Project managers are dynamic business professionals who use their managerial expertise to manage individual projects. Rather than acting as a general manager or team leader who takes charge of a team on a continuous basis, project managers focus their efforts on one specific project, which is likely to have a tight deadline and a very specific budget.
If you pursue a career as a project manager, you can effectively pick and choose what industry you want to move into. Every sector needs project managers, and all kinds of organisations employ their services, from government departments and investment banks to hotel chains and construction companies.
Most project managers will work throughout the entire project lifecycle from start to finish. However, project managers are sometimes brought in halfway through to save ailing projects.
The initial stage of a project manager’s responsibilities essentially involves understanding what needs to be achieved. This part of the process is generally referred to as ‘requirements gathering’.
Here, the project manager will meet with their client and their various stakeholders in order to ascertain the overall objectives of the project. Furthermore, they will employ the services of expert business analysts, who will get to the real crux of the problem and identify the nitty-gritty aspects of what the project should achieve.
Once they’ve established the detailed project goals, the project manager will draw up extensive project plans, schedules and deadlines for each individual stage of the project.
Project managers are the driving force behind business operations, and get involved in all aspects of the project they are managing: hiring and firing members of their project team, liaising with potential suppliers and getting involved with the direct man-management side of things, too.
Furthermore, this lot constantly need to monitor the costs and progress of the project. After all, their ultimate aim is to complete the project on time and within budget.
In order to achieve this, many project managers use tried-and-tested project management methodologies, such as PRINCE2 and Six Sigma, which allow them to handle a complex range of workflows effectively.
Salary & benefits
Project management job opportunities are not usually open to entry-level candidates. Consequently, there is no starting salary as such. Typically, though, project managers can earn anywhere between £24,000 and £90,000 a year.
Many project management professionals eventually decide to become independent contractors. If you choose to take this freelance route, you will not have the same amount of job security as a permanent employee, but you will stand to earn a lot more – between £300 and £550 per day.
Project managers work across all industries and therefore working hours will vary from sector to sector. However, generally, project managers will work five days a week on a standard nine-to-five basis. Understandably though, project managers may have to put in some extra hours from time to time when project deadlines are looming.
Most of the time, project management work is office-based, although you may occasionally be required to travel to meetings to liaise with clients and suppliers.
Candidates from all academic backgrounds can become project managers. For instance, school leavers may enter the business world in a low-level administrative position, before making their way up through the ranks using their ever-growing mine of business knowledge and experience. This route may, however, take many years.
Consequently, for a quicker route into project management, it’s advisable to do a business or management-related degree, such as business studies, human resource management, management studies, accountancy, economics or engineering. A relevant postgraduate degree may even boost your career prospects further.
Certain industries may even require candidates with degrees in specialist areas. For example, if you’re working on I.T. implementation projects, it might be useful to have a degree in computer science, I.T. or software engineering.
Training & progression
Training will be an ongoing part of your career as a project manager. Mostly, you’ll be learning ‘on-the-job’. However, it’s also advisable to do training courses, which will provide you with respected industry credentials, such as PRINCE2 and Six Sigma.
Many project managers also opt to do professional degrees during their career (usually on a part-time basis), such as an MBA (Master of Business Administration). Alternatively, you can obtain specialist project management qualifications from organisations such as the Project Management Institute (PMI) and the Chartered Management Institute (CMI).
As you progress in your career, you will hopefully begin to take on bigger projects with more responsibility.
Eventually, you may move up the career ladder, becoming a portfolio manager (responsible for a handful of projects simultaneously), a programme manager (responsible for a series of high-profile projects simultaneously) and perhaps even an enterprise manager (responsible for a range of business programmes across the entire enterprise).
As mentioned above, many project managers eventually choose to become independent contractors.