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What Does a Project Manager Do? And Why You Might Be a Good One

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Project managers make things happen. From building a bridge to building an app, project managers are the people who help ideas become a reality.

Despite the large role project managers play, they are often the unsung heroes of any particular project, program or product. They work behind the scenes — and many people don't realize what exactly it is project managers do.

What is the Main Role of a Project Manager?

Project managers (sometimes called PMs) are the people who coordinate and oversee the entire process of a project, from start to finish. They make sure that the project is completed on time and that the final deliverables meet all of the necessary requirements, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Often, project managers are the people leading progress meetings, and they act as the main point of communication between clients, vendors and teammates.

Dr. Zuzana Buzzell with the text "Dr. Zuzana Buzzell"Dr. Zuzana Buzzell, an associate dean of business programs for Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), said you may be surprised at some of the tasks included in project management.

"One responsibility that (may fall) onto the project managers that many stakeholders or people don’t realize is tracking the money spent and making sure that the project stays on budget," she said. "Every project has a specific budget, and project managers make sure their team keeps to the budget."

Projects have many moving parts and, often, many people working on them. Without a project manager, it would be hard to keep track of deadlines, manage resources and deliver a product. Project managers play a crucial role in bringing team members together so that their collective efforts result in the agreed-upon deliverables.

Are All Project Manager Jobs the Same?

Not all project management jobs are exactly alike, and there are also a few titles that you may see used to describe these jobs.

Some common job descriptions may be looking for a:

  • Foreman (specifically for jobs in construction)
  • Operations manager
  • Process improvement manager
  • Program manager
  • Project coordinator/engineer
  • Scrum Master (specifically for projects and teams that use the Agile methodology of project management)

The differences in project management titles can be a result of the industry, the kind of project being done or a more specific skill set needed by the project manager. When looking for a job in project management, it can be good to expand your search for postings other than just "project manager."

What Are the Qualities of a Good Project Manager?

If you know or have worked with a good project manager, you may think of someone who is well-organized. While this is one of the key skills for a project manager, it isn't the only one.

According to the Project Management Institute (PMI)®, an effective project manager is someone who can:

  • Communicate: Being a project manager means talking to all of the people who work on your specific project. This includes your team members, as well as clients, stakeholders and contractors.
  • Delegate: If you've ever worked on a group project, you know you can't do everything yourself. As a project manager, it's important to know how to break a big project into smaller tasks — and then assign those tasks to other people.
  • Negotiate: Successful project managers know when to say yes and when to say no. Sometimes a project getting done means making compromises that work for both your team and the client.
  • Motivate: A project can be short or long, and maintaining momentum on your team throughout its duration can keep everyone doing their best work.

"Project managers need to foster discussion and minimize miscommunication that could get in the way of a project's success," Buzzell said. "Project managers always work with a team where members have unique work experiences, expectations and communication styles. Communication is essential in delivering a good product."

While it might seem as though the best project managers naturally possess the attributes and know-how that define their success, these skills can be developed over time. You can build this prowess in your current job, in group projects at work or in school and in your personal life. Something as common as making sure the chores get done with your family members or roommates allow you to flex and grow project management skills.

How Much Should I Know About the Industry I Will Work in as a Project Manager?

Clare Greenlaw with the text Clare GreenlawClare Greenlaw, an associate dean of MBA programs at SNHU, said a project manager "must develop a strong proficiency within, and knowledge of, the industry and firms they are serving."

If you're a project manager for a company that builds airplanes, for example (but you don't know a ton about aviation), you may want to learn about how this specific field works or some of the terminology your teammates will be using. With this knowledge, you can better understand the unique challenges, requirements and opportunities managing a project in this industry might have.

"Exceptional project managers seek out additional skills and abilities important to their role," said Greenlaw. "Learning these frameworks and specialized skills will help you with project conceptualization, pathway building, and agile progress measurement and management."

There are many ways you can build these skills, from MBA classes, to certification programs to on-the-job experience. A good project manager is a lifelong learner, and there are many opportunities you can take to continuously learn about your industry, trends and advancements in your field.

What Qualifications Do I Need to Become a Project Manager?

