Careful planning: A career in project management

Mark Talmage-Rostron
08.11.2021·10 min read

Businesses and organizations recognize project management as being crucial to their performance and success

This is especially true now that the nature of work is changing due to technological advancement and globalization. Careers in project management have never been more in demand.

In fact, a recent report from the Project Management Institute estimated 2.3 million project management roles will need to be filled globally each year. Digital and remote teams are becoming more and more of a feature, which means that organizations are increasingly using top talent from all over the world.

At Nexford, you will learn the ins and outs of project management: all the tasks, tools, and methodologies associated with it.

What is a project?

A project is a series of tasks that needs to be accomplished to reach a defined outcome. What sets a project apart from the usual operations of a business is that a project is a temporary activity with a defined timeline. Each project also has its own objectives, plan, budget, deliverables, and tasks. Depending on the complexity and project size, it can involve several teams within an organization, and be managed by a single person, or many people.

What is project management?

Project management is the application of various processes, methodologies, tools, and skills to initiate, plan, execute, and manage projects within an organization. It has unique objectives and final deliverables that are budget- and time-constrained.

Management is an ongoing process while project management is based on achieving the project’s goals within the defined timeframe. A project manager should possess a wide range of skills that include but are not limited to technical skills, people management, and business awareness.

Careers in project management 

Project Coordinator

The first step to becoming a project manager is a job as a project coordinator. The project coordinator oversees supervising day-to-day tasks related to a specific section of a project. The project coordinator’s job is to assist the project manager with administrative tasks. This can involve scheduling and managing meetings, updating project plans, collecting, and reporting data, and budget tracking.

The average salary of project coordinators in the US is around $70,500, including bonuses. Although it is possible to get a job as a project coordinator with an associate degree, more than half of project coordinators hold a bachelor’s degree. This is also a valuable qualification if you want to proceed up the career ladder to the next level: project manager.

Project Manager

Project managers are responsible for managing a project (or sometimes multiple projects) from initial planning through to completion. Nearly 70% of project managers have at least a bachelor’s degree in business or a field related to the sector they work in.

The project manager’s responsibilities include:

  • Communicating and collaborating with the team and stakeholders/clients
  • Overseeing the budget
  • Managing risks
  • Planning for upcoming project requirements
  • Adapting to change and responding accordingly

The median salary of a project manager in the US is $116,000. This depends on experience, education, team and project size, and industry.

Project Director

Project directors have more responsibilities and will face more challenges than their junior counterparts. They are more likely to be handling simultaneous projects rather than focusing on one at a time. Project directors are not directly involved in the day-to-day execution of tasks but have high-level project management skills.

Project directors need to have a broad understanding, not just of the project, but the company as a whole – its objectives and ongoing projects. The role of the project director is an executive-level position involving managing very large budgets, allocating/re-allocating major resources, and leading organizational transformation.

Aspiring project directors can expect an average salary of $161,500, with a typical range between $144,000 and $179,200. This range also depends on many factors including education, certifications, additional skills, and experience. A master’s degree in business administration can provide a solid foundation in the skills required for this position and result in a higher paycheck.

Stages of project management

Project management involves various stages. These are generally: organizing, planning, execution, monitoring and controlling, and closing.

Stage 1: Organizing 

This is the beginning of the project, where concepts are turned into goals and the project is defined at a broad level. The usual process starts with developing a business case and testing the feasibility of the project.

The organizing stage of a project often involves high-level roles such as project directors working closely with project managers. The aim is to develop a project that is in line with the company’s overall goals and objectives, as well as being feasible on a practical level.

At this stage, a project charter or project initiation document will outline project details – from goals/purpose, scope, requirements, budget, and timelines.

Stage 2: Planning 

This stage is crucial to the success of the project. In this phase, the project roadmap is developed. Some tasks at this stage involve setting objectives, identifying technical and skill requirements, and creating a communication plan.

Understanding which tasks are critical at different stages, and which tasks can be split into smaller mini projects, may also be something that needs to be planned out at this stage.

Stage 3: Execution 

The execution phase is where the work happens. This stage involves intense management from the project manager and project coordinators, with supervision and input from project director level.

The project manager takes the lead in checking the progress of the implementation team and ensuring a smooth workflow. During execution, the project manager must ensure the project is not slipping in terms of objectives, timeline, or budget.

In this stage, project managers are also expected to maintain good collaboration with all stakeholders.

Stage 4: Monitoring and controlling 

Project monitoring and controlling involves looking closely at the project’s progress and performance. The project manager ensures that everything is on track and quality is being maintained. This phase usually runs simultaneously with project execution. Good project managers can deal with setbacks and challenges. They continue to motivate the team and ensure clear communication.
 
