This post was originally published on December 13, 2019, and updated most recently on May 26, 2021.
Are you organized? Can you negotiate? Are you a natural leader? If you answered ‘yes’ to all three, then you absolutely have the raw talent it takes to be a project manager. But beyond these skills, what disciplines do you need to learn? What exactly does a project manager do — and what’s the difference between a good one and a great one? We’ve compiled for you 8 important steps to help you learn how to become a project manager. Ready to dive in?
What is a project manager?
This is one of those job titles that’s self-explanatory. A project manager is someone who — you guessed it! — manages projects. But beyond that, it’s a role that requires superhuman levels of organization because they’re responsible for lots of things all happening at once. Not only that, but the success of each project rests firmly on their shoulders: Let one thing slip, and the whole lot could derail.
Generally, a project manager is responsible for the following things:
- Resource planning
- Organizing and motivating the team
- Scheduling and time management
- Cost estimating and budget management
- Analyzing and managing project risk
- Monitoring progress and reporting
So, how to become a project manager? You either decide you want to be one from the beginning and follow a formal training path. Or, you gradually fall into it after working as a manager or team leader.
Whichever path you follow, the steps you take to ensure you’re a success are essentially the same — whatever your background.
How to become a project manager
Step 1: Understand the project manager role… and commit
Before you decide you want to be a project manager, do your research. Look online at current job descriptions and picture yourself doing the listed tasks. Does it fill you with enthusiasm? Do you have the skills mentioned in the ad? And if not, are you willing to learn?
The Association for Project Management (APM) is a useful website full of information, industry news, and events (most of which are in the U.K. and Hong Kong). The Project Management Institute (PMI) is another helpful site with news, advice, and U.S.-based event listings. It also runs industry-recognized qualifications you can take — but more on that later. We’ve even put together our own project management guide that we highly recommend that you look over as you start to inform yourself.
You should also speak to industry experts as much as possible. Reach out to people you find on project management groups on Medium, LinkedIn, and Facebook. And don’t be shy: Most people will be happy to offer tips and advice if you ask nicely.
Step 2: Take stock of your skills
Give careful thought to the skills and certifications you’d like to work towards, as well as those you already have.
If you’re already a manager, take stock of your existing skillset, and see how you can apply it to your new responsibilities. For example, time management, public speaking, resource allocation, and scope management are all disciplines team managers typically have that can be directly applied to the PM role. Remember to back these up with concrete examples — so refer to successful projects or team initiatives you’ve run in the past.
Step 3: Informally train yourself
You should also think about where you lack experience — and how you can gain the skills you need. This may mean taking on additional work either inside or outside your immediate team, looking at training courses, or volunteering.
You can find local skillshares that focus on specific parts of project management or take classes offered through online platforms, like Udemy or Pluralsight. Alongside this, it’s a good idea to get acquainted with project management tools to get a feel for the kinds of processes project managers follow in their daily working life.
Step 4: Take formal training
An exam is a great way to prove you have what it takes. The Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) and the Project Management Professional (PMP) certifications are both offered by the Project Management Institute (PMI) and are internationally recognized.
Some people take the CAPM first, then work towards the PMI (which requires a little more prior experience). Others who have had a few years of informal project management experience might jump straight in with the PMI.
Step 5: Boost your experience
Before you take your exam, you’ll need a certain number of hours of education. You can include work experience, university education, and time spent with training companies — just make sure you record everything, including dates and times, organization names, and subject matter. It’s also a good idea to keep the contact details of relevant people you worked with, just in case you need someone to confirm you put the time in.
Step 6: Ace your exam
Swot as much as you can before the exam. If you’re taking either the CAPM or PMP, you’ll need to read the entire Project Management Body of Knowledge Guide (PMBOK) from start to finish. And if you’re taking a different qualification, this is still a handy resource to have.
Once you’ve passed, you can flaunt your new qualification to your resume, LinkedIn profile, and in interviews to show employers you’re serious about the role and have the necessary skills and experience. And if you’re already in employment as a project manager, you can use this in review discussions or if you’re angling for a pay rise or promotion.
Step 7: Maintain your certification
Most certifications require maintenance, so you’ll have to either retake exams periodically or complete certain developmental tasks (like online courses or volunteering your services) to keep your qualification.
This may sound like a pain, but think of it this way: You’re continually showing employers you’re staying on top of the latest trends and practices, and you’re making sure you’re as qualified as you can be. Not only does this make you look good — it also banishes imposter syndrome and keeps you feeling confident.
Step 8: Implement what you’ve learned
Back at work, you’ll want to implement your new skills. You can do this by introducing formal project management processes and investing in the right project management software to help make the daily running of your projects easier and more collaborative.
Remember that each project and role will differ depending on the business and team culture. A creative company will probably have a more relaxed attitude to projects than a healthcare or logistics company. It’s also important to remain flexible and bear in mind that requirements change — as does the technology.
Continue training throughout your career, learn new terminology, and utilize the latest applications designed to encourage communication between the team. That way, you’ll not only be effective at your job — you’ll prove you’re a project manager people can rely on and want to work with.
Project manager isn’t a job for the faint of heart, but with the proper training, you’ll be well on your way to mastering the requisite skills and securing a job. You’ll be sure to use a project management software while on the job, so starting to practice with Backlog could put you ahead of the competition. Along with these 8 easy steps, you’re sure to be on the path to new career success.
Best of luck on your new professional journey!