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What is a project manager? The lead role for project success

Project managers play the lead role in planning, executing, monitoring, controlling and closing projects. Here is a look at the project manager role, responsibilities, relevant certifications, expected salaries, and job-seeking tips.

By Moira Alexander

Contributing writer, CIO | JUL 6, 2021

What is a project manager? The lead role for project success

What is a project manager?

Project managers play the lead role in planning, executing, monitoring, controlling, and closing out projects. They are accountable for the entire project scope, the project team and resources, the project budget, and the success or failure of the project.

If you are looking for a career in IT and wondering if a project manager position is right for you, IT Career Roadmap: IT project manager may be the best place to start. Also, consider whether you have what it takes to be a great project manager.[ Discover the roles and responsibilities of a project managerthe key traits that make project managers successful, and the top project management certs to achieve. | Get the latest project management advice by signing up for our newsletters. ]

Project manager responsibilities

A project manager, with the help of their team, is charged with multiple responsibilities that span the five project phases of a project life cycle (initiating, planning, executing, monitoring, and closing) below.

The project management phases intersect with 10 knowledge areas, which include integration, scope, time, cost, quality, human resources, communication, risk procurement, and stakeholder management.

  1. Initiating phase
    1. Integration management: Developing a project charter
    2. Stakeholder management: Identifying stakeholders
  2. Planning phase
    1. Integration management: Developing a project management plan
    2. Scope management: Defining and managing scope, creating a work breakdown structure (WBS), and requirements gathering
    3. Time management: Planning, defining, and developing schedules, activities, estimating resources and activity durations
    4. Costs management: Planning and estimating costs, and determining budgets
    5. Quality management: Planning and identifying quality requirements
    6. Human Resource management: Planning and identifying human resource needs
    7. Communications management: Planning communications
    8. Risk management: Planning for and identifying potential risks, performing qualitative and quantitative risk analysis, and planning risk mitigation strategies
    9. Procurement management: Planning for and identifying required procurements
    10. Stakeholder management: Planning for stakeholder expectations
  3. Executing
    1. Integration management: Directing and managing all work for the project
    2. Quality management: Performing all aspects of managing quality
    3. Human resource management: Selecting, developing, and managing the project team
    4. Communications management: Managing all aspects of communications
    5. Procurement management: Take action on securing necessary procurements
    6. Stakeholder management: Managing all stakeholder expectations
  4. Monitoring and controlling
    1. Integration management: Monitoring and controlling the project work and managing any necessary changes
    2. Scope management: Validating and controlling the scope of the project
    3. Time management: Controlling the scope of the project
    4. Costs management: Controlling project costs
    5. Quality management: Controlling the quality of deliverables
    6. Communications management: Controlling all team and stakeholder communications
    7. Procurement management: Controlling procurements
    8. Stakeholder management: Controlling stakeholder engagements
  5. Closing
    1. Integration management: Closing all phases of the project
    2. Procurement management: Closing all project procurements

Project management skills 

Effective project managers need more than technical know-how. The role also requires a strategic business mindset, team building and confliction resolution capabilities, and change management expertise, among other key skills in high demand. At a base level, project managers must exhibit leadership, be able to motivate team members, prioritization, and problem-solve. Adaptability is another key non-technical skill project managers must have to succeed. Soft skills such as these 11 communication skills of effective project leaders can also help project managers excel in this highly sought after role. 

But to be a highly effective project manager, you must be a strategic business partner fully vested in organizational success, and you must be able to roll with inevitable setbacks. Combined with the necessary technical skills, certain attributes will place you in higher demand as a project manager, providing a strong foundation that will enable you to adapt to the constantly changing dynamics of a project while putting your stakeholders needs first above all else. Highly effective project managers:

  • become a strategic business partner
  • encourage and recognize the valuable contributions of others
  • respect and motivate stakeholders
  • stress integrity and accountability
  • are fully vested in the success of the project
  • are able to “work in the gray”

Project manager certifications

Becoming a certified project manager can open up doors for career opportunities and higher paying jobs. There are various educational institutions offering project management certifications with multiple specializations. The most widely recognized institution is the Project Management Institute (PMI), but there are others. Key project management certifications include the Project Management Professional (PMP) and the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM). For more, see our list of the top project management certifications available today.

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If open source project courses are of interest, also consider some of these free project management courses to help improve project-related knowledge and skills. Many businesses are adopting agile as the preferred project methodology, creating the need for employees to develop their knowledge in this area. Agile certs such as the Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP) can give you a leg up, as can Scrum-based certs such as the Certified ScrumMaster (CSM). See our lists of top agile certs and top Scrum credentials to take your career to the next level.

Project manager salaries

The high level of skills and responsibilities of project managers has garnered high salaries. According to PMI’s ninth edition salary survey, the annual median U.S. project manager salary was $108,200. Here are the annual median salaries by certification status and experience.

Certification statusMedian salary
Project Management Professional (PMP)$111,000
PMP with less than one year of experience$95,000
PMP between 1 to 5 years of experience$104,000
PMP with 5 to 10 years of experience$120,000
PMP with 10 to 20 years of experience$124,000
PMP with over 20 years of experience$133,000

The 2018 Technology and IT Salary Guide from Robert Half also offers salary data for project managers, breaking its data into four categories, based on experience and expertise:

  • 25th percentile: $92,750
  • 50th percentile: $110,000
  • 75th percentile: $132,000
  • 95th percentile: $156,000

Project manager jobs

The great part about a career in project management is that virtually every industry sector worldwide needs project managers with various specializations, making it a good career choice. Companies in the healthcare, aviation, technology, software development, engineering, construction, real estate, publishing, financial, marketing, manufacturing, education, insurance, government and many more need and seek good project managers. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics outlook for project managers is bright. Essentially, any business that has projects needs project managers. Here are just a few of the many different types of project managers companies are hiring within different sectors.

Websites to go to find jobs in the project management space:

Project manager resume tips

Landing a job as a project manager means paying close attention to what your resume says about your skills and abilities. Because your resume is an extension of you professionally, create the best first impression to ensure it gets noticed and lands an interview. An employer has to value your resume enough to want to pick up the phone. Here are five secrets to creating the best project management resume to help land a position as a project management professional and other tips and templates to create a polished resume to showcase your experience.

Project manager interview questions

Once in an interview, the tough part begins. Most candidates know how to talk about their strengths and skills, but the best are prepared to answer more challenging interview questions, such as “What do you think your role is as a project manager in terms of achieving company-wide business objectives?” and “How and when have you utilized technology to improve or enhance your effectiveness as a project manager?” For more, see our 12 difficult project manager interview questions to prep for.

Another key strategy in advance of your interview is to conduct extensive research on the organization you are interviewing with. Undertaking the following efforts will help you prepare answers that better align with the organization’s specific business context:

  • Research the industry the business resides in
  • Research the nature of the business, its activities, products/services, stakeholders, etc.
  • Review the business vision, mission statement, short-term and long-term objectives
  • Search for information on the management team and overall business culture
  • Determine how your role as a project manager and leader may impact that particular business, and in turn, also how it may be impacted by that business
  • Think about how you can best utilize your training and experience to advance projects successfully at this specific organization
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