Project management career path

Thinking about a career as a project professional but not sure where to begin? Whether you have just left university or are thinking about a change of career, this section is full of practical advice to get you started.

What does a project manager do?

The project manager is responsible for day-to-day management of the project and must be competent in managing the six aspects of a project, i.e. scope, schedule, finance, risk, quality and resources. Project managers work on specific projects that have definite outcomes, have time limits and have to stay within a budget.

These tasks typically include:

  • planning what work needs to be done, when and who’s going to do it;
  • looking at the risks involved in a particular project and managing these risks;
  • making sure the work is done to the right standard;
  • motivating the team of people involved in the project;
  • co-ordinating work done by different people;
  • making sure the project is running on time and to budget;
  • dealing with changes to the project as and when necessary;
  • making sure the project delivers the expected outcomes and benefits;
  • some project managers also have specialist technical knowledge.

How to become a project manager

Choosing project management as your career is an exciting first step. There is more than one way to become a project management professional. Watch our short animation to learn more.

Choosing project management as your career is the first step on an exciting career path. There is a continually growing market for project management skills, for several reasons:

  • Organisations are becoming more project orientated.
  • Organisations are looking to improve their project success rates.
  • Organisations are recognising the link between strategic ambition and projects.
  • As work becomes more global and complex, this drives demand for improved project management.

Project management is not just about being organised. The personality traits of a senior project manager are similar to those of a successful entrepreneur: they take responsibility, they lead and they drive a team to achieve success. Not everyone makes a good project manager. There are many roles within project management though that will suit most people.

Some of the more common job titles are listed below complete with a brief explanation:

  • Project administrator

    This person performs a support function within a project environment. Some awareness of basic concepts such as risk, issue and change management along with familiarity with project management terms is useful.
  • Project co-ordinator

    Working with a project manager or as part of a project management office (PMO), this person brings the basic skills of project management discipline to project teams. Typically takes ownership for maintaining project risk, issue, change logs as well as project schedule and sometimes cost tracking. This person has good spreadsheet and planning software skills.
  • Project planner

    A specialist role found on larger complex projects, particularly capital investment projects. This person is dedicated to updating a complex schedule using software such as MS Project. A planner has keen attention to detail and should understand concepts such as critical path analysis and earned value management.
  • Project manager

    Responsible for project delivery, this person must drive the project forward to achieve the desired benefits. The job title Project manager is widely used and can mean many different things. Understanding level of ownership, particularly budget, helps clarify the seniority of this role.
  • Programme manager

    This is a senior role with responsibility for achieving strategic benefits through undertaking a set of related projects. The programme manager is likely to lead a team of project managers and will report into senior management.
  • PMO manager

    Projects and programmes can start and end, whereas the PMO is a department that forms part of business-as-usual. The PMO manager will not run projects themselves. Their role is typically to ensure consistency in approach to selecting, planning, running and closing projects. The PMO will be the conduit for project status reporting, performance analysis and information for senior management and is likely to have very solid project management experience themselves.

The APM Role Profiler has been developed to assist individuals in identifying their existing project management strengths and weaknesses, utilising APM role profiles and a subset of competences from the APM Competence Framework (2nd edition). This quick and simple guide is available for members here.

Project management is a growing profession and changing fast. It has never been so important for project professionals to demonstrate their skills and for organisations to assess their capability. Project management skills are transferable. The tools and techniques of project management are universal and a good project manager should be able to add value in any environment.

A project manager should:

  • be effective at planning, monitoring and reviewing;
  • be able to manage resources;
  • be able to motivate and encourage others;
  • be decisive and able to work well under pressure;
  • be aware of who the project will affect and manage the effect it will have on them;
  • command respect and trust;
  • be able to resolve conflicts;
  • be good at problem solving;
  • have an understanding of health and safety;
  • possess excellent communication skills both verbal and written;
  • be able to co-ordinate work carried out by different people and organisations;
  • be able to work as part of a team and on their own initiative;
  • be able to control and monitor budgets;
  • possess good IT skills.

It is also important to:

  • be interested in seeing a project through from start to finish
  • enjoy taking responsibility
  • be motivated by achieving set goals or targets.

    The APM Competence Framework is a resource that reflects the complexity of the modern project management profession. It describes APM's new view of the competences necessary for effective project, programme, portfolio management and PMO in today's environment and in our view of the future needs of the profession. It allows professionals to measure their skills, knowledge and professional needs against specific roles and competencies. Now you can marry the skills you have to the skills you require.

For individuals in the profession, the new APM Competence Framework enables you to assess the knowledge and experiences that you have against the knowledge and experience you require to progress your career, and to identify the study pathway that will best suit your requirements.

Competences:

27 competences, each based around the outcomes that professionals need to achieve. See an example of the competence for Team Management.

Role Profiles:

14 role profiles across project, programme, portfolio management and PMO, measured against a rating scale for the specific competences that are relevant to each role. See an example of the role profile for programme manager (advanced).

Rating scale:

The scoring system for assessment of mastery uses a 5-point scale and requires separate assessment of application and knowledge. It uses 5 levels of performance defined in developmental terms - aware, practiced, competent, proficient and expert.

Ever thought about a career as a project professional but not sure where to start? Whether you have just left university or are thinking about a change of career, there are many ways you can enter the profession and develop your project skills.

Apprenticeships

Higher Apprenticeships are training programmes that combine practical, on-the-job learning with formal study and are available for anyone aged 16 years and above.

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Qualifications & career progression

APM, the Chartered body for the project profession, has developed qualifications that are an essential part of the APM FIVE Dimensions of Professionalism and are designed to meet your needs throughout your career.

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Become a member

APM, the Chartered body for the project profession, offers individual membership and offers organisations two levels of partnership packages. Each type of membership has a range of benefits designed to help you get the most out of being part of the project management profession.

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Find a job

Project management is used in many different sectors and professions. APM, the Chartered body for the project profession, currently has more than 500 corporate partners, each with a vibrant project management community. Search for jobs here!

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