If you have a knack for organisation, leadership, and a passion for overseeing tasks from start to finish, a career in project management might be an excellent fit for you. Project managers are the unsung heroes behind the successful completion of various projects, from constructing skyscrapers to launching new software applications. In this article, we will explore how to become a project manager, the qualifications required, the project management career path, and the time it takes to embark on this rewarding journey.
What is Project Management?
Before delving into the specifics of becoming a project manager, let's clarify what project management is. Project management involves planning, executing, and overseeing a project's lifecycle, ensuring that it is completed on time, within scope, and on budget. Project managers are responsible for defining project goals, assembling teams, allocating resources, and managing risks, all while keeping stakeholders informed and satisfied.
How to become a project manager?
Becoming a project manager involves a well-defined career path that generally follows these steps:
- Step 1: Pursue Project Management Qualifications: While a specific degree isn't mandatory, having a bachelor's degree in a related field can give you a competitive advantage. Many project managers hold degrees in business administration, engineering, information technology, or a similar discipline. Your chosen degree should align with the industry in which you wish to work as a project manager.
- Step 2: Gain Relevant Experience: To be an effective project manager, you need hands-on experience in project-related roles. Entry-level positions, such as project coordinator or assistant, can provide you with the necessary experience. These roles allow you to learn about project management tools, methodologies, and best practices while assisting senior project managers in their duties.
- Step 3: Develop Soft Skills: Project managers need a diverse skill set, including excellent communication, leadership, problem-solving, and time management skills. Working on these skills throughout your career is essential. Joining professional organisations or taking courses in leadership and communication can be beneficial.
Project Management Qualifications in the UK
When it comes to project management qualifications UK recognises most of the respected certifications:
- APM (Association for Project Management) Qualifications: The APM offers a range of qualifications that cater to different levels of expertise, including the APM Project Fundamentals Qualification (PFQ), APM Project Management Qualification (PMQ), and APM Chartered Project Professional (ChPP).
- PRINCE2 (Projects IN Controlled Environments): PRINCE2 is a widely recognised project management framework in the UK. You can obtain certifications such as PRINCE2 Foundation and PRINCE2 Practitioner to solidify your project management skills.
- PMI (Project Management Institute) Certifications: While PMI is an international organisation, its certifications are valued in the UK as well. The Project Management Professional (PMP) and Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) certifications are highly regarded.
- Agile Certifications: As Agile methodologies gain popularity in project management, certifications like Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) and PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP) have become valuable assets for aspiring project managers. These certifications are particularly useful to project managers in a software and technology environment.
How important is qualification in project management?
Having relevant qualifications in project management is essential because it gives potential employers the confidence that you have relevant skills. If, at a glance, an employer or a recruitment agency cannot see recognised qualifications on your CV, they’re likely to discard your application.
The only exception is if you have very strong and relevant previous experience in project management. That can carry sufficient weight in candidate selection.
How long does it take to become a project manager?
The time it takes to become a project manager can vary depending on several factors, including your starting point and career goals. Here's a general timeline:
- Certifications: Obtaining relevant certifications can take a couple of months to a year, depending on the certification and your level of preparedness.
- Entry-Level Experience: You may spend 1-2 years gaining experience in project-related roles.
- Soft Skills Development: Ongoing throughout your career.
- Career Advancement: Becoming a senior project manager or pursuing specialised roles can take several more years of experience.
In total, it can take anywhere from 5 to 10 years or more to establish yourself as a seasoned project manager with advanced qualifications and experience.
How to get into project management
Getting into project management can be straightforward. Once you have gained your recognised qualifications, you’ll need to create a CV. Ensure that it speaks to your knowledge of the industry within which you want to work as a project manager. Specify any prior project management experiences, such as one-off projects or assisting others in a project environment.
Without experience securing a project management role is very difficult. Aim for an assistant role or a junior project management role. These roles are paid less but they are a good stepping stone. You will gain experience, giving you confidence and a better opportunity to progress quickly in your career.
Project management career path
A Project management career path can be very diverse and lucrative. Project management skills are extremely transferable and with years under your belt, you’ll be able to move industries. As a result, your experience and skill set will grow much faster than in any other role. With years you will become extremely employable.
Experienced senior project managers can pick and choose their roles and they often work as contractors rather than full time employees. Contracts pay a daily rate which usually exceeds over a period of time the salary of full time employment. This is specifically true about contractors outside the IR35 legislation. However, working independently means you won't enjoy the usual employee benefits - pension, bonus, private health insurance and more. And there will be some added expenses to think about - the cost of trading as a self-employed (business registration, accountant fees, project management insurance, etc.).
Project management skills aren’t just transferable within an industry but also from country to country. You may find that developing countries are often short in certain skills and offer extremely good packages. A good example is the Middle East or the US.