While there is no one set of qualifications required to work in project management, there are several that can make you a stronger applicant. Many employers prefer candidates with a bachelor's degree in a relevant field such as business, engineering, finance or computer science, according to the BLS — depending on what kind of project manager you want to be. A combination of relevant experiences and industry certifications can also be helpful, BLS said.

Obtaining certifications such as the Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification or a master's degree with a focus in project management can demonstrate your knowledge and expertise. Some schools, including SNHU, offer graduate certificates in project management designed to prepare you for the PMP® exam — and they're taught by instructors who have completed the training needed to deliver instruction that meets the standards of the Project Management Institute®.

"A targeted PMI micro-credential or full certification is a great way to signal to employers that you are a competent PM candidate," said Greenlaw. "It demonstrates a candidate’s commitment to understanding project management theory and competency with the latest management tools and techniques."

Do Project Managers Make Good Money?

According to the BLS, the median salary for a project management specialist in 2021 was $94,500.*

Multiple factors can impact your salary as a project manager, such as your:

  • Geographic location: Where you live can impact the salary you receive as a project manager. This can be based on factors like local taxes or cost of living.
  • Industry: Project managers are present in many sectors and companies. As a result, your salary as a project manager can depend on where you work.
  • Level of experience: When you have more experience as a project manager, you will have a broader knowledge base to pull from. A history of working on a range of projects can make you a more competitive applicant and impact your salary.

You can also set yourself apart as a project manager with certifications and association memberships.

"Professional associations like the Project Management Institute (PMI)® provide highly regarded training, credentials and community," said Greenlaw. "Those looking to become PMs can join this organization as SNHU students, allowing them to gain their PM knowledge and establish themselves within a national network of like-minded professionals."

Is There a High Demand for Project Managers?

According to the BLS, the outlook for project management specialists is good, with an expected 7% growth in the field between 2021 and 2031.*

Some fields will see a higher need for project managers than others. One of the places the BLS predicts project managers will be most needed in the upcoming years is software development and computer systems design services.*

"Project managers are in demand in all industries," said Buzzell. "Because of the versatility of the role, a project manager could be hired in the healthcare, IT or finance industry and still deliver the same quality product."

Is it Stressful to Be a Project Manager?

Every job comes with its own set of requirements, challenges and stressors. Being a project manager is no different.

Some potential stressors that project managers face are deadlines or unexpected changes. Staying calm under pressure and being prepared for the unexpected are just some ways a project manager can handle on-the-job stress.

"Project managers should always have another Plan B in mind," Buzzell said. "Each step of a project can encounter unexpected changes. Project managers should be able to pivot and come up with Plan B if the original plan fails or if there are too many obstacles."

How Do I Become an Entry-Level Project Manager?

There are many paths you can take if you're thinking of becoming a project manager.

You might begin with a bachelor's degree in business with the goal of being a project manager. Or maybe you've been working in a company for a while and think project management might be something they want to learn more about. You might even choose to study project management and get your MBA online.

"SNHU's MBA programs and project management degrees teach skills that are in demand, and students can use them as they progress throughout their degree and after graduation," said Buzzell. "Students can also take an internship as one of their major courses and complete their degree with real-life work experience that is part of their educational journey."

The path you choose might depend on where in your professional or educational journey you might be. While there's no one correct way to become a project manager, an MBA or PMP® certification can give you a foundational knowledge of project management concepts and methodologies while making you a more competitive candidate in the field.

Discover more about SNHU’s online project management degree: Find out what courses you'll take, skills you’ll learn and how to request information about the program.

*Cited job growth projections may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions and do not guarantee actual job growth. Actual salaries and/or earning potential may be the result of a combination of factors including, but not limited to: years of experience, industry of employment, geographic location, and worker skill.

Meg Palmer '18 is a Southern New Hampshire University graduate and a writer, who also teaches English at the university level.

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About Southern New Hampshire University

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SNHU is a nonprofit, accredited university with a mission to make high-quality education more accessible and affordable for everyone.

Founded in 1932, and online since 1995, we’ve helped countless students reach their goals with flexible, career-focused programs. Our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH is home to over 3,000 students, and we serve over 135,000 students online. Visit our about SNHU page to learn more about our mission, accreditations, leadership team, national recognitions and awards.