Project Management Career Path | Thinkful


For many project managers, the pathway into the profession has been somewhat serendipitous. They’ve taken on the responsibility of managing projects in previous roles and have picked up the tricks of the trade as they went. These days, however, it’s becoming increasingly common for students to choose project management as a career in its own right, researching and selecting degrees and courses with the specific aim of becoming a qualified project manager.

If you have your sights set on project management,  but you’re still unsure what your path should look like, this article is designed to help you get a clearer picture of the way forward. Read on for all you need to know about the skills, certifications and  specializations that are available to aspiring project managers.

What Is Project Management?

Before we get into the finer details of a project management career path, let’s first clarify what a ‘project’ is. Basically, any task with a beginning, an end, and an identified set of deliverables can be termed a project. So project management essentially refers to the methods used to plan, oversee, and control a project. There are a lot of tasks that come under the gamut of project management. These include planning, allocating resources, scheduling, and delegating tasks. Project managers are the professionals responsible for all these tasks. They plan, organize, and coordinate projects and ensure that they’re delivered on time.  

Project Management Job Titles

As a project manager, you may work under a range of different job titles. Some of the more common roles and their responsibilities are listed below.  

Project Coordinator

This role is often seen as an entry point to becoming a project manager in the future. A project coordinator supports other members of the project team. They usually assist the project manager in administrative tasks. Key responsibilities include:

  • Ensuring daily tasks are completed on time
  • Scheduling and managing meetings
  • Supervising budget tracking  

Project Director

Team members in different departments might be assigned different tasks as part of the whole process of completing a project. A project director’s job is to oversee these team members. As a project director, you could be responsible for:

  • Creating schedules
  • Ensuring every stage of the project goes to plan
  • Supervising and coordinating teams and departments
  • Creating timelines for different phases of a project
  • Adjusting plans if the project is not proceeding according to the original plan  

Project Facilitator

A project facilitator develops a team of workers by training and guiding them. You’re also expected to ensure that any problems arising throughout the lifecycle of the project are effectively solved. The key responsibilities of a project facilitator are:

  • Analyzing the issues and conflicts in a project
  • Producing effective tools and techniques to improve the team
  • Training and supporting team members
  • Managing team meetings
  • Ensuring effective cross-team communication

Project Planner

This is also an entry-level position buy may require up to two years’ experience. Projects run at a tight schedule in companies. A project  planner updates and coordinates the schedules of these projects. They also allocate various resources and monitor team activities. The responsibilities of a project planner include: Planning and scheduling project workloads Collecting information to make status reports Checking whether the current procedures are efficient  Other project management job titles include: Assistant Project Manager Senior Project Manager Project Portfolio Manager Head of Project Chief Project Officer There are also industry-specific job titles for project managers like:

  • Construction
  • Insurance  
  • Engineering
  • Software
  • Architecture

Skills Needed to Become a Project Manager

Having the right skill set is invaluable to a good career, and project management is no exception. The right skills will set you on the path to a successful career as you build the confidence to perform your role well. This involves developing both hard as well as soft skills to ensure you have a well-rounded knowledge-base and the capacity to form good working relationships.  

Hard skills or technical skills are industry-specific skills. They tend to be non-transferable across industries. For example, the technical skills required to become an engineer can’t be readily transferred to another job, like a health professional. Hard skills define your expertise in a particular domain.

Soft skills are interpersonal skills. They’re just as important as hard skills and show how well you will function in the workplace. Since project management requires interaction with multiple teams, colleagues, clients, and other stakeholders, it’s important to have great interpersonal skills. These are skills are transferable across industries.  

Project Management Hard Skills

There are some very specific hard skills you need to master in order to excel in the project management field. Here are some areas of expertise that could significantly increase your salary potential.

Contract management: Project managers have to understand the activities needed to make sure contracts are fulfilled according to relevant laws. They must be skilled in procurement and converting the needs of a business or project  into goods and services that can be outsourced. They should have a  skilled eye for selecting the most suitable vendors. They should also  know the art of skillfully managing stakeholders in the supply chain.  

Risk management: To understand risk management, you must first know what constitutes a ‘risk’ in your project. According to the Project Management Institute, project risk is ‘an uncertain event or condition that, if it occurs, has a positive or negative effect on a project’s objectives’. Managing this risk includes multiple steps like identifying the risk, analyzing it, prioritizing it, and  then controlling it. The Risk Management Framework of the National  Institute of Standards and Technology is often used to structurally  manage risk.  

Evaluating performance: As a project manager, you need to know how to assess how well a project is progressing. Similarly, you have to be able to evaluate how well your team is performing. You can evaluate this by the quality of work that the team is doing and by seeing whether members are being productive and efficiently doing their work.  

Scheduling and budget allocation: The utilization of funds and expenditure is indicated by the budget. The schedule shows the order of the activities or tasks in a project. A project manager should be skilled in both these activities.  

Project planning: The execution and control of a project is done based on a formal, approved document called a project plan. The functions of a project plan include documenting decisions, enabling communication amongst stakeholders, and scheduling baselines. To be good at your job as a project manager, you have to be efficient at project planning.  

Project Management Soft Skills  

Success isn’t all about knowing how to work the numbers. Here are some of the soft skills that are sometimes overlooked, but could actually make or break your project management career.

Communication: Since the job of a project manager involves communicating with clients, teams, and other stakeholders, it’s essential to have strong verbal and written communication skills.

Problem-solving: As various problems can arise during the lifecycle of a project, a skilled project manager needs to know how to tackle them at each step.  

Leadership: The main goal of a project manager is to lead all teams involved in a project successfully towards the end goal. Without strong leadership skills, this goal might be compromised.  

Organization: It’s important to deliver a project on time. Considering that multiple departments and teams are involved in a project, you have to have exceptional organizational skills to manage the task, steps, people, and goals effectively.  

Time management: Like most soft skills, this skill is useful in every industry. Because project managers often work under high pressure and have to deliver projects on time, managing time is a must-have soft skill.  Other soft skills that are valuable for project managers include:
Negotiation Conflict management Trust-building Decision-making Influencing  

Project Management Certifications

Certifications are a great way to learn, upskill, and make your resume more appealing to any employer. If you want to land a job as a project manager, various reputable certifications can help you. Whether you’re just starting out, or you’re a professional with a couple years of experience under your belt, there’s a useful certification for  you. Some popular PM certifications include:
PMI Agile Certified Practitioner  CompTIA Project+ certification PRINCE2 Foundation/PRINCE2 Practitioner CPMP: Certified Project Management Practitioner APM: Associate in Project Management MPM: Master Project Manager PPM: Professional in Project Management CPD: Certified Project Director CPM: Certified Project Manager (IAPM)  

How to Begin a Career in Project Management  

Hopefully this article has provided you with some clarity as you embark on your career in project management. If you’re feeling inspired to take that first step toward a new career, check out our Technical Project Management Bootcamp. If you’re interested in a project management role in the fast-growing tech sector, this could be the ideal path for you.  

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