How to Become a Project Manager: Skills, Requirements, and Career Guide
Are you a natural leader with a talent for organization and communication? Do you thrive in fast-paced and dynamic environments? If so, a career in project management may be the perfect fit for you. Project managers play a critical role in planning, executing, and delivering projects across a variety of industries, from technology and construction to healthcare and finance. They collaborate with cross-functional teams to define project scope, manage timelines and budgets, and ensure that projects are completed on time and within budget.
If you're interested in becoming a project manager, this guide is for you. We'll walk you through the essential skills and requirements for the role, as well as the various career paths and opportunities available to project managers. We'll also provide tips on how to break into the industry and advance your career over time.
So, whether you're just starting out or looking to take your career to the next level, read on to discover everything you need to know to become a successful project manager.
What is a Project Manager?
Project managers are the organizational superheroes within companies. To put it bluntly, a project manager makes sure things get done as quickly and efficiently as possible by equipping team members with necessary information and tools to do their jobs well. Becoming a project manager is a great way to break into the product and technical career space.
In larger companies, often a group of people is assigned to work on a "project" for 3-6 months to maximize efficiency and productivity. A project has many moving parts and people, and to keep other team members focused on their main roles, a project manager is assigned to make sure balls keep rolling.
Often this is done with a spreadsheet “project plan” with different timelines for each team member. This can be extremely valuable for the team, because often their jobs rely on someone else partly (for example– you can’t develop a site that hasn’t been designed yet! If a developer got the designs for a page a day before the deadline, everyone would fail).
A project manager’s work can vary extremely based on the company, whether they are client facing (link to blog post) or not, and where they sit in the company (marketing, product, elsewhere). But the core competencies remain the same.
If organization, spreadsheets, and planning are your love language, read on. This is one of the easier jobs to break into, and provides exposure to many other roles. This is a great way to break into the tech/remote space and see what kinds of activities you like to do at work!
Responsibilities of a Project Manager
What does a Project Manager do?
A project manager is responsible for getting things done, and their day to day activities reflect this.
You can expect to make and upkeep “project plans”, often, which are schedules of when certain milestones should be hit to achieve tasks before a deadline.
Often there is a budget associated with the project, and that will need to be tracked too. Communicating the project plan and budgets associated with other team members, updating the plans, and making sure project “milestones” are hit in a timely manner are the backbone of the job.
Project Management Team Members
If you're unsure that project or program, check out the roles of a Product Analyst, UX Designer, UX Researcher, and maybe even get a little freaky and look at a frontend engineer. As a bonus-- all of these are great onramps into product management, which is not normally an entry-level gig but a high-paying and highly sought-after gig.
Do I need a degree to be a Project Manager?
None required for an associate/entry level position. This is actually one of our favorite jobs for breaking into tech, with tons of upward mobility.
Job descriptions will often mention a requirement of SOME degree, but this is not a hard rule. If you can demonstrate organization in other things (restaurant management, secretarial or customer service work), you have a great shot at a project management job. Mid Level roles sometimes require a PMP (project management professional) or others outlined in the certifications below. Often a company will pay for necessary training for associates.
- Anyone with heavy planning experience, like veterans or teachers
- Liberal arts degrees with good soft skills
- Data entry, accounting, and receptionist professionals
If you're new here to bridged, we're glad to meet you! We are huge fans of alternate forms of education, and recommend specific certifications to target skills. While this job works great with degrees, you have other options. Learn more here.
Our Favorite Project Management Certifications
Project Management Foundations
This course is great if you're new to the tech world and interested in learning about more options than just project management.
LinkedIn Learning subscriptions are great for exploring many options with one cost.
Project Management Certificate
This is one of the only self-paced university SEO certifications, and we loved every second of it. The program has a great mix of technical and theoretical concepts to get you familiar with the role, fast.
Project Management for Beginners
This class is a top seller on udemy, and covers popular growth hacking tactics including both SEO and social.
Salary and Career Potential
What is a Product Manager's salary?
Product Managers are usually not entry level positions, so their salaries reflect this. We've aggregated thousands of salaries across glassdoor and linkedin, and early career product managers can make anywhere between 90k-105k, depending on their location and skillsets.
