How To Become a Project Manager
Updated 7 September 2023
Within many fields, project managers direct, implement and oversee various projects. This entails responsibility for the completion of a project within the specified deadlines and according to the project's plan. There are various roles, levels and titles within project management, from project coordinator to senior project manager. In this article, we explain how to become a project manager, the nature of the work and the skills and qualifications necessary.
What does a project manager do?
Also called business project managers or business change managers, project managers work on the preparation, implementation and follow-up of project-based work. These individuals either work independently as freelancers or as part of a larger organisation. Although the name implies that their focus is on implementation and management, project managers often play a significant role in planning and project design. Through liaising with either a client or senior manager, a project manager can determine the exact goals of the project and plan accordingly.
Project managers often use specific software packages that help them make their plans, in addition to analysing the costs and risks associated with the project work. They select the project team whom they're going to lead, and contact and negotiate with contractors, suppliers and any other auxiliary personnel. Project managers agree on timescales, resources, costs and quality assurance. Throughout the duration of the project, they oversee the work, monitor progress, identify areas for improvement and regularly report to their client or senior management. Based on the type of work involved, a project manager's activities may be primarily office-based or outside.
What are the skills of a project manager?
In addition to any educational or other qualifications, there are certain skills that project managers need to be effective at their job. Many of these are soft skills and therefore closely associated with the individual's personality traits, whereas others may be more technical in nature. The essential skills of a project manager are as follows:
Leadership: As someone who is taking charge of a project team, project managers must have confidence in their leadership skills. They know how to lead and motivate others, handle disputes and problems, act decisively and delegate when necessary.
Communication: This is closely tied to leadership, as project managers constantly work with their team, communicate with clients and managers, liaise with contractors and maintain contact with suppliers. Being able to do this effectively and with minimal disruption requires exceptional communication skills.
Organisation: Since project managers usually have strict deadlines to adhere to, in addition to often large project teams to manage, they need a very organised mindset to ensure they can maintain the work's progress. Project managers typically separate the work into distinct stages with their own deadlines, and they must be capable of planning for and implementing this.
Attention to detail: As the individual who is ultimately responsible for the project's outcome, the project manager must be thorough and aware of all the details related to the project's implementation. They must know what to look for and be able to notice the first signs of a problem before it causes trouble.
Numeracy: Project work is often measured in numerical form, with a certain number of employees working with a certain number of resources, and over a set timeframe with a specific budget. Project managers need excellent numeracy skills to be able to monitor and understand the work they're managing.
Knowledge of relevant software: There are many software platforms, across various operating systems, that can be very useful for project management work. These can help project managers assign and monitor work, calculate costs and risk, communicate with team members and track progress.
How to become a project manager
There's no singular route into project management work. Some project managers started their careers elsewhere and gradually moved to working in these positions due to their unique experiences and competencies. Others may wish to do this from a young age and seek out an appropriate university education or apprenticeship. The steps to becoming a project manager based on a university education are detailed below:
1. Get a relevant university degree
There are various university degrees that you can pursue if you wish to become a project manager. Some universities may offer a BSc in project management. Another common degree is in business management or construction project management. Additionally, degrees in fields like business studies, economics, political science and others may contain project management courses. As long as your field of study isn't too irrelevant to project management work, an undergraduate degree is going to help you get a job like this, although a degree in project or business management would be the best option.
The requirements for a university degree are going to differ from one university and course to another. Typically, you're going to need two or three A-levels to pursue this level of study. When you're searching for a degree, make sure you're familiar with the specific requirements for each university and course of study. Remember that a degree probably won't entitle you to a job as a project manager immediately, and you may need to start as a project officer, coordinator or assistant and work towards project manager status. You could also look for a graduate training scheme.
2. Look for a graduate training scheme
If you've completed a university degree but still require experience or additional qualifications to get a project manager position, there are companies that offer graduate schemes. These are typically large companies that specialise in project management or similar work. They hire promising graduates and train them in project management work through workshops, direct experience and mentorship programmes. These can last for years and grant you further qualifications, in addition to developing your technical and soft skills.
To be eligible for a graduate training scheme, you're usually required to have completed (or be near completion of) a university degree in a relevant field, with upper second class honours or higher. Do your research beforehand, as the requirements often differ between providers. In a graduate training scheme, you're generally paid for the duration of the programme, usually as a junior project manager.
3. Gain work experience
Acquisition of work experience is usually necessary for a project manager role, as it requires experience and leadership skills. This experience is best gained by working directly in project management through a graduate scheme or similar environment. You can also gain this experience through relevant roles, such as in administration or project support. If you work in a certain sector where projects demand in-depth knowledge of the work, such as engineering, you may also become a project manager due to experience and seniority, along with the demonstration of the skills outlined in this article.
What is the apprenticeship route for project managers?
If you don't want to take the degree route, an apprenticeship in project management can take between two and five years, and typically ends with you becoming a qualified and capable project manager, project coordinator, project support officer or project executive. These apprenticeships may specialise in certain areas of project management, such as sustainability, which can help you identify your own niche. Apprenticeships also allow you to earn an income while you're learning. You may be able to find an apprenticeship programme at some of the UK's largest companies.
A project management apprenticeship is typically at Level 4, which is equivalent to a foundation degree. However, there are also Level 6 project management degree apprenticeships available. To be eligible for such an apprenticeship, you usually need four or five GCSEs with grades of 4 or higher (C and above).
Other qualifications for project managers
In addition to a relevant university degree, additional training and work experience, there are other qualifications that you can pursue to increase your chances of becoming a project manager. Among the more well-respected industry qualifications are those offered by the Association of Project Managers (APM). These include the following:
Project Fundamentals Qualification (PFQ): This is an introductory project management course that familiarises you with the basics and terminology. It requires no previous experience or knowledge of project management.
Project Management Qualification (PMQ): The PMQ is a qualification based on your demonstrable knowledge and understanding of all the various aspects of project management. Typically, you are expected to have completed the PFQ and to have some project management experience to be eligible for the PMQ.
Project Professional Qualification (PPQ): This qualification is designed for those who're already working in project management and who seek to gain membership of the APM. It includes the specific and core competencies required for project management professionals.
Please note that none of the organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.
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