If you love organising schemes, resources and people, a career as a project manager may suit you

As a project manager it is your responsibility to deliver projects on time and in budget, by planning and organising resources and people.

You'll need to track work to be completed, set deadlines and delegate tasks to the project team, identifying any potential risks.

Ultimately, you are responsible for completing the project work in line with the plan and will often report progress to senior managers.

Types of work

Project managers work in a variety of sectors, such as:

  • construction;
  • engineering;
  • IT;
  • marketing.

Positions can be advertised under a variety of titles, including:

  • assistant project manager;
  • business change manager;
  • junior/senior project manager;
  • project coordinator;
  • project officer.

While job titles may vary, you will use the same skills to deliver projects in the workplace.

Responsibilities

Project managers are accountable for delivering outcomes, so you'll have high levels of responsibility to ensure that you and your team are on track. Regardless of the content of the project and the sector you are working in, all projects follow a standard process, as defined by the Project Management Institute (PMI) UK. These are:

  • initiating - checking feasibility and working out budgets, teams and resources;
  • planning - setting goals, defining roles and producing schedules of tasks. Some tools, such as Gantt Charts, can be used to create a visual project plan;
  • executing - managing the project;
  • monitoring and controlling - tracking the project's progress;
  • closing - evaluating successes and challenges to enhance learning for your next project.

As a project manager, you'll need to:

  • set objectives in line with your organisation or client needs, which may include scope, content, timings and budget;
  • plan work and set deadlines to meet the agreed needs;
  • select, lead and motivate your project team from both internal and external stakeholder organisations;
  • monitor the work to make sure it is on time and within budget;
  • co-ordinate the work of your project team and delegate tasks where appropriate;
  • identify and manage risks to ensure delivery is on time;
  • implement any changes throughout the process;
  • report regularly to management and the client.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for project managers are between £20,000 and £35,000, depending on the sector. For example, marketing pays less than IT.
  • Experienced project managers can earn between £40,000 and £80,000, depending on the sector.
  • Freelance project managers will negotiate a daily rate for the duration of their contract, with average rates between £300 and £500 a day.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

You can expect to work normal business hours Monday to Friday, but this will vary for each sector. You may be expected to work additional hours to meet deadlines and paid overtime is unlikely.

Working hours will vary if you are working freelance, and short-term contracts for the duration of specific projects are available.

What to expect

  • You'll lead a project team to meet tight deadlines, which means you may be working under pressure.
  • A professional dress code and working environment will be the norm, however this may vary for different sectors.
  • Most of the time you'll be office based but you should expect to travel to visit clients and attend project team meetings.
  • Project management is a growth area with increasing opportunities.

Qualifications

You can get into project management with a degree in any subject. However, studying towards a foundation degree, HND or degree in business or project management will provide practical knowledge about the commercial aspects of projects.

Postgraduate study in project management will increase your understanding but is not a pre-requisite to employment. Search for postgraduate courses in project management.

Degrees accredited by the Association for Project Management (APM) are listed on their website.

As a new graduate you are unlikely to go straight into project management. Some graduate schemes may start you off in a junior or assistant project manager position, with the opportunity to progress to management as you develop experience.

In some sectors, such as IT and engineering, your subject knowledge will be more important than a business or project management degree. You can move into project management from technical roles after gaining experience in a project team or in a supporting administrative role.

Skills

To be a project manager, you'll need:

  • excellent organisation skills to plan the use of people and resources to meet deadlines;
  • strong interpersonal skills to motivate and lead your project team;
  • the ability to monitor and control budgets;
  • good communication and negotiation skills to manage expectations;
  • the ability to use your initiative and make decisions under pressure.

Technical knowledge related to the project may also be required.

Work experience

Work experience in managing resources, costs and people will help you to get into project management - look for opportunities in supporting roles, such as administrator, coordinator and scheduling positions.

If you are successful in supporting project roles, there may be opportunity to formalise your experience and undertake professional qualifications to progress into management.

Extra-curricular clubs and societies, including the international organisation Enactus, can help to develop your project skills. Technical work placements will develop your sector knowledge and skills, increasing your credibility as a project manager.

You can join a professional body, such as the APM or the PMI, as a student member. This may provide opportunities to network with other professionals, keep your skills up to date through training, events, news and publications, as well as pointing you towards job opportunities.

Employers

As a project manager, you can work in a variety of sectors in both public and private sector organisations, such as:

  • architecture;
  • construction;
  • engineering;
  • IT;
  • manufacturing;
  • retail.

Larger organisations employ project managers, whereas smaller companies are more likely to hire freelance project managers. Some specialist project management consultancy firms have graduate entry schemes. Professional services outsourcing firms also provide project managers for short-term contracts.

You are most likely to progress into project management through support or technical roles on project teams, so developing your professional network will help you to keep up to date with any job openings.

When you can demonstrate success, you can send speculative applications highlighting your relevant project and sector-specific experience.

Most project work is in addition to the core day-to-day activities of the business, for example implementing a new internal system. This means that you may be able to work as a freelance project manager on a short-term contract. If you develop a niche area of expertise you may be approached with opportunities.

Look for job vacancies at:

Professional development

Taking professional qualifications before entering a project management role is not essential, as employers provide training for new recruits.

You are likely to develop your skills on the job through formal, accredited-training courses. As a project manager, you may be expected to apply standard methods and techniques such as:

  • PRINCE2, which is the commonly used accredited approach for end-to-end project management, and is available at two levels: Foundation, for project support staff, and Practitioner, for project managers;
  • Agile Project Management, which works well in fast-moving environments, such as IT.

You can also gain professional qualifications through these organisations:

Sector specific organisations, such as The Chartered Institute for IT (BCS), also offer professional qualifications.

Your employer may provide software training on packages such as Microsoft Project or Open Workbench to help you monitor your projects.

Career prospects

You will develop transferable skills, which will help you progress either in project management or general management.

To help your career prospects, you may want to look into joining professional bodies and undertake further qualifications to make sure your skills are up to date.

With greater experience in project management, you could progress to programme manager, where you would be responsible for a team of project managers. Programme managers report directly to senior management and work at a strategic level.

The next level up consists of project management office (PMO) manager, where you would focus on ensuring a consistent approach across all project work within the organisation. This role requires strong project management skills.

Alternatively, you could apply your leadership skills and move into senior management roles. Progression within senior management can include positions such as head of department, director or chief executive.