Career Path of a Project Manager
While this sample career path is very common in the tech industry, project managers can have a range of roles and responsibilities. Often project managers transition into other product roles, and sometimes even research roles!
- Project Manager, or Associate Project Manager: Spend about 2-4 years at each level here.
- Senior Project Manager or Program Manager: Spend about 3-5 years here.
- Senior Program Manager: Spend about 5-10 years here.
- Director of Program Management: This one is tricky, but most folks spend roughly 4-6 years here.
Job Requirements and Skills
Popular Job Description of a Project Manager
We've used AI to aggregate the top job descriptions used by hiring managers looking for project managers. When putting your resume together, try to mimic these listings. To learn more about this process, check out our partner Jobscan for a comprehensive resume review.
- Define project scope, goals, and deliverables in collaboration with stakeholders and cross-functional teams
- Develop and manage project timelines and budgets, and communicate project status to stakeholders and team members
- Identify and mitigate project risks and issues, and develop contingency plans as needed
- Lead cross-functional teams to deliver high-quality project results on time and within budget
- Facilitate communication and collaboration between team members, stakeholders, and project sponsors
- Monitor and report on project progress, including key performance indicators and project metrics
- Continuously identify opportunities for process improvement and implement best practices to increase project efficiency and effectiveness
Top Technical Skills of a Project Manager
We've compiled thousands of job descriptions for Product Managers to record the most common requirements to save you time. While preparing for interviews, keep in mind specific times you've demonstrated these skills.
- Running daily standups and other planning meetings such as refinements or sprint planning
- Budget creation and monitoring
- Experience with Agile Teams & Planning
- Account Management
- Creation of new team processes and norms
- Multi-team scheduling
- Managing team burn reports
Top Functional Skills of a Project Manager
We recommend getting familiar with different types of customer questions if you plan to pursue a career in product management. If finding these answers seems interesting to you, read on!
- Communication with internal and external teams
- Time management for yourself and others
- Account Management
Top Tools of a Project Manager
We've also compiled the most common tools listed in job description. If you're serious about becoming a project manager, get familiar with these and be ready to talk about them.
For Scheduling & Time Tracking
- Google Suite
For Task Management
Other Helpful Tools
For Engineering Management
Key Traits of a Successful Project Manager
Task Management - Arguably one of the most important competencies of project managers is keeping track of team member's tasks. This includes setting priorities, delegating tasks, and tracking progress. Project managers must have strong organizational skills to manage multiple workstreams and team members, and ensure that deadlines are met.
Organization - Project managers need to keep themselves and their team meticulously organized to get work done as efficiently as possible. This includes maintaining accurate documentation, tracking expenses, and ensuring that all project information is up to date and accessible to team members.
Quick Decision Making - Project managers are often required to make fast, informed decisions to keep projects moving forward. They need to be able to weigh the pros and cons of different options quickly and decisively, while remaining calm under pressure. This requires strong critical thinking skills, as well as the ability to adapt to changing circumstances and make adjustments as needed.
People Skills - Project managers need to be adept at people management to make sure the team meshes. This includes building strong relationships with team members, resolving conflicts, and keeping team members motivated and engaged. Project managers must also be able to work effectively with stakeholders, sponsors, and other project managers to ensure successful project delivery.
Basic Mathematics & Budgeting - Project managers have to resource plan under budgeting constraints. This includes developing project budgets, allocating resources, and tracking expenses to ensure that projects are completed within budget. Project managers must also have a solid understanding of basic mathematics and accounting principles, as well as budgeting tools and techniques.
Detail Oriented - Project managers must be detail oriented to make sure their teams do not miss critical information. This includes reviewing project documentation, ensuring that all project requirements are met, and managing project risks and issues. Project managers must also be able to identify areas for improvement and implement best practices to increase project efficiency and effectiveness.
Communication - Project managers have to be able to handle multiple swim lanes of communication at a time, and make it look easy! This includes communicating with team members, stakeholders, sponsors, and other project managers, as well as keeping everyone informed of project status, progress, and changes. Project managers must be able to communicate effectively both verbally and in writing, and adjust their communication style to suit different audiences and situations.
