What is a senior project manager? (Plus how to become one)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 14 July 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

The role of a senior project manager is to oversee one or more project teams. These projects can involve plans and strategies in any sector, from hospitality to tech. Companies often hire senior project managers who have expertise in a relevant field or subject niche. In this article, we answer the question 'What is a senior project manager?' and outline how to pursue a career in project management.

What is a senior project manager?

To answer the question 'What is a senior project manager?', senior projects managers provide a higher level of expertise than standard project managers. As such, they tend to have many years' worth of experience in their industry. Senior project managers have the authority to delegate tasks to project managers and may help to make important decisions within a business. While some senior project managers work within a specific field, others can work flexibly between industries and organisations.

What are the responsibilities of a senior project manager?

The roles of responsibilities of a senior project manager can vary widely depending on the industry they work in. Generally, their tasks include at least some of the following:

Improving project processes and procedures

Many companies enlist the help of senior project managers to save failing projects and initiatives. Senior project managers tend to have lots of professional experience. As such, they're flexible thinkers who can generate cutting-edge strategies and save companies from losing money.

Setting and planning goals

Senior project managers know how to create realistic plans that satisfy employees, standard project managers, senior leaders and other stakeholders. They work with colleagues to develop detailed plans for every stage of the project, helping to prepare financial estimates and detailed timelines. Senior project managers may also have a list of contacts they can use to secure resources for the project.

Related: Objective vs. goal: What are the key differences?

Managing protfolios

Senior project managers often help to nurture a business's entire project portfolio. They oversee all aspects of related projects to ensure there are no conflicts of interest and that the overall project program sufficiently benefits the business. Portfolio management usually involves meeting with standard project managers regularly to assess progress and key performance indicators.

Coaching and mentoring

Most senior project managers help to train team leaders and junior project managers. Managers design training sessions to motivate project managers to meet their goals and ensure they live up to their responsibilities. Typical lessons may involve teaching best practices, specific methodologies, quality assurance techniques, legal requirements and policies, and how to use project management tools.

Related: Benefits of mentoring for mentors, mentees and organisations

Hiring new starters

Senior project members are typically responsible for hiring new starters necessary for certain projects. This task may include sifting through CVs and sitting on interview panels. It may also involve creating a smooth onboarding process for the project and identifying any training needs.

Tracking projects

Senior project managers are usually responsible for arranging regular team meetings and helping to monitor key success metrics. If necessary, they may use this data to resolve internal conflicts and address any productivity problems. Senior project managers are experts in problem-solving, monitoring team performance and carrying out performance reviews to ensure the project runs as smoothly as possible. If necessary, they may escalate certain issues to C-suite executives.

Providing high-level knowledge

As experts in their field, senior project managers are usually full of wisdom regarding the latest sectoral developments, best practices, useful tools, and industry standards. The hiring organisation may seek their advice about problems employees have been struggling with for a long time. In the long term, they can harness this invaluable knowledge to boost productivity, increase efficiency and reach a range of goals across different projects.

Motivating employees

Sometimes, a new face can help to motivate employees and save struggling companies from burning out. On top of offering practical help, senior project managers often act as motivational speakers to help companies reach their goals. These motivational sessions may take the form of company-wide lectures or one-to-one meetings.

What experiences and qualifications do you require to become a senior project manager?

Most senior project management positions require applicants to have a bachelor's degree, although some companies may make exceptions for people with extensive professional experience. It's also necessary to have some experience in a relevant industry. If you're going to apply for a senior project management position in the healthcare industry, for example, you're probably going to need some experience in the sector. As a guide, here are the most important qualifications and experiences you're likely to need for a senior project management role:

  • a relevant degree

  • project management qualifications

  • experience working alongside stakeholders in a relevant industry

  • at least five years' worth of experience in project management and planning

  • ability to use a range of common project management tools and stay on top of technology trends

  • understanding of the relevant project lifecycle

  • experience managing large groups of people

  • experience in solving complex problems and assessing project progress

  • ability to communicate across a variety of channels

  • experience in applying a range of project management strategies

  • experience coaching and mentoring large teams

  • experience in handling several priorities at once

If you're planning to apply for a senior project management position, you may want to provide your prospective employer with examples of your past successes as a project manager. It may help to find data and concrete evidence your can use during an interview. Presenting this information shows that you're organised and capable of tracking the progress of a project.

Related: Common senior manager interview questions (With examples)

What personal attributes do candidates require for senior project management?

Senior project management is a demanding role that suits some people better than others. If you choose to pursue a career in project management, some personal characteristics may be advantageous. These attributes include:

  • Decisiveness: Senior project managers often make quick decisions to satisfy their stakeholders and ensure teams are delivering goals on time. It's important you're decisive and able to think on your feet.

  • Adaptability: While most projects involve clear processes and strategies, you're likely to encounter obstacles on the job. As a senior project manager, it's important you're adaptable and willing to alter project processes as needed.

  • Creativity: Completing successful projects and helping businesses to grow involves creativity. If you're able to be innovative, you can outperform competitors and inspire colleagues.

  • Accountability: Senior project managers are always willing to be accountable for their actions and take responsibility when things go wrong. By admitting to your mistakes, your coworkers may gain faith in your abilities.

  • Leadership skills: Good leaders tend to be charismatic, kind, fair and firm. People with these qualities are usually effective communicators who can help their teams overcome a range of obstacles.

  • Focus: Seeing a project through to completion requires discipline and focus. If you're able to meet deadlines and complete tasks efficiently, a career in senior project management may be for you.

  • Communication: It's important for senior project managers to communicate their thoughts and feelings effectively. This often means adapting your tone to different audiences.

How to move from a project manager position to a senior project manager position

Becoming a senior project manager often requires proactive commitment. It's important to plan your career, research different companies and understand the risks of switching jobs. Here are a few best practices to follow:

1. Treat your career as a project

Use your skills as a project manager to successfully plan your career path. This could involve checking job listings, making a timeline, investing in training courses and learning techniques to stay motivated. It may also help to monitor your progress regularly to identify areas of success and how you could improve in the future.

2. Create a portfolio of work

It can be hard to remember all of your past successes when writing a job application or answering interview questions. Documenting your successes in a neat portfolio could help you make a great first impression with hiring managers. Materials to add to your portfolio could include project timelines, return on investment stats and written accounts of finished projects. Use the portfolio to inform the application process and consider presenting it directly to potential employers.

3. Step outside of your comfort zone

It's very easy to fall into a routine as a project manager. If you want to build your skills, be ready to step outside of your comfort zone. This could include taking on projects in unfamiliar fields or trying new collaboration technologies. The more willing you are to try new things, the more attractive you may be to hiring managers.

4. Build your network

Professionals with strong networks tend to find opportunities more easily. Try building your network via online forums, business conferences, social media and even cold calls. It may surprise you how willing people are to engage with you.

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