Scrum Master vs. Project Manager: Differences Explained

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

A guide to the differences and similarities between the role of scrum master and project manager, including salaries, job specifications, qualifications and certifications.

[Featured image] Scum master working on a laptop computer

While a Scrum master makes sure their team follows Scrum principles, project managers oversee the entirety of a project, including logistics like budget, timing and risk.

Scrum masters can be project managers, and project managers can be Scrum masters, but they’re not the same thing. A Scrum master is a role embedded specifically on a Scrum team, whereas a project manager refers to someone who leads virtually any type of project. While a Scrum master’s primary focus is leading a team to follow Scrum principles, a project manager is occupied with the logistical aspects—the budgets, schedules, communication plans—in addition to keeping their team on track and motivated.

Let’s take a closer look at the details.

Scrum master vs. project manager: What's the difference?

What does a Scrum master do?

A Scrum master is an individual who ensures a project team successfully implements Scrum principles in a project. They can lead team meetings and coach teams on best Scrum practices, while supporting team members and resolving issues that come up. You’ll sometimes hear the Scrum master called a “servant leader” because of the strong supportive role that they play. Scrum master, along with product owner and development team leader, is one of the three roles on a Scrum team. 

Specific tasks might include:

  • Facilitating meetings, including daily stand-ups, sprint planning, and retrospectives

  • Addressing issues that hinder a team member’s capacity to work

  • Fostering good communication and teamwork within the team

What is Scrum, exactly?

Scrum is a project management methodology designed for work where change or unpredictability is expected. Scrum is characterised by short daily meetings called “daily standups,” and short, cumulative work cycles called “sprints.” A sprint typically lasts one to four weeks, and helps the project keep an iterative process to achieving goals, instead of an “all-at-once” approach. Scrum is the most popular Agile methodology, with 66 percent of Agile adopters using Scrum.  

What does a project manager do?

Project managers are professionals that organise a team to ensure projects are completed on-time, within budget, and with their goals fulfilled. They are often tasked with leading meetings, creating schedules, managing budgets, liaising between the team and stakeholders, and managing risks. Project manager tasks can include:

  • Defining project scope and goals

  • Maintaining consistent communication with stakeholders

  • Setting a budget and schedule

  • Creating a communication plan

  • Managing risk

What's the difference between Scrum masters and project managers?

Here are the main differences between Scrum masters and project managers:

  • Scrum masters are exclusive to Scrum projects and Scrum teams. Project managers can work on any type of project, like Agile or Waterfall.

  • While Scrum masters are focused on making sure a project team is successful, project managers are generally tasked with the logistics of making a project work, like budgeting and risk management.

Is a Scrum master a project manager?

Yes and no. Scrum masters practice a type of project management, and will need to have certain project management skills like communication and organisational skills. In this regard, they can be considered project managers. Many project manager job descriptions also ask for experience with Scrum.

However, the Scrum master on a Scrum team does not necessarily need to be a formal project manager—though they often are. Scrum masters can be product managers, or professionals with leadership experience from software development, design, or other fields relevant to the project. 

Scrum master vs. project managers: Salaries

Here are the average UK salaries for Scrum masters and project managers according to various sources. Salaries are accurate as of December 2021.
Scrum master£53,984£52,500
Project manager£42,955£47,730
Senior project manager£52,808£56,873

Project managers are often tapped to be Scrum masters on Scrum teams. But professionals who act solely as Scrum masters tend to have higher salaries. This may be because Scrum is a specialised field of project management, and can require specific skill sets.

Certifications for Scrum masters and project managers

Though their roles overlap, there are distinct certifications—and professional paths—that you can consider to enhance your career as a Scrum master or project manager.

Scrum master certifications

Below are two common certifications that can make you an official Scrum master. You can also check out a full list of the most in-demand Scrum certifications. 

  • Certified ScrumMaster (CSM): The CSM, administered by the Scrum Alliance, is the most-mentioned Scrum certification in job descriptions on three different job search sites, according to research by Coursera and widely recognised in the UK. You’ll need to take a course and pass an exam to get the certification.

  • Professional Scrum Master (PSM I): Administered by, the PSM I is an often-cited alternative to the CSM. No coursework is required, but you’ll need to pass an exam to be PSM certified.

Project management certifications and certificates

Project management credentials can help start your career in project management, or further your current career.

  • Project Management Professional (PMP): The PMP is administered by the Project Management Institute and is widely recognised as a leading certification in project management. You’ll need at least three years of project management experience to qualify to take the certification exam.

  • Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM): Also administered by the PMI, the CAPM is an entry-level project management certification, requiring basic GCSEs and twenty-three hours of project management training to qualify for the certification exam.

Becoming a Scrum master or project manager

Maybe you’re a project manager aspiring to be a Scrum master, or maybe both roles are new to you. Here are a few tips on breaking into each role, regardless of where you stand.

  • Take a course: If you’re new to Scrum or project management, taking a course online or in-person can help you build foundational knowledge. You can check your local college or evening classes for in-person options. Enroll in an online course like the Google Project Management: Professional Certificate to learn the basics of project management and Scrum. 

  • Build experience: Practical experience can teach you a lot. Try incorporating some elements of your desired role into your current work. Find projects you can help plan or execute, like improving a process in your current workflow. Approaching your manager to tell them you’re interested in project management or Scrum can be helpful as well.

  • Get certified: The process of getting a certification or qualification can help you learn plenty about your target role. Plus, certifications can signal to employers your level of competency—a huge plus if you don’t have much relevant experience. Aspiring Scrum masters should look at Scrum certifications like the CSMor PSM I. The CAPM is an entry-level project management certification.

Project managers and Scrum masters can go on to become product managers, Scrum coaches, or operations managers.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

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