How to become a project manager: 4 steps to start your career

Sarah Laoyan contributor headshotSarah LaoyanJuly 19th, 20225 min read
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Summary

A project manager is responsible for managing a project from start to finish. A good project manager needs soft skills like communication and organization, hard skills like cost or stakeholder management, and relevant technical skills specific to the role.

If you're looking for a new job, you may have seen a couple of postings that require good project management skills. But what does that mean exactly? Do you need to get a project management certification to qualify for the role? Why develop project management skills if the role you’re looking for isn't called "project manager"?

Being a project management professional doesn't necessarily mean you have the title of "project manager." Project management covers a wide set of skills that can make you a valuable candidate in a variety of roles. The good news is, you don't have to have decades of experience or a certification to be a good project manager.

What is a project manager?

A project manager is responsible for managing a project from start to finish. This includes planning, organizing, managing, and reporting on work throughout the project lifecycle. Oftentimes, a project manager will oversee a project team, who all work together to produce key deliverables. 

Read: Program manager vs. project manager: key differences to know

A project manager isn’t the same thing as a people manager. They aren’t necessarily responsible for the coaching and mentorship of a team—in fact, a project manager’s team members may report to another member of the organization. But even though  a project manager’s responsibilities aren’t typically people-focused first, it’s still important to have some communication and organizational soft skills. That way, you can support and guide your team towards project success.

Project manager roles and responsibilities

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How to become a project manager

The demand for project managers has grown over the past decade. According to the Project Management Institute’s latest research, there’s a significant gap between the demand for project managers and the talent that can fill the roles. PMI also predicts that around 2.2 million new project-oriented roles need to be filled every year through 2027.

If you want to take on more responsibility at your current job or are just starting out and believe you’d be a great project manager—the market needs you! Here’s what you can do to become a project manager without prior experience.

1. Volunteer to gain insight and experience

Rather than getting an expensive project management certification (that often isn’t worth as much to hiring managers as experience anyway), see if you can volunteer to manage an upcoming project. A good first project you could start with is something that has a definitive end date, such as planning a small event.

Because project management skills are so transferable, you don't need to be in a specific project management role to get started.If you've already started in a role, ask your manager what you can do to get more practical project management experience. Your manager may help you get started by having you shadow a more experienced project manager, or encourage you to take courses. Eventually, they may assign you a project to manage full-time with their guidance.

2. Work on your soft, hard, and technical skills

There are three types of skills you need to hone to become a successful project manager: hard skills, soft skills, and a technical skill set.

[inline illustration] Skills every project manager needs (infographic)

Hard project management skills

Hard skills are things that you can specifically train for. These are often role-specific skills that can be developed through work experience. Depending on your role, you might develop hard project management skills like:

Read: 5 steps to creating a stakeholder engagement plan (with template)

Soft project management skills

Soft skills are non-technical skills that make you a valuable candidate without specific tools or technical requirements. These skills are often called "people skills" or "interpersonal skills" because they help you become a collaborative and effective team member. 

Here are a few soft skills that successful project managers have:

Read: Project administrator: 4 roles in the project lifecycle

Technical project management skills

Technical skills require knowledge of a specific piece of software or equipment. This could also mean knowing the process of a specific methodology, such as Scrumor Agile methodology

Here are a few technical skills that a project manager might have: 

Read: Product manager vs. project manager: What’s the difference?

3. Upgrade your resume

Do some research to find out what skills and qualifications recruiters are looking for. Read through project manager job descriptions—whether that’s internally at your current company or at another organization you’re interested in. 

Create your own gap analysis to see which commonly mentioned skills and qualifications you have and which ones you still need to work on.

Don’t get discouraged and think you have to put off your applications though—update your resume so it’s highlighting the skills you already have that the hiring managers are looking for. It may give you an advantage when they’re going through their applicants.

4. Start with an entry-level position

Sometimes project management roles come disguised as other job positions. If your current skill set and qualifications don’t match any of the job listings you find, look out for titles like project coordinator, associate or junior project manager, or administrative associate.

These are great entry-level opportunities to get your foot in the door and move up the project management ladder.

There is no one set project management career path. You don't always need years of experience to get started. However, there are project management courses and certifications you can take to kick off your project management career and give you more leverage during an interview.

Things to consider about a project management career

If you're interested in starting a project management career, you don't need a degree in a specific field. While some project management positions require a master's degree, most don't require any formal schooling or requirements. 

Regardless of what you study (or don’t!), you can still be a good project manager. 

If you're just starting out, there are many different online courses you can take to build a foundation for your project management career:

Project management certifications

Some project management roles require you to receive certification before applying to a position. These are optional courses that you can take to boost your resume, but there is a small downside: certifications and structured classes can be expensive. If a role you’re looking to land requires a certain certification that’s out of your means, work with the team to see if they’re willing to support you to make the certification more affordable. 

Here are a few different project management certifications that you can apply for.

CAPM certification

The Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) certification is a good opportunity for someone looking for an entry-level project management certification. 

The Project Management Institute (PMI) offers students the ability to combine a membership and the CAPM exam at a discounted rate. 

To be qualified for the CAPM certification, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Must have a secondary degree (high school diploma, associate’s degree or a global equivalent)

  • 23 hours of project management education completed by the time you sit for the exam

PMP certification

The Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification is one of the world's leading project management certifications. This certification validates project leadership experience and expertise across industries. 

To be qualified for the PMP certification, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Have a four-year degree

  • At least 36 months of experience leading projects

  • 35 hours of project management education/training or CAPM certification

OR

  • Have a high school diploma or an associate's degree (or global equivalent)

  • At least 60 months of experience leading projects

  • 35 hours of project management education/training or CAPM certification

PRINCE2 certification

The Projects in Controlled Environments certification offers two different qualification levels: Foundation and Practitioner. 

The Foundation Level certification offers an introduction to PRINCE2 principles, while the Practitioner Level teaches you how to apply them in a specific project scenario. You do not need to have any other qualifications to take the PRINCE2 Foundation Level certification. 

For the PRINCE2 Practitioner Level certification, you must have passed one of the following certifications:

  • PRINCE2 Foundation

  • Project Management Professional (PMP)®

  • Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)®

  • IPMA Level A® (Certified Projects Director)

  • IPMA Level B® (Certified Senior Project Manager)

  • IPMA Level C® (Certified Project Manager)

  • IPMA Level D® (Certified Project Management Associate)

Scrum certification

Scrum is a method of project management commonly used in engineering or development teams. The Scrum methodology gives development teams more adaptability so they can focus on improving their products, faster.

You can receive certification for different positions of the Scrum methodology. 

Available Scrum position certifications include:

  • Professional Scrum Master

  • Professional Scrum Product Owner

  • Professional Scrum Developer

  • Scaled Professional Scrum

  • Professional Agile Leadership

  • Professional Agile Leadership—Evidence Based Management

  • Professional Scrum with Kanban

  • Professional Scrum with User Experience

Read: Project management methodologies: 12 popular frameworks

Interested in learning more about project management?

We're here to help! Start by developing specific project management skills such as team collaboration or stakeholder analysis.

Then, check out Asana's project management resource library to get you started on your project management career.

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