If being in charge of schemes, resources and people motivates you, and you can work under pressure to tight deadlines, a career as a project manager may suit you

As a project manager, you'll need to track work to be completed, set deadlines and delegate tasks to your project team, identifying any potential risks.

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

You could also be known as:

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

Types of work

You can specialise, or work across a variety of sectors such as:

  • construction
  • engineering
  • IT
  • marketing.

Responsibilities

As a project manager, you'll need to:

  • follow a standard process, as defined by the Project Management Institute (PMI) UK
  • initiate the project - check feasibility and work out budgets, teams and resources
  • carry out planning - this will include setting goals and objectives, defining roles and producing schedules and timelines for tasks - in accordance with the needs of your client. Some tools, such as Gantt charts, can be used to create a visual project plan
  • select, lead and motivate your project team from both internal and external stakeholder organisations
  • manage the project - which includes coordinating the project team to keep them on track and keeping the project on budget
  • carry out monitoring and control activities in order to track the progress of the project
  • identify and manage risks to ensure delivery is on time
  • implement any necessary changes throughout the process
  • report regularly to management and the client
  • close the project - including evaluating successes and challenges to enhance learning for your next project.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for project managers are between £20,000 and £35,000, depending on the sector. For example, marketing project management generally 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, although 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're 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

You'll need to have:

  • 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. From a supporting role, it's possible to undertake professional qualifications to progress into management.

Extracurricular 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 can provide you with opportunities to network with other professionals, keep your skills up to date through training, events, news and publications and point you towards job opportunities.

Employers

As a project manager, you can work in a variety of both public and private organisations, across a range of sectors, including:

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

In larger organisations, you'll most likely be employed, but in smaller ones it's common to be taken on in a freelance capacity. Some specialist project management consultancy firms have graduate entry schemes. Professional services outsourcing firms also provide project managers for short-term contracts.

You're most likely to progress into project management through support or technical roles on project teams. Since much project work is carried out in addition to the core day-to-day activities of a business, you can often 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 isn't essential, as employers provide training for new recruits.

You may be expected to apply standard methods and techniques, such as:

  • PRINCE2 - 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 - works well in fast-moving environments, such as IT.

You can also gain professional qualifications through the APM, PMI and the Chartered Management Institute (CMI).

Sector specific organisations, such as The Chartered Institute for IT (BCS), offer professional qualifications that may be relevant to your area of work.

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

Career prospects

You'll 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 the role of programme manager, where you'd be responsible for a team of project managers. As a programme manager, you'd report directly to senior management and work at a strategic level.

The next level up consists of project management office (PMO) manager, where you'd 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.