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The Project Management Career Path

Are you considering becoming a Project Manager or have you already started on this career path and are wondering what’s next? As a long-term trend, the demand for project management skills of every level continues to grow across a range of industries, and professionals are building both lucrative and rewarding careers.

In this in-depth guide, we will take you through everything from the must have project management skills to the career path of the Project Manager and where you need to start. 

 


 

Topics you'll find in this article:

What skills do I need to become a Project Manager? 
What project management qualifications should I undertake? 
What are the top industries Project Managers work in?
Becoming a Project Manager - the starting line
The Project Coordinator
The Project Manager
The Project Director
Resources for pursuing a career in project management


 



What skills do I need to become a Project Manager?

When it comes to building your project management skills, you will need a combination of hard skills, such as planning and risk management to ensure the project goes to plan and soft skills, including communication and the ability to motivate, as team members and stakeholders will look to you for guidance.
 
As a Project Manager you will need to:

  • Strategise before and during a project to ensure you have an adaptable plan in the case that unforeseen issues arise, and all elements of the project have been addressed.
  • Lead both your team members, such as those who report to you, as well as stakeholders on the project and communicate well to senior members of your team about the project’s status and what needs to be done next.
  • Manage risk and be adept at budgeting, scheduling, and planning to ensure the project stays on track and that it is finished on time and there are no project overruns.
  • Have expert knowledge of the industry you work in, as well as project management tools, techniques, and methodologies.

As you progress through your career, it’s wise to consider ways you can continue to upskill, so that you will have the skills required to be a future Project Manager.
 


As outlined in The Future of Project Management: Global Outlook 2019 report: “The future Project Manager will be increasingly strategic and connected. This requires individuals to develop their skills in areas outside traditional project management practices, such as change management. Additionally they will need to be a very effective communicator who understands the dynamic link between the business strategy and the projects they are responsible for delivering."

 

The report also highlighted the importance of project leaders having the ability to adapt and leverage “powerful benefits” of data analytics, advanced collaboration tools and artificial intelligence.



What project management qualifications should I undertake?

Before you start on the career path of the Project Manager, you will need to complete some formal education. Many universities offer undergraduate bachelor degrees specific to project management, or if you already have some level of understanding of project management principles through work experience or previous study, shorter term certificate and diploma courses are also available.

Visit our Education section to browse AIPM’s endorsed courses.  


 



Click here to download our free project management career guide that's packed with our best tips for pursuing a career in project management
 




What are the top industries Project Managers work in?

As you start to build up a career in the project management profession, consider what type of industry you would like to work in, as becoming a specialist in your field can help you move on up to more senior positions.  

 
Construction and Infrastructure

When you consider the role of Project Manager, what might come to mind is the Construction and Infrastructure industries. And you would be right in thinking so, as according to our Future of Project Management report mentioned above, the bulk of projects delivered in 2019 still showed a strong focus on Construction and Infrastructure at 53%.
 
As a Project Manager in the Construction and Infrastructure industries you will work with everyone from the Architects and Engineers, through to the subcontractors to get the project across the line. If you decide this is the industry you would like to work in, you will need to ensure you have a high level of planning and risk management skills, and ensure you have an in-depth knowledge of building legislation and legal requirements.
 

Information Technology

While Construction and Infrastructure might be the traditional industries where Project Managers are found, many professionals are carving out lucrative careers in emerging industries, such as the IT industry. In fact according to our report 50% of projects delivered in 2019 were in the Technology and Information Systems space.
 
Working in the IT space could see you delivering projects directly for the organisation you work for, such as software development and network upgrades, or have you working with a range of clients, implementing new technologies to a business and creating IT strategies. Depending on the employer you may be required to have studied IT or an equivalent course, on top of any project management courses you have completed.


Business Improvement and Transformation

If you’re looking for a career path outside of the Construction, Infrastructure and Information Technology industries, you could try your hand at Business Improvement and Transformation, as our research also showed high levels of projects completed in this area at 45%.
 
The benefit of becoming a Business Improvement specialist is that you will be able to transfer these skills across a range of industries, from Health, Finance, to Entertainment and Hospitality. After all, whether it’s delivering a mobile app or opening a restaurant, a highly skilled Project Manager is needed to manage the project to ensure that it is delivered successfully.

 

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Source: AIPM 2019 Annual Report



Becoming a Project Manager - the starting line

Now that we have run you through the top skills of the Project Manager and the different industries that are driving the demand for project management professionals, you might be wondering how exactly you can start off on the career path. The good news is that you can dive into a project management career at any experience level.

