How Exactly Does One Become a Project Manager?

In our rapidly changing world, organizations must have the agility and ability to respond swiftly to client needs. This comes in the form of working with updated technologies, offering new products, and providing more accessible services. No matter the industry, the project manager is one of the primary change agents implementing these initiatives. As organizations strive to provide timely responses to client needs, the demand for project managers has increased exponentially.

Project Managers working

A Growing Field

In the Project Management Institute’s 2013 Annual Report, it was projected that by 2020, the number of project management jobs would grow worldwide by 15.7 million. By early 2017, the number of project management jobs had already reached almost 66 million, exceeding the original projection. At this pace, employers will need nearly 88 million individuals in project management-oriented roles by 2027.

Every industry needs leaders to manage their teams, coordinate projects, and ensure milestones are met. The person at the helm – typically the PM – can make the difference between a successful or failed project. It may come as a surprise, then, to learn that there is really no clearly defined career path to becoming a project manager. This fact makes a career in project management one of the most unique amongst professional positions.  Very often, a person steps into the role of PM indirectly.

Ask ten project managers how they came into their position, and you’re likely to get ten different answers. Ask these same individuals if they grew up dreaming of becoming a project manager, and you’re not likely to hear an affirmative answer, perhaps due in part to the lack of a well-defined trajectory.

The Unpaved Path

Briann H., a project manager in South Florida, held various roles in municipal government for nearly ten years before coming into her current position, which involves managing projects for a taxing district. “When green space started disappearing here, we were tasked by the public with purchasing and developing beach and park properties and facilities for public use. Although I hadn’t had any specific education or experience in project management up to that point, I was given the project manager hat to wear as we embarked on multi-million dollar construction projects and land purchases.”

Skilled workers in a specific industry have the opportunity to move into a project management role with the right mix of job experience and leadership skills. For example, an adept software developer’s career trajectory may take them to working as an IT project manager due to technical expertise and job experience.

Sometimes, a project manager gets their start in management at a consulting firm. These firms often focus on providing training in management practices and methodologies. In cases like this, the individual begins working as part of a team under a project manager, and works their way up to a management position themselves.

There are other ways to move up the project management career ladder and, increasingly, more intentional ways to do so through courses and certifications.

Professional Certifications

Upon graduating from college with a degree in business administration, P. Lobo, a project manager in the healthcare industry in Toronto, Ontario, had aspirations of a career in project management almost immediately. “I knew when I graduated that I wanted to work my way up to being a project manager,” says Lobo. The key factor for Lobo and the launching of his successful career has been the Project Management Professional® (PMP) certification – a credential offered by the Project Management Institute (PMI),

“Having my PMP certification has been critical to my career advancement,” says Lobo. As of March 2018, there were 833,025 active PMP certified individuals and 286 chartered chapters across 210 countries and territories worldwide. Project managers who earn the PMP® certification have higher salaries and earning potential over their counterparts who don’t hold such certifications, according to PMI’s Earning Power: Project Management Salary Survey, Ninth Edition.

If you work in a specific industry, it is possible to earn a project management certification in a specialty area. This is a popular route for individuals working in the information technology (IT), healthcare, construction, and manufacturing industries.


There are many paths to becoming a project professional, and at this time, no right or wrong way to approach it. Whether a PM finds themselves “accidentally” in the role of project manager or went there with intention, there are certain skills and competencies that are a ‘must-have’ for all project managers.

A study published in the Journal of Modern Project Management suggests organizations currently place a bigger emphasis on technical competency and the project-specific credibility of project managers. These desirable skill sets are followed by organizational and “human” competencies. That said, even armed with specific technical skills and job experience, a PM must be a “big picture” thinker with excellent interpersonal and communication skills.

Currently, the demand for project management professionals is greater than the number of individuals with relevant skills. As a result, there is a real opportunity for discerning job seekers to build valuable skills, climb the project management career ladder, and perhaps begin paving the way for a more well-defined career trajectory for those coming after them.

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Written by Lindsay Curtis
Lindsay Curtis writes about communications, education, healthcare research, and parenting. She has extensive experience as a Project Manager, primarily in the healthcare and higher education sectors. A writer by day and a reader by night, she currently works as a Communications Officer for the University of Toronto. She also provides freelance copywriting and social media strategy services for businesses of all sizes. Learn more about Lindsay at
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