Key Careers in Leadership: How to Become a Project Manager

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Imagine the largest athletic shoe manufacturer in the world has chosen a medium-sized marketing company to promote its new flagship sneaker. It’s a million-dollar campaign, with media advertisements all around the world — on television and radio, in newspapers and magazines, and on social media.

To make this project happen, the marketing company must assemble a team of strategists, writers, editors, videographers, and office assistants. But who will make sure each individual knows his or her specific role and timeline and that the client remains satisfied? The company’s executives can’t spend all of their time managing a potentially multiyear project, especially with other projects already in various stages of development.

In this kind of situation, the executives turn to a project manager to get the job done. The project manager delegates jobs and helps ensure the company meets deadlines and maintains the quality of work expected by the client, turning a massive job into a major success. How does one become a project manager? Read on.Project manager holds a meeting.

What Does a Project Manager Do?

A project manager serves as the point person for a job, overseeing employees from one or more departments working on different tasks who come together to achieve a greater goal. They often report to executives or department heads, providing regular updates on progress, but the day-to-day role of the project manager is focused on the development of the specific project. In the example of the marketing company working on the shoe ad campaign, tasks might include checking in with various task leaders, meeting with the head of a small graphic design team to go over ideas for a magazine spread, connecting with stakeholders at the shoe company for feedback on television advertisement storyboards, or sitting in on a discussion of possible slogans with the copywriting department.

No matter what projects they’re overseeing, what project managers do requires specific skills. They must be strong leaders and motivators, keeping teams of potentially dozens of workers focused on a common goal and not getting discouraged by setbacks and delays. They need to be effective communicators and adaptable problem-solvers, as well as adept at managing client expectations and meeting timelines.

Steps to Become a Project Manager

The process of how to become a project manager can take you down multiple paths, but there are various likely stops along the way. Getting the right education and developing skills in communication and leadership can help you achieve your professional goals.

Get a Strong Education

Because project managers find themselves integrating many different tasks, they must have strong communication skills. Often, project managers leverage a bachelor’s degree as a starting point, but those who wish to refine their ability to lead large teams pursue an advanced degree in a related discipline, such as Maryville University’s online Master of Arts in Strategic Communication and Leadership. Students take courses in organizational leadership, best practices in strategic communication, global and intercultural communication, and more.

Develop Your Project Management Skills

Project managers need strong interpersonal communication skills, problem-solving skills, and the ability to adapt to changes on the fly. They spend much of their time organizing both information and people and prioritizing and delegating tasks.

Students can hone these skills in the classroom, but aspiring project managers also need to gain hands-on experience. Volunteering as a project coordinator for a political campaign  or taking on work as an administrative assistant, and interning in organizations that utilize project managers all provide avenues for sharpening these skills in a real-world environment.

Project Manager Salaries

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) includes project managers in the category of business operations specialists. As of May 2017, just over 1 million individuals held this position in the U.S. For the high-level work that project managers do, they earn a median annual salary of about $70,010, according to the BLS. PayScale reports the median annual salary for project managers at $73,424, with the bottom 10% making close to $48,000 and the top 10% making up to $111,000 annually. This salary range may vary based on location, industry, and experience.

Employment Outlook for Project Managers

While the BLS does not keep specific job market data for project managers, it expects the number of related managerial positions to grow between 2016 and 2026. Categories such as architectural and engineering managers (6% growth), construction managers (11%), and public relations/fundraising managers (10%) are expanding near or above the national job market average (7%).

If you’re looking to become a project manager, it’s worth focusing on the industries that you’re most excited about and that expect future growth. As those industries expand, so will their need for skilled professionals to manage their initiatives.

Learn More About How to Become a Project Manager

What project managers do is vital to the success of businesses across industries. If the idea of leading and motivating a team of people to complete a common goal sounds like a satisfying career, then a job as a project manager could be the perfect fit. See how Maryville University’s online Master of Arts in Strategic Communication and Leadership can give you the skills you need to deliver projects that are on time and exceed expectations.


Association for Project Management, “What Does a Project Manager Do?”

CIO, “7 Must-Have Project Management Skills”

Maryville University, Master’s in Strategic Communication and Leadership

PayScale, Average Project Manager (Unspecified Type/General Salary)

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Business Operations Specialists, All Other

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “You’re a What? Project Coordinator”