You can begin by completing a project management course at university and look for Project Coordinator or Administrator roles.

Alternatively if you already manage projects in your current role (but without the title of Project Manager) you could look at landing yourself a Project Manager or even Project Director role, depending on your experience. Whether you are at the beginning of your career or are an accidental Project Manager, it’s worthwhile understanding what the most common career stages are if you’re considering becoming a Project Manager.

Remember, “starting out” for you might not be at the beginning Administrator or Coordinator level but at the Manager or even Director level. 

 


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The Project Coordinator

The entry level point to becoming a Project Manager for many is the Project Coordinator or Administrator - an important support person to others in the project team.
 

What is a Project Coordinator?

Usually Project Coordinators report to the Project Manager to assist with administrative tasks on projects. It is their role to ensure the Project Manager and all team members have what they need to meet deadlines and milestones.

This means that Project Coordinators must be across all aspects of a project from short and long-term goals to the project calendar and budget.

 

What does a Project Coordinator do?

The focus for a Project Coordinator is on making sure the day-to-day activity and tasks are taken care of, so the Project Manager can focus on high-level strategic issues and work to solve any problems that arise as the project progresses.


Project Coordinator tasks:

As the Project Coordinator it is your responsibility to:

  • keep the project plan up to date;

  • schedule and manage meetings;

  • collect and report data on prescribed metrics; and

  • oversee budget tracking and other important project information.

Communication, organisation, time management, data-entry, attention to detail and a focus on getting things done are key attributes of the Project Coordinator.
 

How much does a Project Coordinator get paid?

The salary of a Project Coordinator largely varies by industry, however according to Payscale it can start from $49,000 and reach up to $90,000. Read our Project Manager salary guide for a greater look at the salaries available for each stage of the project management careers journey.
 

How do I become a Project Coordinator?

Now that we have run through the role of Project Coordinator, you might be wondering how exactly you land yourself the job. Consider bumping up your CV with the following before you start applying for roles:

  • Undertake relevant studies: Firstly, if you haven’t already completed some formal training it will be a big help in landing a role as a Project Coordinator or Administrator. There are many courses available in Australia, which will take you through the principles of project management, the commonly used problem-solving techniques, and help you build communication and teamwork skills.

  • Get experience through an internship program: Alternatively, you may have already completed your studies in project management, however, are finding the competitive nature of landing your first job difficult. If this is the case, make sure you take the steps to ensure that your CV stands out from the rest. By interning you will be able to receive hands on experience, which you can add to your CV. It is also a great way of expanding your network and provides an opportunity to build connections and potential employee references. Visit the AIPM Careers Directory to see what employment and internship opportunities are available today.

  • Take part in a mentorship program: Consider taking part in AIPM’s project management mentoring program, where you will be connected with a project management leader. Taking part in a mentorship program will allow you to gain valuable advice from an industry expert, help ensure your career heads in the right direction and provide opportunity to expand your network in the project management world.

  • Get certified: Also consider other ways you can show that you’re the right fit for a Project Coordinator role. If you already work as part of a team on projects, consider becoming a Certified Practising Project Practitioner (CPPP) through AIPM’s certification program. Becoming certified shows your competency as a project professional and can help you stand out from the crowd when it comes to applying for new roles.

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Project manager
The Project Manager

Once you have some Project Coordinator experience under your belt, it’s likely you will have most of the technical skills in place required to run projects and become a Project Manager.


What is a Project Manager?

While the title of Project Manager may seem self-explanatory, as you will manage a project or multiple projects from start to finish, there is much more to the role than that.

Project Managers take the lead on a project and oversee everything from the project planning through to the completion of the project. Stepping up from Project Coordinator to Project Manager will likely mean a nice jump in your salary, however will also come with much more responsibility, as the success (or failure) of a project largely falls on your shoulders.

 

What does a Project Manager do?

On a daily basis the Project Manager is in charge of overseeing the budget, reporting on the progress of the job, managing stakeholder engagement, communicating with team members and planning for the upcoming requirements of the project.

What becomes more critical as you take on the responsibilities of a Project Manager is leadership and the ability to take a more strategic view of how a project is progressing, yet also be across the key day to day details.

 

Project Manager tasks:

As the Project Manager, you will need to:

  • communicate well with team members and stakeholders;

  • oversee the budget and manage risk;

  • work well under pressure;

  • be comfortable with complexity; and

  • operate and respond accordingly in changing and dynamic environments.


How much does a Project Manager get paid?

