How to become a project manager
3 March 2022
From engineering to information technology (IT), from defence to finance to almost every industry in between, project managers are increasing in demand.
Whether they are ensuring the smooth management of a major urban infrastructure project, overseeing the delivery of new mining developments, bringing to life a new community health initiative, or implementing a cloud-based software system for a client, project managers are a vital ingredient when the working environment becomes complex.
Salaries reflect a surging demand for project managers, whose skills have become increasingly necessary in a technology-driven, fast-moving and rapidly changing work environment. Not only is project management well paid and in high demand but it also offers professionals a way into industries that enjoy a fascinating and ever-changing work environment by their very nature.
So how do you become a project manager and establish a career in this rewarding field? What skills do you need to succeed? What salary can a project manager command? What is the job outlook for this exciting role?
Skills to become a project manager
As its name suggests, project managers are responsible for managing every aspect of projects that are critical to an organisation’s success. For this reason, they need several important skills. Here are the top five skills required to succeed as a project manager:
Almost all professions demand communication skills. Given the diversity of people involved in a typical project in business, exceptional communication skills are essential for project managers.
Specifically, project managers need excellent written and verbal communication skills, as they spend a large amount of time communicating in meetings, email, or via presentations and project documentation.
Project managers need to be expert problem-solvers: Rarely, if ever, do projects go according to plan. Project managers are called upon to negotiate on many different fronts when problems arise, including procuring and budgeting for resources. When stakeholders’ expectations clash, project managers must draw on their negotiating skills to facilitate favourable outcomes.
Project managers must skillfully and calmly negotiate with stakeholders at various levels on issues such as resources, timelines and expectations. They need to ensure that the outcome constitutes a win-win for all parties.
One of a project manager’s key responsibilities is to create a schedule, timeline and project plan to ensure that the project is delivered on time and on budget. For this reason, organisational skills are essential.
Project priorities and requirements often change. For this reason, project managers need to be able to organise schedules effectively and adapt schedules to changing conditions.
Leadership skills are essential for project managers. Project managers need to effectively guide and inspire team members and stakeholders, ensuring that they feel that their concerns are heard and that they are making a meaningful contribution. Project managers also need to give feedback, set goals and evaluate the performance of others. For all of these reasons, leadership skills are paramount.
Inherent in any project is a certain amount of risk. This risk can take many forms, from the possibility that the project may not be completed on time and on budget to the concern that stakeholders may not be satisfied or that the project may not achieve its target outcomes.
How to become a project manager
Aspiring project managers in Australia need to complete on-the-job training and formal education, as well as earn different certificates and specialist qualifications. Here is how to become a project manager in Australia:
1. Complete a diploma or graduate diploma
A good place to begin a project management career is with a Graduate Diploma in Project Management, which helps the candidate develop deep knowledge around project management principles, quality control and risk, planning, and more. The course also covers specialist units such as accounting or engineering management.
There are numerous Diploma of Project Management and Certificate IV in Project Management courses available around Australia. See the courses page of the Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM) website for a thorough round-up of all of the AIPM-accredited courses.
2. Become professionally certified
Professional certification with an industry-recognised certificate is the next step to becoming a project manager. With so many project management courses available, it pays to do your research to determine which course best suits you and your career intentions.
The Project Management Professional (PMP) certification is recognised globally and across all industries. This certification is overseen by the Project Management Institute (PMI).
Then there is the Registered Project Manager (RegPM) certification, Australia’s national program owned by the AIPM. Five project management certification levels are available through this system, and five years of experience are required before registration is possible.
Finally, and this list is far from exhaustive, there is the PRINCE2 program, which is well recognised in Australia, the U.K., Europe and the Asia Pacific region. The PRINCE2 program is particularly attractive for those working in government and major corporate environments.
3. Complete advanced training
To become a senior project manager, individuals should complete advanced training (a step recommended after acquiring at least two years of project management experience). Before completing advanced training, for example, SCU Online’s Master of Project Management, a Bachelor degree in any discipline, and a minimum of two years’ work experience in a professional environment (or five years of work experience considered the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree) are essential.
Before completing advanced training, it can be valuable to seek a mentor in project management, an experienced professional who is able to introduce you to the tools and competencies required for project management success. This may be somebody within the business for which you are working, or from elsewhere.
To reach this point, consider taking smaller courses, reading up on the topic, and seeking work experience within organisations or departments that focus on project management.
Every piece of knowledge you gain along the way will add to your value as a project manager.
Project management salary, job outlook and educational requirements
There is no doubt that to become a project manager in Australia, you need to invest in work experience as well as a number of educational options. The payoff is a rewarding, stimulating and well-paid career. Here are the educational requirements, salary and job outlook for project managers in Australia.
In Australia, project manager roles require either significant work experience (at least two years in the role) or formal education in project management, for example, a Diploma or Master of Project Management.
According to Talent.com, the median salary for a project manager in Australia is $122,690 as of February 2022.
According to the Australian government website Job Outlook, which provides official forecasts for all professions, the outlook for different types of project managers is strong. For example, information and communications technology (ICT) project managers should expect strong growth, as should construction project managers.
Join the elite
For people with prior qualifications or degrees, or experience in and around industries that utilise project managers (engineering, IT, construction, etc.), and project managers looking to launch their careers to the next level, there is the SCU Online’s Master of Project Management.
A two-year, entirely online, part-time course, the Master of Project Management is endorsed by the AIPM. It combines vital core units with industry-specific elective units, plus a powerful industry research project to create the ultimate project management experience.
Candidates take units focusing on principles, planning, quality control, risk, leadership, contract management and more. Elective units include accounting, business management, engineering management, health services management, information and knowledge management, and people leadership.
Along the way, each student’s critical and analytical thinking processes will be developed, particularly in planning, implementation, collaboration and evaluation. This is important as successful project management is not just about practical application, but also about considering which skills to apply through critical thinking and reflection.
Upon completion of the Master of Project Management, entirely new career opportunities open up. From the startup environment (in 2018, StartupAus reported project management as one of the five most in-demand jobs globally) to multinational corporations, talented, experienced and well-educated project managers are essential for success.
Those entering the project management field right now will discover a wealth of opportunity and choice and an environment where excellence is richly rewarded, both in terms of salary and engagement.
Learn more about SCU Online’s Master of Project Management.