How to Become a Project Manager
Project management covers five areas: initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing. If those topics sound familiar, you’ve probably been reading a lot of productivity blogs . These are very much the types of things that we focus on when we try to improve our own productivity.
Project management, in fact, is very much about productivity. Project managers help ensure that project teams are as productive as possible. They organize, delegate, refine, communicate, and track — all things that productivity enthusiasts tend to do.
So if you’re big into productivity, might project management be a good fit for you? And if it is, how do you go about becoming a project manager? Let’s take a look.
What Makes a Good Project Manager
Like any other position, people have different ideas about what makes a good project manager. But when you start reading up on project management skills , you’ll start to see a few commonalities:
- Time management
Most of these skills are things that we’ve discussed in the context of personal productivity. Taking these skills that you’ve developed on a personal level and applying them on an organizational level is, in a simplified way, the essence of project management.
Does that mean all productivity enthusiasts would make good project managers? Of course not. But it’ll help. If you’re already used to thinking in this way, scaling up that thinking to a higher level will be easier.
Still interested? Let’s take a look at some of the steps you’ll need to take to start a career in project management.
Familiarize Yourself With the Field
Before you commit to pursuing project management as a career, you need to know exactly what project management is. Finding a satisfactory definition is surprisingly difficult. An article by Villanova University says that project managers “oversee all aspects of a project, ensuring that it is done well, on time and within budget.”
In short, they manage teams that are working toward specific goals and provide those teams with the guidance and resources needed to successfully meet those goals. To really understand whether project management is the right field for you, however, requires more information.
It’s a complicated field, so your best bet is to reference some resources that will show you what project management is all about. Here are some to get you started:
- Introduction to Project Management
- 5 Basics Phases of Project Management
- Project Management Basics: 6 Steps to a Foolproof Project Plan
Of course, the best way to really get acquainted with project management is to talk to a project manager. If you don’t know any, check out /r/ProjectManagement — a quick search will probably get you the answers to your questions!
You can also check out project management blogs, like The Project Management Hut and the Wrike blog, to see what sorts of issues project managers deal with on a daily basis.
Choose a Certification
To become a project management professional (PMP), you’ll need a certification. There are a number of certifications out there, and you’ll need to do a bit of research to determine which is best for your particular career. The Project Management Institute, a single certifying body, offers eight different certifications. Be prepared to do a lot of reading.
Here are a few examples, as well as a bit of advice on when you might choose that particular certification:
- Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) — If you have no project management experience, you can get this certification with 23 hours of PM education.
- CompTIA Project+ — Another certification for aspiring project managers with little or no field experience in managing projects.
- Certified Scrum Master (CSM) — If you’re interested in managing projects within the agile framework, this is a great choice.
- PRINCE2 Foundation — Although the PRINCE2 certifications are more popular in Europe, this certification is offered and valued around the world.
If you already have experience in project management, PMI’s Project Management Professional (PMP) certification is a great choice. While many certifications are recognized and valued, the PMP is often considered the gold standard.
Begin Your Studies
As you’ll see when you start exploring certifications, many of them require that you accrue a certain number of hours of project management training before you can take the exam. Once you’ve decided on a certification, you can start looking into how to get those hours.
There are lots of ways you can get this experience. The Project Management Institute offers surprisingly affordable online courses that range from basic to advanced. So do other certifying bodies. You can even find courses on online learning sites like Coursera that count as hours toward your certification. Here are a few places to start:
- Coursera project management courses (check if courses can be used for PDUs)
- Udemy project management courses
- CompTIA self-study training materials
- PMI online courses
And, of course, you can find local educational institutions that offer accredited training as well. PMI keeps a list of registered training providers, CompTIA can refer you to authorized trainers, and getting in touch with your local business school will also probably lead you to potential training avenues.
These courses differ, but all of them will teach you how to manage teams in the five phases of project management. There are plenty of courses that will teach you how to manage projects in specific areas, like IT or healthcare, and others that focus on specific parts of the process. But all of them will help give you the knowledge you need to pass the certification exams and become a successful project manager.
Get Some Experience
While most lower-level certifications can be earned with only training hours, most others require experience. And many of them require what seems like a lot of experience. So how can you start accruing project management experience before you’re certified? Or even shortly after?
There are a few ways you can go.
First, it’s important to realize that you probably already have a decent amount of project management experience if you’ve been in the working world for a while. Projects, by their definition, have a defined start and end date, and if you’ve been working on projects — and can describe them in the proper project management terminology — you can almost certainly apply some of that experience.
You can also take on some light project management work at your current job. You may not have the title of Project Manager, but if you volunteer to lead a project team, that can be valuable experience for your résumé as well as for your certifications.
If you’re not in a position to modify your current role to include those responsibilities, you can always consider changing jobs. (Easier said than done, I know.) Smaller companies might be willing to bring you on in a project management role without a certification or much experience if you can make a compelling case that you’d be good at the job.
Even if you’re not able to get project management experience, simply working on a project team can be enough experience for some certifications. This is especially true if you’re involved in the various different phases of the project.
Take the Certification Exam
Once you’ve met the prerequisites for your chosen exam, it’s time to spend some time studying. There are plenty of books and exam-specific materials out there. Find the exam prep items that are relevant to your exam, and spend some time studying. You’ll need to know your stuff and be able to apply it in practical situations to get your PM certification.
Just go to the website of the certifying body to find out how to take the test. If you’ve prepared well, you should be able to pass without much trouble.
Once you have, congratulations! You’re a certified project manager, and — if you want — you can start looking for a full-time position in project management.
Continue Your Education
To keep your certification, you’ll usually need to get some continuing education credits. Again, what meets those requirements will depend on your specific certification. Consult the website of your certifying body to get the information on continuing education.
Some courses will also list their value in continuing education units (CEUs). PMI’s courses are a good example. Many certifications have three- or five-year continuing education requirements, so be sure to check what they are before you decide on a specific program.
Become a Project Manager
Once you’ve gotten certified and have a handle on your continuing education requirements, you’re ready to begin your life as a professional project manager! No one’s route to the role will be exactly the same, but the information above should give you a good idea of what you’ll need to do to get certified.
Getting yourself through the process will require a great deal of the productivity skills that you’ll need to be a successful project manager: self-discipline , organization, planning, and hard work. But in the end, you’ll have a career that you not only enjoy, but also plays to your strengths.
Do you have a project management certification? How did you decide to pursue project management as a career? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
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