If you're eager to find out more about careers in project management but haven't studied the subject before, discover the skills and qualifications you'll need to become a successful project manager

The definition of project management

Described by the APM as 'the application of processes, methods, skills, knowledge and experience to achieve specific project objectives,' project managers are vital to businesses as they ensure work is completed on time, to a high standard and within the budget agreed at the outset.

Requiring a combination of technical, business and people management skills, project managers are tasked with overseeing a range of tasks, with the end goal of producing something that benefits an organisation - for example, by developing new software or apps, or managing the construction of a building.

Degrees in project management

You can get into general project management with any degree, although courses in business or project management are particularly useful. However, for more specific project management roles, such as those in construction, engineering or IT, subject knowledge is more important, so an undergraduate degree in a related subject would be beneficial.

You don't need a postgraduate qualification, but if your first degree is unrelated, a Masters could increase your chances of success. This is especially true of Masters programmes accredited by the Chartered Association for Project Management (APM).

The APM-accredited MSc Project Management is offered by a number of institutions, including:

The MSc Project Management in Construction from the University of Salford is run in partnership with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB), as well as the APM.

If you're looking to get into this sector, consider the full range of construction management courses.

Search all postgraduate courses in project management.

Professional project management courses

While a degree in project management will qualify you for the job, it's the additional knowledge gained through professional qualifications, conversion courses and online learning that will help you to progress.

Completing these qualifications before finding employment isn't necessary, as most employers provide new recruits with on-the-job training.

Courses are available in various project management methodologies, such as:

  • PRINCE2 - a structured framework, commonly used for end-to-end project management. PRINCE2 certification is available at foundation, practitioner and agile level. Foundation courses are suitable for new recruits with a basic knowledge of project management processes. You'll then progress to practitioner level, which is aimed at working professionals.
  • Agile - is suited to fast-moving environments such as IT. This methodology uses short development cycles called sprints to focus on continuous improvement in the development of a product. Training is available at foundation and practitioner level. For more information on Agile courses, see IT training.

Industry certification can also be gained through the APM and the Project Management Institute (PMI).

The APM offers the following certifications:

  • APM Project Fundamentals Qualification (PFQ) - an introductory course in project management terminology. No prior project management knowledge or experience is required.
  • APM Project Management Qualification (PMQ) - a knowledge-based qualification that allows candidates to demonstrate an understanding of all elements of project management. You'll need some previous experience and will ideally have completed the PFQ.
  • APM Project Professional Qualification (PPQ) - covers the core and specific competences that project professionals require. It's aimed at those working in all types of project management and looking to become a member of the APM.

The APM also offers shorter online courses, including the:

  • Major Project Leadership Specialist Certificate - for professionals who've worked in a leadership role on a major project.
  • Project Risk Management Single Subject Certificate - designed to build on the knowledge gained in the PMQ or similar management qualifications.

Find out more about APM Qualifications and training.

A selection of certificates for experienced project managers are also available from the PMI. In most cases, you'll need a degree and at least three years of project management experience for entry onto these programmes. Courses include:

  • Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)
  • Project Management Professional (PMP)
  • Program Management Professional (PgMP)
  • Portfolio Management Professional (PfMP)
  • PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)
  • PMI Risk Management Professional (PMI-RMP)
  • PMI Scheduling Professional (PMI-SP).

Explore general management courses.

Project management skills

In addition to qualifications, to be an effective project manager you'll also require certain skills and competencies. The following are often mentioned in job vacancies:

  • Time management - you'll spend time figuring out how other people spend their time, but it's equally important to be skilled in managing your own workload. It's your job to prioritise and delegate tasks successfully. You need to be skilled at identifying the most important tasks, and saying no to requests that get in the way of completing priority tasks.
  • Organisation - how can a project manager organise the work of others if they're unorganised themselves? The job demands a high level of responsibility, from setting goals, managing meetings and creating estimates and timelines to scheduling and tracking the progress of a project.
  • Communication - most of your time will be spent liaising with others. You need to be able to clearly articulate visions, ideas, goals and project issues to a variety of people, from team members to stakeholders. Your written communications skills need to be honed for report writing, while your verbal skills need to be up to scratch for meetings and presentations. Good listening ability is also essential.
  • Negotiation - project managers need to be excellent negotiators to find common ground to accomplish project goals. You'll work with teams, often with competing interests to negotiate resources, budgets and schedules. Knowing how to negotiate a win-win outcome for all parties is the sign of a good project manager.
  • Risk management - identifying and managing risk shows that you're in control of your project. You need to stay ahead of the game and predict and create solutions to problems before they arise to deliver projects successfully.
  • Leadership - being able to lead your team, as well as manage their activities, is vital. You need to be able to inspire team members, set the project vision and motive your colleagues.

Read about the 7 skills for a successful management career.

To build up your project management knowledge and skills, consider finding relevant work experience. Any experience leading and organising the activities of a team will be valuable.

Look for internships as a junior or assistant project manager in sectors of interest - for example, in the IT industry you could apply to work with a major employer such as Microsoft. Alternatively, you could gain experience in construction with Mott MacDonald.

Other options include arranging a period of work shadowing with an experienced professional, or volunteering in leadership roles.

You should also think about signing up to professional bodies such as the APM and the PMI as a student member, to access networking opportunities and events.

You can gain experience of organising events, running projects and campaigns and leading teams by joining clubs and societies at university. Discover the importance of extra-curricular activities.

Project management apprenticeships

If you're put off by the prospect of paying course fees as you achieve your qualification, you can earn as you learn and start building industry contacts from day one when doing a business apprenticeship with a focus on project management.

These programmes are typically aimed at higher apprenticeship level (Level 4 - equivalent to a foundation degree), although Level 6 project management degree apprenticeships are available.

You can train in roles such as:

  • assistant project manager
  • project co-ordinator
  • project executive
  • project manager
  • project support officer.

The duration of these apprenticeships range from two to five years, depending on the company you work for and the level you study at.

You can complete project management apprenticeships with a range of employers, including:

Search for project management apprenticeships.

Project manager careers

Jobs in project management are available across all sectors, from business, marketing, finance and law to transport, manufacturing and engineering.

Starting salaries for project managers in the UK typically range from £20,000 to £35,000, with higher wages often found in the construction and IT industries.

As a new graduate you'll probably begin your career in a junior project manager or assistant project manager position and work your way up the ladder.

You can apply for jobs online by searching for vacancies through company websites, while industry bodies also provide details on where to find work.

If you do get invited for a job interview, make sure you're well prepared by researching the company you've applied to and by reading the job description and person specification. Know your CV inside out and brush up on any industry news.

Search for project manager jobs.

Interview questions for project managers

To stay ahead of the game, prepare your responses to common management interview questions.

You should also think about what solid examples you'll use to demonstrate your suitability to the role when asked these specific project management interview questions:

  • What project management methodologies are you most familiar with?
  • What are the most important qualities of a project manager, and why?
  • How do you plan a schedule for a project?
  • How do you allocate resources?
  • How do you ensure your team stays on track to meet project deadlines?
  • How do you motivate a team?
  • Two key stakeholders have opposing views. How do you manage this?
  • How do you approach risk management on a new project?
  • What did you find most challenging about your last project?
  • Have you worked on a project that failed? What happened?
  • What is the most complicated project you have managed? How did you handle it?
  • What was your most successful project?

Before the interview draws to a close, it's a good idea to ask the interviewer some questions of your own. See 7 good questions to ask at an interview for inspiration.

Find out more

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