A Project Manager Career Path: From Entry-Level to VP

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

A project manager has the potential option of progression to become senior project manager, director of project management, or to work at executive level including as vice president.

[Featured Image]:  Project Manager preparing for meeting with the team.

A project manager has the potential option of progression to become senior project manager, director of project management, or to work at executive level including as vice president.

There’s no single route to becoming a project manager. Rather than following a set trajectory, there are multiple ways to embark on a project manager career path and work your way right up from entry-level to an executive position. This gives you numerous options when deciding which route to take and the option to sidestep into project management, if that wasn’t your original path.

For example, an aspiring project manager might build experience in an industry before reaching manager level in that field, or alternatively may start out in a lower level project management role and build industry knowledge on the job. Here’s a closer look at a potential project manager’s career path.

* All salary information taken from Glassdoor as of October 2022.

1. Work in the industry

Many project managers get their start in non-managerial roles and work their way up to project managers 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, empathise with team members, and have a better grasp on how to approach a project.

2. Entry-level project management 

Before becoming a project manager, you might spend some time in an entry or lower-level project management position, such as project assistant, project coordinator or assistant project manager. These positions help project managers plan and oversee a project’s success with less responsibility and are a great steppingstone.

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


Average UK salaries:

  • Project assistant: £23,972

  • Project coordinator: £28,317

  • Assistant project manager: £32,974


Benefits of becoming a project coordinator (or a similar role): Applying to be a project coordinator or an assistant to a project manager will help you to develop good communication, organisational, and leadership skills, essential to a project management role. It will also provide some experience in the industry you’re working in. You may wish to consider brushing up on your qualifications with an entry-level project management certification, like the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) Certificate or a qualification like the Google Project Management Personal Certificate. 

3. Project manager

Project managers plan and execute projects to help organisations improve processes, develop new products, build structures, run events or complete other initiatives. Their job is to guide 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 UK salaries: 

  • Project manager: £46,201

  • Healthcare project manager: £45,762

  • Construction project manager: £47,107

  • IT project manager: £52,535

  • Technical project manager: £53,637


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

4. Senior project manager or lead project manager

Lead or 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 project management experience and experience managing and leading people directly.


Average UK salaries:

  • Lead project manager: £47,963

  • Senior project manager: £61,025


Becoming a lead / senior project manager: Experience will be the main way to become a lead or senior project manager. Gain firsthand experience managing different types of projects with different people. You’ll want to prioritise gaining as much knowledge of project management as you can as well, either through coursework, on the job experience 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 step.

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 larger goals of an organisation 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 organisation.

Average UK salary for director of project management: £97,278

Becoming a director: You will be required to have amounted several years of highly successful management experience, plus exceptional leadership qualities, communication skills, problem-solving ability, and the expertise in influencing people. 

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 UK salaries:

  •  Vice President of operations: £101,363

  •  Chief Operating Officer: £108,303

Becoming 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. Years of industry experience will also be highly beneficial.

Is project management a good career path?

Project management is an in-demand career path. 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. In December 2021, LinkedIn had over 32,000 project management job postings advertised in the UK alone.

Project management can be a satisfying career for those who enjoy working with people and have strong organisational 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 challenges 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’s plenty of scope 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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