What Does it Mean to be a Project Manager?

Talent is a word that’s used a lot in organizations these days. Companies spend a lot of time, money, and attention on hiring talent. Retaining talent. Motivating talent. Engaging talent.

Talent refers to the people who may work together on a project designed to achieve a particular goal. But talent alone isn’t enough to handle all the elements of a project. Projects have to be controlled and regulated. People have to be given the tools to succeed. Talent has to be held accountable. That’s why organizations need project managers.

What Do Project Managers Do?

Depending on the industry, project managers can assume a variety of roles, which can be simplified into four specific areas of expertise.

  • Plan. In order for a project to reach completion, someone has to accomplish something at some time. All of those variables are determined by a project manager. It sounds simple, but planning tasks and progress and schedules around the strengths and weaknesses of a team can be challenging. Great project managers plan in ways that make their teams as successful as possible.
  • Organize. For a project to succeed, it needs the right people in the roles they’re best suited for. This requires a strong knowledge of colleagues and peers, but also of the project that they’re trying to complete. Putting a person in the wrong role can jeopardize progress and lead to waning morale, but putting a person in the right role can unlock hidden talent and aptitude that can be leveraged for future projects.
  • Lead. Communication, motivation and conflict resolution are keys to leading effectively. A project manager needs to set a direction for the team, keep team members focused, and hold people accountable for the work they do.
  • Control. Each project requires focus and dedication to keep it on schedule. A project manager needs to consistently measure a project’s progress, take corrective action to avoid any slowdowns or missed deadlines, and figure out the right combination of people and effort to keep the project moving without burning out the team.

What Do Project Managers Need to Know?

Almost every project management job relies on stellar communication and leadership skills, but the best project managers are also solution-oriented thinkers, great decision makers and (because of the different skills and disciplines they manage) lifelong learners.

Otherwise, required knowledge tends to depend on the industry a project manager is operating within. Typically, however, knowledge of recent technological breakthroughs, knowledge of agile project management and an understanding of new project portfolio management tools are almost always beneficial.

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Career and Salary Prospects for Project Managers

According to the Project Management Institute, project managers in the United States can expect to earn around $108,200 annually, but that median figure relies on a lot of variables.

  • Work experience – Project managers with fewer than three years of experience earn an average salary of $56,222, but the highest earners among this inexperienced group earn upwards of $60,000. On the other end of the spectrum, project managers with between 10 and 15 years of experience can take home anywhere from $83,000 to $117,000 annually.
  • Industry – The pharmaceutical industry has the highest average salary for project managers at $127,426. Right behind, in second place, is the resource industry – agriculture, mining, etc. Project managers working in resource industries bring in $127,382 per year, on average. But the pharmaceutical and resource sectors combined make up only 5% of project managers polled. The most popular industry is information technology, representing 21% of the field, with an average salary of $112,291.
  • Career path within an organization – Earning potential rises the farther up a project manager moves within a company. Most companies articulate a clear career path for project managers. Twenty-five percent of companies actually define this career path in writing, while another 46% communicate it informally to employees. Almost three-quarters of companies can actually connect project management to roles in upper management, and of those polled, 21% of organizations defined this specific upper management career path in writing.

Project management combines the outward passion of great leaders with the analytical minds of corporate strategists. Project managers have to be well-versed in both their industry and their people – making it one of the most interesting and rewarding positions in any company.

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