Project Manager Careers

By Dick Billows, PMP
Unlike most professions, there is no one way that people start successful project management careers. Having talked to every one of our thousands of our students over the years, I’m constantly amazed at how they got into project management. Some entered project management as practicing professionals in some industry or specialty, some by doing good work and were grabbed by management because they needed somebody to run the next project. They did well and liked it and came to to get practical techniques so they could move up and do better. Others had very little business experience, but what they saw about project management they liked. They came to us to get the training that would allow them to become a project manager in their organization or get a job doing it. Still others were outstanding performers in their organization and some manager saw their potential and paid for them to get training. There are hundreds of other paths. But in the beginning, whether people are in project management and want to go further or want to get a job in project management they need two things:

  • They need to learn the basic tools and techniques of project management so they can put together a plan, schedule people to execute the plan and measure progress so they can report status.
  • They need a beginner credential in project management that tells their boss or prospective employer that they know how to manage projects.

With the basic credentials and skills in hand, the next step is a certification in a technical or functional specialty like Construction, Healthcare, IT Systems or Business. Those certifications help you move up in the organization in terms of managing larger and more important projects. There also a great tool for job hunting as they clearly show that you are an expert in managing certain kinds of projects.

After you have three years of project management experience, you will probably have accumulated enough hours to take the Project Management Professional (PMP)® Certification. The Project Management Institute (PMI)® requires that you can document 4,500 hours of experience and provide references from the sponsors who paid for those projects. You also have to accumulate a sufficient level of project management training.

The final step in a project management career is either moving from project manager to a senior management position or into program management where you manage multiple projects. In these positions you are managing other project managers and a portfolio of projects. These jobs require special portfolio management skills and also a higher level of communication skills because you are dealing with the organization’s senior management.

Functional & Specialty Certifications
Project certification is one of the paths into project management and can lead to the upper levels of project management. Getting into project management is easier is you have earned your first project management certification in a specific industry or functional specialty. These certification programs give you both basic skills for small projects and build on them by adding advanced techniques in estimating, risk management, planning with executives, tracking and status reporting. As well, the better programs give you training and practice in making effective presentations, leading meetings and communicating clearly with stakeholders and your team members.

Specialty certification programs are available in areas such as:

  • IT Project Manager Certification- in addition to basic and advanced project management tools and techniques, these programs give you the skills to utilize different systems development methodologies and select the correct one for each systems development effort. They also focus on the difficult area of managing users’ expectations.
  • Construction Project Manager Certification- in addition to the basic and advanced skills, these programs place special emphasis on accurate estimating, building customer/owner relationships and the intricacies of dealing with subcontractors on your project. There’s also a strong emphasis on change orders which are a critical element in the profitability of construction projects.
  • Healthcare Project Manager Certification– in addition to the basic and advanced techniques, these certifications focus on the unique organizational issues in the healthcare environment. They teach you how to deal with both the administrative structure and the medical management of the healthcare institution. You learn how to build effective teams across those functional lines.
  • Business Project Manager Certification- building on the basic and advanced skills, these programs focus on integrating different functional areas into one high-performance project team. You learn how to build project plans and effective teams that integrate the efforts of information systems, marketing, sales and operations, each of which has its own perspective on the projects.