Stage 5: Closing 

The final phase of project management is where final deliverables are turned over. Project managers will make sure that everything has been dealt with and write final project reports. The closing stage also involves reflection meetings with the team and assessments to identify if the original scope of the project planning was accurate. At closing, the project management team can also identify the learning that has taken place and get ideas on how to proceed with projects in the future.

What skills do you need to become a project manager?

Project managers play a key role in the success of a project. There are a complex set of skills involved in this field, as the demands of the role are wide-ranging. These include technical skills and soft skills.

Technical skills needed by a project manager

Subject matter expertise 

Project managers are found in a wide range of industries, such as engineering, construction, healthcare, and information technology (IT). Familiarity and experience in your specific industry and knowledge of how it operates will help with all aspects of managing your projects.

You will also need a basic understanding of the policies and regulations that apply to the sector you are working in. Understanding best practices in your business, health, and safety, and environmental issues will avoid costly setbacks and optimize success.

Planning

The project management team is hands-on right from the start. They must set timelines, estimate resources, and plan how the whole project will be conducted, from initiation to completion.

Project managers also have to make predictions and estimates based on information available at the time. This could be related to how the project will be executed, or anticipation of risks so that mitigation strategies can be put in place. This means you will also need foresight, and the ability to make decisions confidently.

Planning includes optimal management of finite resources – whether financial, material, or personnel! Project managers must be able to ascertain the best way to allocate and manage resources so that the project can move forwards to achieve its goals.

Monitoring

The project management team is responsible for ensuring the successful completion of the project. That’s where tracking and monitoring skills come in. Monitoring and evaluation are not just important at the end of a project but should become a routine part of the project timeline to ensure things aren’t going off track.

Project management methodologies can help the project management team to keep their activities coordinated and monitor progress towards their goals. There are traditional project management methodologies that proceed in a linear fashion. In contrast, agile project management methodologies are more flexible – they can be adapted as the project proceeds.

Knowing the principles of these approaches and which ones are suitable for their particular projects will ensure that projects run smoothly and effectively. Two modules of the Nexford Project Management course are dedicated to project management tools and methodologies.

Soft skills needed by a project manager

Leadership

Good leadership skills are essential for any management position. An ability to oversee and coordinate tasks within your team, the boardroom, stakeholders, and other departments will need clear and confident leadership. Good leaders motivate and inspire teams.

Conflict management is also an important part of a project manager’s role as a leader. They need to ensure that their teams are working well together. This skill involves fixing workflows, project discrepancies, and addressing internal and external issues.

Communication

In a project management role, you will be expected to communicate with various people in or outside the team and company. Strong written and verbal communication skills are necessary to clarify visions, goals, ideas, and issues to everyone involved.

Part of a project manager’s job involves writing technical documents such as memos, products releases, updates, and deliverables.

Problem-solving and adaptability 

Good project managers won’t back down when faced with challenges. They will know how to gather information, weigh the advantages and disadvantages of different outcomes, and then go with the most beneficial solutions.

It’s also important to note that however thoroughly you plan out your project, you need to be prepared for the unexpected. A good project manager must know how to adapt to changes in trends, technology, or user demographics. An ability to think on your feet will come in handy, as the project management team often must make quick decisions about changes that are needed.

Organization and time management 

Projects involve multiple tasks by a wide range of people. Project managers need strong organizational skills to keep track of everything. They must prioritize deadlines and be able to compartmentalize tasks so that projects proceed effectively.

Time management skills are required for the project to proceed in line with goals. Project managers can also find demands on their own time to be very challenging. Knowing how to delegate is also a soft skill that is useful when trying to avoid overload.

Accountability

Project managers have to take responsibility for the project’s success or failure. There is no room to pass the buck. You will be held accountable for any mistakes that are made, by you or your team.

Tech-savvy 

The use of technology is becoming increasingly important for project management roles. It increases productivity and provides accurate feedback. Systems are available that cross-reference tasks, resources, timelines, and budgets, so managers can quickly identify the progress of their projects.

Project managers must be willing to embrace new technology and processes. They must also be able to assess which systems will help their projects, and which might over-complicate things.

Planning your way to the top

A career in project management is exciting and rewarding. The role is responding to the increasing complexities of project delivery across all industries.

If you enjoy challenges and want to grow in a wide range of skills, then this just might be the career for you! You will experience the satisfaction of planning and executing your project, as well as the thrill of completing a project, celebrating its success, and then moving on to another new venture.

Equipping yourself with the skills and qualifications you need for a project management career is an essential first step. At Nexford, our online undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in business administration not only provide you with the educational foundation your future employer will expect to see on your resume, but also the technical and soft skills that will make your projects a success.

 

Ready to get started? Download our brochure or book a call with our friendly Nexford Advisors!

About the Author

Mark Talmage-Rostron

Mark is a college graduate with Honours in Copywriting. He is the Content Marketing Manager at Nexford, creating engaging, thought-provoking, and action-oriented content.

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