Do you remember back in middle or high school when your social studies or history teacher would assign you a group project? Like, reconstruct a California mission, or give a presentation with a mock Constitutional Convention. Now, remember at that time how there was always one or two people that coordinated everyone else, corralled them, delegated tasks, set meeting times, kept everyone on track and focused? Were you, in fact, that one or two people? Well, then project management may be the right career choice.
Project management is exactly what it sounds like; a person who manages a team, or more than one team, engaged in a project. That project could be in almost any industry: business, software, construction, shipping, the list goes on and on. Some of the important components of being a successful project manager include communication (i.e. laying out clear expectations for team members), planning, a human resources-esque ability to handle lots of different egos prudently and effectively, and an awareness of timelines and timetables. But there’s more to the job, and more to why it’s so hot right now, so let’s dive in further.
The Project Management Institute lays out some of the groundwork for what a project is and isn’t: “a project is unique in that it is not a routine operation, but a specific set of operations designed to achieve a singular goal.” This often means bringing together disparate groups who may not work together all the time, for example “the development of software for an improved business process, the construction of a building or bridge, the relief effort after a natural disaster” all constitute a kind of project.
As the Indeed.com Guide to Careers lays out, the importance of project management cannot be overstated. Project management “creates a focus,” “controls quality,” “minimizes risks,” “reduces project costs,” “encourages teamwork,” “maximizes resources,” and “encourages learning.” Often, a project manager’s role is to facilitate others to do their best and expert work; a project manager shines by creating the circumstances and environment that allows team members to shine, and thus the team itself.
This one is fairly intuitive. There’s a big honking global reason project management is becoming even more valued than it already was, and that reason is COVID-19. The pandemic forced many folks into remote work. According to UpWork, as much as 41.8% of Americans were still working remotely in December of 2020; furthermore, 22% of the workforce could still be working from home through 2025, a “staggering 87% increase from the number of remote workers prior to the pandemic.”
Project managers, especially those with experience on digital platforms and working with teams remotely, are thus needed to keep productivity and efficiency high. Even if you’re not working remotely, the pandemic has shifted the way business is done (regardless of the specific business itself) and thus a project manager is beneficial for ensuring all deliverables and needs are met.
According to Investopedia, the median salary for project managers is $116,000, “but this figure depends heavily on the region, the manager’s company, the company’s industry and the manager’s level of education and experience.” An undergraduate degree, particularly in management itself, is a must have and higher education is becoming increasingly common in the field, per Investopedia.
Pursuing a degree and higher education is worth it in this instance, but you shouldn’t wait to return to school to get started on project management experience. Every industry gives opportunities to showcase and highlight your management chops. While you apply to schools or start online college, focus on taking on a leadership role at the job you currently have.
Ask to spearhead a new project; take on budgeting duties if you can; and work on communicating clearly with fellow employees. Essentially, the basic tools to become an excellent project manager are already at your disposal; the certificates and degrees are the icing on the cake (i.e. extremely important, but not the only thing that matters).
Project management is a high demand career with opportunities in a range of fields, from construction all the way to computing. It provides the opportunity to lead teams of people in pursuit of interesting goals, as well as a salary it’s tough to sneeze at. You may not be in middle school anymore, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use the skills you learned corralling feisty thirteen year-olds in history class as an adult. Besides, the prospective team members you’ll project manage will be a lot more mature than a middle schooler…hopefully.