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Updated Oct 30, 2023

The Different Paths to a Career in Project Management

Ryan Ayers, Community Member

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Project managers (PMs) are in high demand: The U.S. will need 2.3 million more PMs by 2030 to plug the talent gap, according to the Project Management Institute (PMI). 

If you have the right attributes for the job, a career in project management could be a great choice. It offers an average annual salary of about $87,000, according to — and that’s likely to shoot up, because the demand for project managers will outpace the supply in the years to come.

Editor’s note: Looking for the right project management software for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you about your needs.

How to become a project manager

There are several ways to become a project manager, including these paths:

  • Getting a project management degree
  • Landing a PM role through work experience
  • Earning a project management certification
Did You Know?Did you know

The shortage of project managers affects some industries more than others. The sectors experiencing high demand for PMs are healthcare, IT, construction and finance.

Getting a degree in project management

The demand for project managers is growing because businesses need people who are capable of managing complex, knowledge-based projects. For example, a tech firm might use Agile methodology to deliver continual improvements in a software product or a retailer might look to optimize its supply chain with analytics and machine learning.

Recognizing this need, many universities now offer degrees and courses in project management. Project management bachelor’s degrees are designed to provide students with a broad education in the discipline and cover topics such as project planning and implementation, risk management and stakeholder involvement. Master’s degree courses teach advanced subjects such as organizational behavior, business analytics, and cost management and budgeting.

Both degree types blend on-the-job training with classroom lectures. Students get real-world PM experience by working as volunteers or interns. Many of these projects are ideal for showing prospective employers examples of taking a project to completion and delivering results.

Colleges also allow students to specialize in particular industries, like healthcare and event management. By building their skills, knowledge and experience in a specific business sector, learners give themselves a competitive advantage.

A bachelor’s degree in project management is often seen as the optimal route into the industry, but earning a degree isn’t the only entry point.

Other ways into project management

Many executives and team leaders find themselves fulfilling the role of a project manager almost by accident. They’re given a project to manage, which forces them to improvise during the project’s early stages. During the project, they fine-tune their skills and knowledge to fit into their new role more comfortably and get the project done. Some enjoy this project management experience so much that they decide to make a career out of it.

This type of scenario is more likely to apply to someone who already has a bachelor’s degree. Management generally chooses business administration, finance, engineering and IT graduates to run projects if there is no dedicated PM in the company because the courses they took often contain many elements of project management.

If you don’t have a bachelor’s degree, it’s unlikely that you’ll be considered for the role. To have a chance, you need to have demonstrated your competency, leadership and problem-solving skills in your current position. You’ll need an exceptional work history that shows you are stable, professional and competent.

If your employer does invite you to apply for a role or to run a project, show the following on your resume and talk about this experience during the interview to give yourself the best chance of success:

  • Evidence that you’ve successfully managed projects for nonprofits or local businesses, especially for other employers and/or in other industries
  • General management experience, as the ability to lead others is key to project management

In addition, identify areas where your employer can improve, and explain the benefits of solving these problems. Even better, show them new ways to boost revenue and efficiency.

If no PM position is advertised or exists, being proactive could help you, regardless of whether you have a degree. Consider compiling a report on an area where improved outcomes could give your employer a competitive advantage, and present a project management plan to the leadership team.

How to earn project management certification

There are two main project management certifications, both run by PMI:

  • Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM): You can take the CAPM exam if you have a high school diploma and either 1,500 hours of work-related experience or a minimum of 23 hours of project management education. This certification is considered most suitable for those entering project management.
  • Project Management Professional (PMP): You’ll need a minimum of 4,500 hours of experience and a bachelor’s degree to take the PMP exam. The PMP is targeted more toward experienced project managers.

For both certifications, you must commit to ongoing learning and recertification to retain your credentials. Either way, you must complete your work hours before you take the exam.

PMI offers training through partners across the United States. For both certifications, you’ll need to study the Project Management Body of Knowledge Guide. PMI publishes exam content outlines for both certifications to help you prepare for the exam.

Other than having better chances of getting a good PM job, those with PMP certification report earning about 16 percent more, on average, than those without PMP certification, according to the Project Management Salary Survey

FYIDid you know

Project management is as much about managing people as it is about managing tasks and resources, so if you find people management challenging, project management may not be the ideal job for you.

Do employers help with the costs of PM certification?

You can ask your employer to tap into the employee training budget to help you cover the costs of PM certification, but the company is under no obligation to accept your request. 

What you have in your favor is deep knowledge of the company, its needs, its culture and the opportunities for business improvement. You have also shown that you’re personally invested in the business’s success. In contrast, if your employer were to hire externally for a project management role, that outsider would have to get up to speed with the company’s operations, which would take a lot of time and money.

You may find it challenging to persuade your employer to fund a full bachelor’s degree because of the time and cost involved. Regardless of whether you have a degree, however, PMI’s certifications are helpful qualifications.

Prospects for PMs

Like many areas of corporate life, project management is undergoing transformation through the increasing adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) and workflow automation, which help to increase accuracy, efficiency and speed by streamlining tasks such as scheduling, reporting and risk analysis. These technologies also free up time for PMs and their team members to spend on the strategic and creative aspects of their role.

Did You Know?Did you know

Large language models can draw on reservoirs of project management information — more than a PM professional could ever read in a lifetime.

Technology has also facilitated communication for project managers. In addition to video conferencing tools like Zoom and Skype, goal setting and tracking tools — such as ProofHub,, and TaskOPad — are rising in popularity. PMs use these apps to streamline task allocation and file sharing, as well as to track project scope, budget and stakeholder satisfaction.

In recent years, project management methodologies have been mixed and matched, and this is expected to continue. Whereas PMs previously tended to specialize in one methodology, now they often blend approaches depending on the requirements of the project. Today, a project may use the Waterfall management method during the planning and design stages, Agile during testing and development, and DevOps for deployment and postlaunch maintenance. Going forward, PMs should become more acquainted with different methodologies to optimize project outcomes.

Sustainability and social responsibility are gaining importance in project management, mirroring an increase in environmental, social and governance awareness and expectations from stakeholders. Now, project managers are often required to consider social and economic factors at every stage of the process. These considerations might include reducing a project’s environmental impact and enhancing social benefits by focusing on areas such as diversity, equity and inclusion. [Read related article: Can You Make a Profit and Be Socially Responsible?]

Ryan Ayers contributed to this article. 

Ryan Ayers, Community Member
Ryan Ayers has consulted a number of Fortune 500 companies within multiple industries including information technology and big data. After earning his MBA in 2010, Ayers also began working with start-up companies and aspiring entrepreneurs with a keen focus on sustainable scaling, professional development and business growth.
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