Becoming a Project Manager – A Complete Guide for 2021

We’ve put together an extensive guide for you to serve as a beginning point and reference for your future career as a project manager. You can now start being part of this line of work right away by reading the basics of each aspect of a project manager’s career growth.

Note: We are looking to enrich our section of tools and resources of this article, should you have any useful tool or other resources that project managers could benefit from, do get in touch with us.

Here are the things that you should consider before starting a project management career:

  • What does being a project manager actually mean? – the basic personality traits of a good project manager
  • A project manager’s skills – find out if you have the skills needed to be a part of the project management field
  • What does a project manager actually do? – an analysis of the most common project management responsibilities on the current job market
  • What’s the secret of a project management career? – tips on becoming better in the project management profession
  • How to become a project manager– education and the most important PM certificates you can get out there
  • Project manager salary – know how much to ask for according to your experience level
  • Project manager career problems – find out how project management experts dealt with problems when they were beginners and prepare to successfully face any issues you might encounter
  • Ways of managing projects and product development – Agile, Waterfall, PRINCE2, PRiSM, Six Sigma, Critical Path, and many more
  • Tools and resources – collaboration tools, video chat systems, project management software, and all the apps that project managers need to start a project

What does being a project manager actually mean?

Are you always the leader of your group who likes to keep everything and everyone organized and with a goal in mind?

If your answer is yes, you could be on your way to a career in project management.

According to Alexander Lubka, project management is one of the most complex fields of work out there. Be prepared for a true adventure you’ll never get bored of. There is no space for dullness in this profession. A project manager (PM) is responsible for leading an entire project through initiation, planning, execution, control, and completion.

Project managers always work in a team. They are most often sociable and great team players. As a PM, you will need to adapt to different people, cultures, environments, and situations. Being flexible is key to team communication since you’ll be the builder and controller of the team.

To be a great PM, you have to be a team leader, co-worker, and supervisor at the same time. This is one of the most challenging careers as no day will be the same and you will need all of your project management skills to solve every problem. Also, you’ll be the first person your team goes to when a problem occurs. They might expect you to hold the answers to any inquiry. But, this is what makes the project management career path interesting.

You’ll deal with both formal and informal interactions. If you believe that you’re a person that knows people well from the second you meet them, this might be the right career path for you. Essentially, project managers are similar to psychologists. They know exactly what problems, desires, and expectations employees and clients have. However, despite being a people person, a PM won’t get emotionally involved in their projects.

Some of your duties in your career as a project manager will include: taking part in the creation process, executing the project, preparing communication methods, finding solutions to recurring issues, monitoring the project’s progress from start to finish, ensure your team is actually getting things done, and many more. To put it briefly, you’ll be responsible for connecting each project to the business world and to its clients.

You must be aware that the entire responsibility of the project’s success will fall on your shoulders. You will be held accountable for any mistakes that your team makes or for any client complaints. In this position, you’ll focus both on the accuracy of your work and that of your team.

This profession is always changing and facing new demands. If you’re the kind of person who prefers diversity, this is the type of career you’ll never get bored of. You can always switch the project you’re working on, the team you interact with, the industry you’re involved in, and even the processes and tools to ease your work. No project is the same. Yet, your expertise in this field will prove helpful whenever you’ll come across similar situations and issues in the future. Similarly, your past experience will be essential to solving problems quickly.

If you’re looking for an efficient way to manage your project or your employee work, check out this list of task management software.

A project manager’s skills

Knowledge of project management is sometimes just not enough for you to become a great PM. As discussed above, you need soft skills as well. Being a good communicator and an open leader is not enough. Tackling daily project management challenges also requires accountability, adaptability, analytical and strategic thinking, decisiveness, a stress-resistant personality, and even a bit of love for risk-taking. Being a multitasker with great written and oral communication skills can place you among the top project managers in your sector.

When it comes to hard skills, you should be aware that there is no specific project management skill. In fact, depending on the project, you’ll have to know a bit of everything. General business knowledge is highly desired. Don’t worry though, you don’t need to be an expert in technical skills such as coding. However, being able to give accurate and detailed tasks to your developers is important. Leading a project is all about making sure that your team members lack no information that’s crucial to successfully finish a task and delivering the final project. 

