There are five distinct project management career steps.
Getting into the Profession as an untrained PM
The process starts with becoming a project manager and getting into the profession. This can be as simple as being in the right place at the right time. What I mean is that you’re an effective contributor in your organization and someone in management may tap you to run a project. When you do well, your project management career is launched.
Getting a beginner certification and basic skills
Other people carefully prepare themselves with training in the tools and techniques of project management. They use their credential to gain entry as an assistant or associate project manager. Once they have the job, good performance drives their career. They will be actively involved in planning projects, gathering requirements, developing schedules and tracking actual performance against the plan. On-the-job training can teach you a lot of that, but it’s also wise to take a course in the fundamentals of project management. You’ll learn techniques and a proven methodology that you can repeat on every project.
The next project management career step is moving up to a full-fledged project manager position. A functional or specialty certification is very valuable during your first or second year in project management. That certification gives you proven techniques for doing the things you may have been doing by guess work. These functional or specialty certifications also teach you some of the unique project management techniques required in information technology, construction, healthcare, consulting and general business projects.
With your industry specialty certification, you are positioned for the next career step which is getting a higher-paying position to manage larger projects. After three years working in your profession, you probably have sufficient project manager hours to qualify for the Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification. To earn that certification from the Project Management Institute (PMI), you need to document your project manager work experience and project management training classes and then pass a difficult 4-hour examination.
You can earn a certification in your project management specialty area: IT, construction, healthcare, business consulting. Then earn the PMP certification from the Project Management Institute (PMI) as you move up to senior project manger and program manger.
Program and Portfolio Management
The top run on the ladder is positions and certifications for managing multiple projects and programs which can also include managing all the projects and programs in the organization which puts you into the executive ranks with appropriate compensation.