How to Become a Project Manager

Do you thrive in a leadership role? Are you an effective communicator able to delegate tasks? If you answered yes, project management could be a career option for you. 

These professionals have a variety of responsibilities and are essential to a wide range of industries, from construction to banking, both big and small. However, if you are serious about taking on a project management role, it’s time to explore degree options. Continue reading to learn more about project management degree programs and career options for project managers. 

What is Project Management?

Project management involves planning and organizing a company’s resources to move a particular task or event to completion, although some projects can be deemed ongoing. In addition to resource management, project managers are responsible for initiating, designing, and monitoring, and in the case of a finite undertaking, closing a project. One such example would be launching a new product or service.

Do You Need a Degree in Project Management?

While you could learn and develop the skills necessary for a project manager on the job, most companies and organizations look to hire professionals with a degree. Either a bachelor’s or master’s degree in project management allows a candidate to gain the industry certification of Project Management Professional (PMP). Note, it is possible for someone without a degree to earn their PMP, it will just require additional work experience than someone with a bachelor’s or master’s degree. Minus the degree and/or certification, you may find yourself at a disadvantage when competing for higher-paying positions in project management. 

Project Manager Education Requirements

Although education requirements differ among employers, many colleges and universities offer varying levels of project management degrees. If you’re interested in learning about project management, but don’t want to go back to school, you may want to consider earning a project management certificate.

Unlike many occupations that require a degree in a specific field of study, a project management professional may find a degree related to their current career path such as engineering, construction, or business more relevant and advantageous when combined with their on-the-job experience. 

How Long Does it Take to Become a Project Manager?

The length of time it takes to become a PM varies based on the education path you choose, along with the required years of experience a company may want you to have. While earning a CAPM or PMP certification can anywhere from three to secen years, neither one can guarantee a PM job immediately upon completion.

8 Steps to Becoming a Project Manager

Everyone has a different experience on their journey to becoming a project manager. The following steps are common among project management students and can help guide prospective PMs in the early-interest phase of this industry.

  1. Decide whether the project manager role is right for you

    If you are a natural leader who enjoys cultivating a team, a project management position may be ideal.

  2. Select which certification you want to pursue

    In project management, there are two premier professional certifications both offered by exam through the Project Management Institute (PMI). The Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) and the Project Management Professional (PMP).  The certification you choose will vary based on your overall goals and professional experience. The CAPM is a good fit for someone who wishes to show their knowledge of project management, but does not have enough experience or project hours to get a PMP. For more experienced professionals, the PMP is a better fit and recongized as the gold standard in project management. 

  3. Complete prerequisites

    For the CAPM exam you will need the following:
    • A high school diploma, associate’s degree or the global equivalent.
    • 23 hours of project management education.

    For the PMP exam, you need to meet the following requirements before the exam:
    • A four-year degree
    • 36 months leading projects
    • 35 hours of project management education/training or CAPM® Certification, or
    • A high school diploma or an associate’s degree (or global equivalent)
    • 60 months leading projects
    • 35 hours of project management education/training or CAPM® Certification.

  4. Join the Project Management Institute

    When you become a paid Project Management Institute (PMI) member, you gain free access to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) Guide. This book contains question material for the CAPM and PMP exams.  In addition, your membership gives you discounts on items such as your exam. While you don’t have to be a PMI member to access the PMBOK guide or other study materials, becoming one can show you’re serious about project management.

    *Last updated in 2020

  5. Schedule and pay for your exam

    When you schedule your exam, be sure to give yourself plenty of time to study. The recommendation is to schedule the exam three months out. You can opt to take either of the certification exams online or in-person (where available). You will need to pay the exam fee during exam registration. 

    CAPM exam fee:
    • Members $225
    • Non-member $300

    PMP exam fee:
    • Members $405
    • Non-members $555

  6. Study for the exam

    Be prepared to do a significant amount of studying (according to PMI, successful PMP candidates study a minimum of 35 hours). To ensure you perform well on either of the tests, you can choose to study the PMBOK Guide, take classes, or both. 

  7. Take the exam

    Typically both exams must be completed in-person via center-based testing; however, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they are available in a proctored online format. The CAPM exam has 150 questions and a time allotment of three hours. The PMP has 200 multiple-choice questions with a time of four hours.

  8. Maintain your project management certification

    Upon passing either of the PMI examinations, you will want to maintain your certification throughout your career.

10 Skills Project Managers Use Every Day

To be successful, a project manager relies on a wide set of skills every day. Here are some examples of them:

1. Leadership

Since a large part of project management is leadership, one must practice leadership daily to succeed.

2. Communication

Effective communication is important for any employee, more so for a leadership position like a project manager. The difference between excellent and poor communication skills could be the success or failure of a project.

3. Conflict resolution

When working as a team, discrepancies, setbacks and conflicts are likely to arise. In your role as a project manager, it will be beneficial to the success of any project that you can manage such situations.

4. Critical thinking

As a project manager, it is your responsibility to be objective when addressing project issues. Critical thinking can help you analyze and evaluate the situation without emotion or bias.

5. Patience

Although most projects have time constraints, practicing patience will come in handy. Rushing through the process can lead to mistakes and project failure. 

6. Scheduling

To achieve project goals within your timeframe, it’s a good idea to set up a realistic schedule and manage your resources to ensure your project stays on track.

7. Expertise

Knowledge of the business or industry you are in, along with its platforms and systems, can build your team’s confidence in you and make communicating with and leading the group easier.

8. Quality management

Overseeing the tasks and activities involved in bringing your project to fruition requires you to ensure the end product or service will be of the best quality.

9. Technically competent

As a project manager, it is important to stay proficient with technological tools such as the project management software used throughout the project process. Any lapse could cause interruptions in the project and threaten the project’s completion.

10. Accountability

Accountability can impact the success of any project. The project manager must accept the overall responsibility of the project while making team expectations clear. 

Why Become a Project Manager?

Any time you consider a career option, you should question the benefits of choosing a particular path. Becoming a project manager is no different. Here are a few reasons why a role in project management could be a fulfilling career choice is a win-win.

Work in an industry of your choice

For a project manager, the work opportunities are vast, as this role is not limited to a particular industry or sector. 

Every project is unique

Each project you oversee as a PM is diverse and can provide you with exciting challenges to keep you interested and motivated.

Learning opportunity

If you love to learn, a project manager’s role will expose you to a host of learning opportunities in almost every project. 

Increase your value

Having success as a PM can make you a highly marketable and valued employee. The knowledge and skills gained from each critical phase of a project can help you grow professionally.

Strong job market

There are so many industries that need project managers for client success, including construction, engineering, health care, information technology and financial services. Employers are projected to need to fill almost 2.2 million new project-related roles each year until 2027, according to the PMI Project Management Job Growth and Talent Gap report (PDF, 2.4 MB) .


Project management roles demand better-than-average salaries. The median salary for project management personnel with a PMP certification was $112,000 in 2017. Those with less than three years of experience earn an average of $75,000, according to the Project Management Salary Survey 10th Edition (PDF, 3.5 MB).

Project Management Careers 

According to the PMI Project Management Job Growth and Talent Gap report (PDF, 2.4 MB), employers will need 87.7 million people working in project management roles, with manufacturing and construction leading the way with 9.7 million openings, followed by information services and publishing with 5.5 million. 

Last Updated August 2020