Another important skill is understanding resource allocation, being able to determine the proper timing of the resources needed within the project schedule. Regardless if you run a small business or a large one, choosing the best online resource management software can ease your work a lot.

You should have an adequate level of knowledge to spot an issue and suggest possible solutions. At the same time, you should know that many project managers have had previous other jobs such as software developers, marketing managers, accountants, designers, and so on. This means that they hold the required solid knowledge for projects related to their previous fields of interest.

If you’re one of these people, you might be one step ahead of the others; but you must keep in mind that you’ll also need to develop your own knowledge of project management processes, frameworks, and people management. You might be used to working individually, but project management is all about teamwork. Don’t panic if you end up realizing that working in a project manager position is not a right fit for you. This profession creates many new opportunities and pathways for other future careers.

Take a look at the skills of the most successful project managers and find out if you have what it takes to become like them and what you have to improve:

  • solid understanding of business cases and risk management processes
  • expert knowledge to meet specific circumstances
  • proven project management and self-management skills
  • strong leadership skills
  • ability to monitor and control budgets
  • critical thinking
  • good communication and negotiation skills
  • capability to make decisions under pressure
  • strong interpersonal skills necessary to lead a team
  • ability to define situations, document data, and draw conclusions
  • strong business acumen
  • ability to interpret instructions regardless of their form
  • strong organizational and multitasking skills
  • creative mindset
  • analytical skills
  • accuracy and attention to detail
  • excellent time management skill
  • capacity to maintain schedules and meet deadlines
  • problem-solving skills
  • self-motivation
  • accountability
  • work ethic
  • working knowledge of project management tools

If you’d like to see what other skills you’ll need for your next project manager job, check out our complete analysis of 200+ project management job descriptions.

What does a project manager actually do?

Depending on the industry you work in, your duties might differ.

We have analyzed over 200 LinkedIn worldwide job postings and compiled this list of the most common project manager responsibilities:

  • direct all project management phases
  • set and manage project expectations with external and internal stakeholders
  • coordinate and track various projects through an entire project lifecycle
  • develop a detailed project management plan to track project progress
  • mentor, motivate and supervise project team members
  • develop professional business relationships
  • define the overall scope of the project
  • prioritize the tasks of the project
  • create and continuously update the project documentation
  • create accurate forecasts for revenue and resource requirements
  • partner with all departments to ensure work is done according to demands
  • establish effective communication
  • ensure team members have all the necessary information
  • track work times and maintain accurate daily timesheets
  • ensure project tasks are executed and reviewed within the predefined scope
  • align various teams to maintain the quality of deliverables
  • report and escalate issues to management when necessary
  • conduct project status meetings, daily stand-ups, and retrospective meetings
  • continuously follow up on the progress, risks, and opportunities of the project
  • focus on customer satisfaction
  • manage projects through KPIs
  • manage budgets and billings
  • act as the main customer contact for project activities
  • make recommendations for project improvements
  • conduct workshops and trainings
  • obtain customer input
  • measure project performance using appropriate systems, tools, and techniques
  • evaluate team performance

What’s the secret of a project management career path?

There is no definite secret. Project managers are good at their job for various reasons. Thinking that you hold the secrets of this job can make you believe that you’re prepared for any situation. Nevertheless, there are many problems that could occur anytime, making it impossible for you to know how to solve them without too much struggle. For this reason, it’s better to focus on being a great professional rather than on hunting down the secrets of success. Doing what the best PMs are doing won’t guarantee that you’ll become successful like them. Being passionate and open to change whenever something is not working right though is more important. The project management world is one of the most dynamic business environments. You should be able to adapt to its changing nature and become comfortable in it.

Another tip that project managers might hesitate to share has to do with the use of project management tools. These apps can automate their tasks and help them manage projects with ease. Finding the best tools often takes a lot of time and testing. Also, the apps and techniques you’ll use can depend on your style of work.

More experienced project managers might even be able to tell you some secrets that you’ll find nowhere else. The true secrets of this profession come only with experience. Making mistakes and learning from them is a valid statement even in project management.

Meanwhile, some of the things that you can test are: making sure that you understand the client’s requirements, picking the right team members, being able to create tasks in detail, making sure you have the best tools and systems for finishing the project, focusing on the real issues, setting reasonable requirements, always taking failure into consideration, and creating backup plans.

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