Chapter 8: How to become a project manager

The easiest way to become a successful project manager is to simply start managing projects and accumulating the leadership, management, and technical skills for the job. You can also pursue formal training and certification as a way to boost your career.

In this chapter, we’ll provide an overview of the most popular training resources and certifications, and provide tips on finding the right PM job for you.

Project manager training

You can find project manager training via articles, books, videos, publications, online communities, blogs, and more. Even if your job doesn’t require formal certification, these resources can be helpful in up-leveling your PM skills.

Here are some top training resources for project managers:

Articles

  • Association for Project Management: This database includes various articles that cover all aspects of project management, from best practices to books and publications.
  • Project Management Institute (PMI): The Project Management Institute, the world’s leading project management organization, covers thought leadership on all things project management.
  • CIO Project Management Articles: Find project management news, how-to guides, and training articles detailing the best PM strategies for all businesses.

Books

  • Making Things Happen: Mastering Project Management: Read about tried and true strategies for leading and managing projects in Scott Berkun’s updated edition of his best-selling book on project management.
  • Getting Things Done: In this work-life management book, David Allen discusses the organization and management techniques of all successful project managers.
  • A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge®: The PMBOK® Guide is the definitive publication with all the fundamentals of project management. The guide is also available as an e-book or PDF, and has been translated into several languages.
  • APM Body of Knowledge: This book, currently on its seventh edition, is written by a group of professionals knowledgeable in successful project management and the five dimensions of professionalism.
  • The New Dynamic of Portfolio Management: This book presents a modern approach to portfolio management, with the ultimate goal of helping you deliver value faster to keep up in today’s lightning speed-paced business environment.

Streaming

  • The PMI (YouTube channel): Here, you’ll find all the top information from the Project Management Institute in video format, including trend reports and successful PM case studies.
  • International Institute for Learning (YouTube channel): Find video lectures on all the project management basics, prep courses for PM certifications, and material on leadership and driving successful organizational change.
  • PM Podcast: The Project Management Podcast is the most prolific podcast focused on project management. You can stream nearly 500 episodes, many of which are free, hosted by noted expert Cornelius Fichtner, PMP.

You can also find a variety of resources, including online courses and interactive content, on the PMI’s training and development page.

Project manager certifications

To become a certified project manager, you must pass a Project Management Professional (PMP®) exam, offered by The Project Management Institute (PMI). The PMP® exam is the globally recognized industry standard for project manager certification.

The PMP® exam assesses proficiency in 10 key areas: integration, scope, time, cost, quality, procurement, human resources, communication, risk management, and stakeholder management. Not anyone can sign up for the exam, though — you have to meet a few qualifications to be eligible to take the test. 

To qualify for the PMP® exam, you need the following credentials:

  • If you have a four-year secondary degree: You’ll need 36 months leading projects, and 35 hours of project management education.
  • If you have a high-school diploma: You’ll need 60 months leading projects, and 35 hours of PM education.

The PMP® exam costs $405 for PMI members, and $555 for non-members. Visit the PMI’s website for further information on exam requirements

See if the PMP® exam is right for you and how to prepare for it in our guide, as well as the benefits of establishing a study plan.

There are other project management certifications you can pursue, too, depending on your goals:

  • Master Project Manager (MPM): The MPM is a graduate-level degree that demonstrates your knowledge of project management. Unlike the PMP® exam, you do not need to have direct experience working as a project manager in order to qualify. Instead, you can enter an MPM program with little experience, and tailor the course to meet your goals. The MPM exam costs $300.
  • Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM): CAPM is a credential designed to prepare people for entry-level project manager roles. It is also run by the PMI, and can be used as a stepping-stone to the PMP® exam certification or higher-level PM jobs. The CAPM exam costs $225 for PMI members and $300 for non-members.
  • Disciplined Agile Scrum Master (DASM): DASM is one of the most popular Agile PM certifications, and is also offered by the PMI. This online course is intended for people new to Agile; completion of the course earns you an invite to the DASM exam itself. The course costs $399 for PMI members and $499 for non-members.

You can learn more about the various PMI-sponsored certifications on the organization’s website.

Although you don’t need a certification to get a job as a project manager, certified project managers can earn 20-25% more than their non-certified counterparts. Additionally, the certification may result in more leadership opportunities within your organization.

How to find the right project manager job and salary

Just like any job, finding the right fit is key to your success and happiness as a project manager. Here are some tips to optimize your job search process:

  1. Understand your unique strengths: Every organization across every industry needs project managers, but that doesn’t mean that every PM role is right for you. Consider your business strengths, technical or specialized skills, interests, experience, and values, and look for companies that align. Having direct experience working with the company’s product or service can also greatly heighten your chances of getting hired.
  2. Let your professional goals drive your job search: Get clear on your career goals and work style, and look for companies that fit your needs. For instance, if you value experimentation and mainly want to learn, a startup might be the best fit. Conversely, if you want more responsibility and are driven by a reliable salary, you may be better suited to a corporate PM job.
  3. Engage in industry thought leadership: Remaining competitive is to stay up to date with the conversation in your industry. Look for company leaders who you respect and whose career path interests you and let that help drive  your own professional goals.

More practically, you can search for current PM openings in the following ways:

  • Job boards: Indeed.com, Glassdoor, and LinkedIn are all reliable places to look for jobs. Set alerts for certain companies or job keywords so you never miss a post.
  • Communities: Subscribe to newsletters, follow company social media profiles, and join Facebook or LinkedIn groups to surface top PM jobs.
  • Personal networks: Don’t underestimate the power of traditional networking. Stay connected to past colleagues, and get in touch with people at the companies you want to work for. Often, a personal recommendation is the best way to secure a position.

According to Indeed.com, the U.S.-national average PM salary is $76,652;  Salary.com lists the average global project manager salary as $124,182 (both figures are as of April 2022). Keep in mind that these estimates can vary widely based on location (as most companies adjust for cost of living), as well as industry. So, it’s best to narrow your search to get more accurate projections of your earning potential. As mentioned, a PM certification can increase your salary, so keep that in mind if salary is a key factor for you. 

As with many jobs, salary negotiation is part of the hiring process, so go into it informed on industry or company standards, and don’t be afraid to bargain.