As the pay for Project Managers can vary largely depending on the industry, Payscale statistics show that you could be earning anywhere between $65,000 to $149,000. Visit our Project Manager salary guide, which goes into the potential earning capacity for Project Managers into greater detail.
 

How can I be a great Project Manager?

You are an agent of change and therefore to really excel in the role of Project Manager you need to understand how a project fits into the strategic landscape of an organisation.

The key to a Project Manager’s success, in today’s complex work environments, is mastering not only the technical and hard skills required to deliver a project but also the soft skills needed to motivate and lead the project team members. You will also need to be able to manage your relationship with stakeholders well and advise on key developments in the project.

 

How can I get into project management?

  • Consider your education options: If you haven’t already, it’s a good idea to gain some formal education, especially if you fall into the accidental project manager category. There are many courses specific to project management that will equip you with the knowledge needed for the role of a project manager. Have a look at AIPM’s endorsed courses to get you started.

  • Certify your skills: Now is also a good time to think about certification. As you build a body of work, by gaining formal certification you will be recognised for your skills, experience and accomplishments and set yourself apart from others. On the job and industry experience can count for a lot but its formal training and certification that can set you apart. If you have a moderate understanding of project management, you could apply for the Certified Practising Project Practitioner (CPPP) or if you have a solid understanding of project management practices and are directly accountable for the management of projects, you may be eligible for the Certified Practising Project Manager (CPPM).



project director
The Project Director

As you take the next step up from Project Manager to Project Director the scope, challenge and responsibility of your new role can grow exponentially. At these levels, it’s no longer about the day to day execution of projects or perhaps even meeting deadlines, as top-notch project management skills will be expected here.
 

What is a Project Director?

A Project Director’s role is to have a broad understanding of the company’s objectives and the varying projects and programs that are running at the same time.

The key different between a Project Manager and Project Director, is as a Project Manager you will dedicate your time to one project and know the finer details of the job, whereas a Project Director will often be across multiple projects.

The Project Director’s remit can cover highly complex, business critical and/or multiple projects that are mutually exclusive or linked by achieving a high impact strategic outcome.

 

What does a Project Director do?

As a Project Director you will be a senior member of the projects team and an essential leader within the organisation, with Project Managers and project teams reporting directly to you. You will also be required to manage up, as executives and board members will look to you for direction.

While you will need to have an overview of the status of projects and be notified of any potential issues, the Project Director does not typically get involved with the day to day running of a project.

 

Project Director tasks:

Executive level ownership is often the case here, where you need to manage:

  • very large budgets (sometimes into the millions of dollars);

  • major re-allocation of resources or organisational transformation; and

  • achieve the overall strategic or transformational goals of the organisation.
     

How much does a Project Director get paid?

As a Project Director you can expect a nice jump in your pay, which according to Payscale could see you earning anywhere between $109,000 to $258,000 (depending on the industry). Read our project management salary blog for more information.
 

How can I become a Project Director?

  • Look at ways you can add to your CV: Upskilling can help advance your skills and give you the knowledge and expertise to support you as a Project Director. This may entail some post-graduate study as well as recognition as a Certified Practising Project Director (CPPD). These will get you in the door but at this level, it’s also critical to be an expert in your industry or - indeed - organisation.

  • Become a specialist in your industry: Whilst there are definitely opportunities for the generalist at these executive levels – there’s many more opportunities when you have a particular area of expertise. It’s important, then, to think early on about where your project management career might lead you. Or – if you want to make a shift in either industry or organisation - have a plan as to how you might execute that change and be aware of the gaps you might need to fill in on the way up.

 


Resources for pursuing a career in project management

Whether you’re starting out in your career or have been managing projects for some time, throughout your career you will need to be continually learning and upskilling. If you would like to know more about becoming a Project Manager or advancing your career in the profession, we have a range of resources designed to help you do just that.



A recap of our Project Management Career Path guide:

  1. To become a Project Manager you need a mix of both hard skills, such as reporting, budgeting and planning and soft skills, including leadership, the ability to motivate a team and communicate effectively.

  2. While Construction and Infrastructure continue to be the dominant industries for Project Manager roles, there are emerging industries such as Information Technology and Business Improvement and Transformation, which will allow you to build specialisation.  

  3. If you follow the traditional project management career path, you will typically start out in the role of a Project Coordinator or Administrator, move up to Project Manager and on to Project Director. However, remember your career path is not set in stone and there are many specialist areas you can go into, such as Program Manager and Project Management Office (PMO) Manager.


     

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