Get Project Management Experience
Learning on the job is one of the fastest ways to get familiar with new topics, and showing is much better than telling. Create a few free accounts with some popular project management tools (such as ASANA, Jira, Trello) and create a task manager for a household project. Watch Youtube or take a recommended class to learn how.
A project could be something as easy as logging steps to a family cooking recipe, or something as complex as managing a home remodel project. This is great content for a mini"portfolio" to talk about and reference in interviews.
Relevant Project Management Experience
- Retail management or team leads
- Service industry professionals
- Anyone who can spin handling multiple projects at a time successfully.
Some popular Project Management activities to get experience:
- Event Coordination: Coordinating events, such as corporate meetings, conferences, and social events, can provide valuable experience in managing timelines, budgets, and vendors. You could even spin something like planning a birthday party!
- "Supply Chain" Coordination: Coordinating the delivery of products and materials can provide experience in managing logistics, transportation, and inventory management. This works especially well if you're in the restaurant or retail industries.
- Volunteer Coordination: Coordinating volunteers for a non-profit organization or event can provide experience in managing schedules, training, and communication. Check out some local organizations to see who could use your help!
- Team Coordination: Coordinating team activities, such as managing schedules, delegating tasks, and providing guidance and support, can provide experience in managing people and resources. This use-case can be relevant in almost any work environment.
Role Differentiators with Other Roles
Difference between Product Manager & Project Manager
Product managers are not normally entry-level roles, and require experience in another related field (design, project, research or analytics usually). Product managers work with a cross functional team to build or optimize their area, and ultimately take responsibility for the end result.
Product managers often have one or more a project managers on their team to make sure team tasks are done quickly and efficiently. Project managers can (and usually are) entry to mid-level roles. Project managers often can climb into product or program management, and is a very common stepping stone to break in.
We recommend breaking into project management if you wish to eventually become a product manager.
Difference between Project Manager and Program Manager
Project managers are mostly entry to mid level roles, and usually manage one big project or client at a time. They hop from project to project in various timeframes, but usually their focus is dedicated.
Program managers on the other hand are more senior than project managers. Program managers usually oversee multiple projects that roll up into an area. They may also manage project managers, or have several on their team working on projects that roll into a program.
Therefore while a project manager may work to improve a single area of a mobile application for a company, a program manager may be responsible for all the improvements on the application, or even multiple applications and the related projects involved.
Get Experience as a Project Management Volunteer
If you're looking to gain project management experience, one great way to get started is by volunteering with local organizations in your community. Many non-profit organizations and community groups rely on volunteers to plan and execute events, manage projects, and coordinate activities. By volunteering your time and skills, you can gain valuable experience in project management, while also giving back to your community.
Volunteering is a great way to learn about project management in a hands-on setting, and to develop your skills in a low-stakes environment. You can work on a variety of projects, from fundraising events and community outreach programs to construction projects and volunteer recruitment campaigns. This can help you build your project management skills, while also networking with other professionals and gaining exposure to different industries and sectors.
So, if you're looking to gain project management experience, consider volunteering with local organizations in your community. Not only will you be able to develop your skills and gain valuable experience, but you'll also be making a positive impact on the people and organizations around you.
Get Started with a Bridged Recommendation
Review: Project Management Specialization by Rice University
Project management is a dynamic and rewarding field that requires a unique blend of skills and experience. From task management and organization to quick decision making, people skills, and budgeting, project managers must be able to juggle multiple responsibilities while keeping their teams and stakeholders aligned and motivated.
If you're interested in pursuing a career in project management, there are many paths you can take, from entry-level roles to advanced leadership positions. By developing your skills, building your network, and seeking out opportunities to learn and grow, you can position yourself for success and advance your career over time.
Whether you're just starting out or looking to take your career to the next level, the key to success in project management is a passion for collaboration, a commitment to excellence, and a willingness to embrace new challenges and opportunities. So, if you're ready to take the leap and become a project manager, we wish you the best of luck in your journey!
Check out our sources!
Glassdoor Team. “Salary: Project Manager (February, 2023) | Glassdoor.” Glassdoor, 1 Feb. 2023.