakeholders on the progress of the project.

Learn more about the lifecycle of a project in this video.

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The life cycle is a great way to guide your project in the right direction so that you and your project stay on track and end up in the right place.

Essential skills for project management

In this position, you play a key role in a company’s success. While many technical and workplace skills go into efficient project management, honing these five skills can help you build a foundation for success in the field:

  • Leadership: You’ll be tasked with leading a team to achieve a goal.

  • Communication: You’re often the first line of communication for team members, vendors, stakeholders, and customers.

  • Organization: The ability to prioritize and multitask will keep projects running smoothly.

  • Critical thinking: Analyzing and evaluating a situation critically helps prevent issues before they happen.

  • A sense of humor: Approaching a project with a positive attitude can ease stress and energize your team.

Project management can be a challenging career, but you’ll never face those challenges alone. You’ll often work alongside team members and use software or online tools specifically designed to streamline the process. The specific project management software depends on the project or company but will often include the capability to track time and budgets, create plans and reports, manage invoices, and share calendars across multiple teams. 

Read more: 11 Key Project Management Skills

Project management methodologies

As you learn more about project planning, you may encounter terms like Agile, Scrum, or Waterfall. These refer to various methodologies—a set of guiding principles or strategies—for managing a project. Common approaches and methodologies include:

  • Agile

  • Lean

  • Waterfall

  • Scrum

  • Kanban

  • XP (Extreme Programming)

  • Six Sigma

Choosing a methodology (or a combination of methodologies) is one of the first decisions you’ll make as a project manager. Which you choose will depend on the industry and type of project. 

For example, if you’re working in software development, you may choose to employ Agile techniques. Scrum, an approach to Agile management, uses daily team meetings and short (for example 30-day) “sprints” to develop projects quickly and efficiently. The Lean method, developed by Toyota in the 1970s, seeks to maximize value and minimize waste. It’s still commonly used in the manufacturing industry.

Read more: 12 Project Management Methodologies: Your Guide

Why pursue a career in project management

Just about every company has projects. That means just about every company could use a project manager. 

Whether you’re interested in construction, architecture, fashion, design, computer science, robotics, or something else entirely, chances are you’ll be able to use project management skills in your career. And since it’s such a versatile career, you can leverage these transferable skills to enhance your resume, no matter where your career takes you.

Read more: How to Become a Project Manager: 5 Steps

How much do project managers make?

According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), the median annual project manager salary across all industries in the United States is $116,000 [1]. Most project managers earn between $93,000 and $140,000, with industries like consulting, resources, aerospace, pharmaceuticals, and food and beverage offering the most compensation.

Project management: Job outlook

According to the Job Growth and Talent Gap report from PMI, employers will need to fill some 2.2 million new project management-oriented roles each year through 2027 [2]. Job seekers with a combination of leadership and technical skills will find themselves in demand in the coming years.

Industries like healthcare, manufacturing and construction, information services and publishing, finance and insurance, and management and professional services are expected to see the biggest growth in project-oriented roles according to the PMI report.

Project manager qualifications

Project management is a diverse role, and you’ll find that qualifications often vary by industry and company. When looking at what you need to build a career in project management, consider two main areas: education and certification.

Higher education

Many project managers have a bachelor’s degree in business, computer science, or an industry-related field. While not always a strict requirement, a degree can help you develop the leadership skills you’ll need on the job. Some companies may look for candidates with a graduate degree such as a Master of Business Administration (MBA) of a Master of Science in Management (MSM). 

Certifications

Whether you’re just graduating from college or looking to pivot to a new career in project management, a professional certificate or certification could help enhance your resume to make you more appealing to hiring managers. 

  • Project Management Professional (PMP): If you already have a few years of experience working on projects in a professional setting, you can advance your career with the PMP credential from the Project Management Institute (PMI). The UCI Project Management Professional Certificate fulfills the educational requirements for the PMP exam. By earning this certificate, you’ll prepare yourself to pass the exam, and receive a university-issued credential for your resume. Learn more about how to get a PMP certification.

  • Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM): If you're just getting started in project management, the CAPM is an entry-level project management certification also administered by the PMI. Designed for those without formal project management experience, it can help open a path to several entry-level project management positions. Read more about the CAPM certification.

Get started with Coursera

With the Google Project Management Professional Certificate, you can learn the skills necessary for entry-level project management roles, even if you have no relevant experience.

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Career pathways in project management

Getting your first job is only the beginning. As you hone your skills and see projects to completion, you’ll find new pathways to advancement. Here’s a look at the hierarchy of project management roles. Keep in mind these might vary from organization to organization:

Career LevelTasks
Project coordinatorAssists with administrative tasks for specific projects
Project manager IManages small projects under supervision of the Senior PM
Project manager IIManages one large project or several smaller projects
Project manager IIIManages multiple or high-priority projects
Senior project managerLeads multiple project teams or programs
Program managerOversees a group of related projects to deliver outcomes that benefit the organization
Portfolio managerManages an organization’s collection of projects and programs
Director of Project Management Office (PMO)Directs strategic planning of multiple projects and reports to executive management

Getting started in project management

Choosing a career as a project manager could open up doors in multiple industries. If you’re ready to take the next steps towards this new career, learn more about earning a Professional Certificate in project management through Coursera.

Article sources

1. Project Management Institute. "Earning Power: Project Management Salary Survey—Eleventh Edition (2020), https://www.pmi.org/-/media/pmi/documents/public/pdf/learning/pmi-salary-survey-11th-edition-report.pdf." Accessed September 21, 2021.

2. Project Management Institute. "Project Management Job Growth and Talent Gap 2017–2027, https://www.pmi.org/learning/careers/job-growth." Accessed September 21, 2021.

Written by Coursera • Updated on Sep 21, 2021

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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