The 5 Steps to Become a Project Manager

Ever wanted to dive into project management but didn’t know where to start? Not to worry — we’ve broken the process down into five manageable steps to help you on your way.

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If I look on the bright side, I see that 2020 is the year for personal development. Sometimes there’s no better motivator than a crisis, and the economic downturn brought on by the pandemic certainly qualifies.

Facing downturns in my own life this year gave me the push I needed to work on my professional development with the hopes of coming out of this disaster better than I went in. Perhaps it’s doing the same for you. If you feel your talents aren’t fully used in your current position, there may be no better time than now to do something about it.

If you’re looking to make the transition into project management during this time, I have just the guide for you here.

Overview: What is a project manager?

A project manager is the one in charge of all project personnel and activities. They are the leader, planner, and driving force behind the project team and their deliverables. The success or failure of a project rests on their shoulders.

Project managers exist in all sorts of industries, from automotive to technology. This career path is based on comprehensive skills that are applied to all kinds of businesses, organizations, and efforts. If you can make it in project management, there’s virtually no limit to the number of industries that’ll open up to you.

The 4 main project manager roles and responsibilities

Many responsibilities fall on the shoulders of the project manager, several of which are industry specific. However, when it comes to the overall scope of working as a project manager, these are the four overarching responsibilities you’ll undertake no matter where you work.

1. Project planning

Not only do project managers manage, as the name implies, but they are typically in charge of project planning as well. Project planning includes building out the project schedule, setting the project constraints, fleshing out the details of certain tasks and milestones, working through the project steps, preparing for the risks involved, and delegating responsibilities to the team.

While the project manager has the final say on most aspects of the project, they aren’t the only ones to contribute to the planning process. They’ll most likely speak to the rest of their team to gather their input on how the project will come together and incorporate that information into the final outline.

This kind of collaboration is a core component of leadership, which leads nicely into the next project management responsibility.

2. Team leadership

The project manager is the leader of the team, planning, and execution of the project. They ensure the success of the project, no matter what it takes, including reworking the budget, shifting roles, or adjusting schedules.

As the leader, they inspire action as often as they delegate it. The best leaders foster success by finding the right roles for their team, putting together realistic schedules, and ensuring that all resources needed are available at all times. These actions create an environment where the team flourishes as they work through their deliverables and complete the projects for stakeholders.

3. Project budgeting

Budgeting is the most exciting part of being a project manager… if you love numbers. If not, it’s just another part of the job. Budgeting is a crucial project manager responsibility. Number crunching is what keeps the project running and the resources flowing, which means the project manager is responsible for creating, finalizing, and managing the budgets.

Not only are they responsible for managing the budgets, but if the project or team requires more resources to complete the job, the project manager must go to bat for these requests. They’re the go-between to ensure that everything that needs funding, has it.

4. Project documentation

Documentation is important for the project, and it’s also crucial for determining the viability of similar future projects. The project manager is responsible for this documentation, including all reports, metric building, qualitative assessments, and incident write-ups.

The best project managers will document their assignments sufficiently that anyone reading through these records should be able to put together a solid timeline of all actions in the project and how they affected the final product.

How to become a project manager

You understand what a project manager is and what their responsibilities are, but how do you become one? You can travel many unique roads to landing a role in project management, even so far as stumbling into it. However, if you’re driven and feel that project management is the career path for you, take these five steps to make it a reality.

1. Assess your own capabilities and interests

Like any career transition, the first step is to assess your skills, desires, and interests, while comparing them to the list of responsibilities. Certain project management skills ought to come naturally to you if you want to make this transition, such as:

  • Communication skills
  • Conflict management
  • Organizational skills
  • Prioritization
  • Patience
  • Budgeting skills
  • Time management
  • Scope management

Being a project manager requires a multifaceted individual with the experience to hold all the pieces of a large assignment together. Do you struggle with deadlines? Is multitasking difficult for you? Are you non-confrontational?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then project management may not be for you. This position can be a pressure cooker, but if you’re made for this sort of work, project management just might be the right avenue for you.

2. Seek out management responsibilities in your current position

Think of this step as the trial phase of your project management career. Instead of jumping headfirst into project management certifications, seek out management responsibilities in your current position.

A great place to start is managing interns and their assignments. If your company hires seasonal interns on your team, ask to manage one or two of them along with their daily assignments. This will give you management experience that allows for mistakes due to the low importance of their work.

Once you’re comfortable managing interns, the next step is to manage certain aspects of a project. That’ll give you the opportunity to oversee the execution of a smaller, more manageable task without getting in over your head.

3. Familiarize yourself with project management tools

While this is the third step in the list, it’s a key component of your journey you can explore at any point in time. In fact, as you work your way up from managing interns to directing certain parts of project execution, you’ll likely find yourself using all kinds of popular project management tools, including:

Experience with these tools is vital. Most every position I’ve ever worked has inquired about my experience with all kinds of tools and software, from Basecamp to Slack. Even if your job doesn’t require you to use certain platforms, it doesn’t hurt to go out and do some research on the most popular options on the market and watch short demonstrations on how they work and what they are used for.

4. Acquire your certifications

Here’s where things get serious. If you’re looking at project manager certifications, chances are you’re already sold on this career path and want to make it official. The good news is you won’t need a project management degree to break into the field. Certifications are the perfect way to show your expertise and learn the ins and outs of project management.

These certifications include:

It’s true these certifications and the courses preparing you for the exam cost money, but if you demonstrate your skills and value to your organization, sometimes you can convince them to pay for your project management training. Good companies are always looking for ways to improve their workforce. If these options are available to you, take advantage of them.

5. Work your way into a project management position

This works in one of two ways. Either you indicate your desire to move into project management with your current employer, or you start looking elsewhere to grow your career. As stated earlier, there are inherent benefits in moving up within your current organization such as the subsidization of your studies and certifications.

If your current situation allows for this avenue and a clear path is drawn for you to move up into a project management role, it’s usually the best route to go for your first position. After all, what better way to hone in your project management skills than with people, systems, and an environment you already know?

However, some employers either don’t have the resources to invest in your professional development, or they have no interest in moving you into a project management role because of a flat corporate structure, little upward mobility, etc. If this is the case, and you’re dead set on working as a project manager, it’s probably time to search for a new employer.

My recommendation is to work on getting at least one certification before you start making big moves, so you’ll have a better bargaining position when negotiating with a new company. It’s always best not to rock the boat with your current employer before you jump ship and head elsewhere.

Other project management resources at your disposal

Not only do we want to help launch your project management career, we also want to supercharge it with our countless guides and software reviews. Our resources at The Blueprint will put you on the map as a knowledgeable and capable project manager, from understanding the project management process and creating project milestones, to the importance of Agile methodologies in modern business.

We are always adding new content to our site and we don’t want you to miss out on all of this useful (and free) information. That’s why the best way to stay up to date is to sign up for our newsletter below. We want to help you every step of the way while making this career transition.


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The Motley Fool has a Disclosure Policy. The Author and/or The Motley Fool may have an interest in companies mentioned.