Are you someone who lives by the words “done is better than perfect”? Do you live for the thrill of a new project begun, of organization and delegation and ticking off milestones? Maybe you always volunteer to supervise school field trips, or you always take the lead in university group projects. If so, listen up, because I’ve got a job that you are almost certainly suited for:
Every project needs a manager, and project management-oriented job opportunities are demonstrably on the rise. Do I have your attention? Then read on for your starter’s guide!
What is a Project Manager?
So, what exactly is a Project Manager? Any time a company takes on a project, from constructing a building to publishing a book, there needs to be one person in charge who oversees the project from inception to completion. This visionary individual supervises all the moving parts, understands everything that must be accomplished, delegates and checks all the work, and is ultimately responsible for the success or failure of a given project.
Some industries have been built on the backs of project managers from the very start – such as construction and manufacturing, where the entire process focuses on producing a building or creating a product. However, as technology and a fast-paced world make conducting business and reaching consumers ever more complicated, other industries are learning the usefulness of project managers, too. That includes online businesses and entrepreneurs!
It’s a great time to become a project manager. And if you’re hyper-organized, good at breaking big projects down into sequential tasks, and have both strong leadership and great communication skills, you’re ready to get started.
What does a Project Manager do?
You may be wondering what, in concrete terms, a project manager actually does from day to day on the job. The most accurate answer is that it depends on the project and the industry you’re working on at the time. One thing you can count on, however, is that pretty much every project will involve interruptions, setbacks, and unavailable resources – so you’ll need to be adaptable and creative on the daily!
Broadly speaking, though, here’s what you’ll find a project manager is expected to do:
- Develop the project idea. Your client may tell you exactly what they expect you to do in a project (build an app, create a marketing campaign) or they may tell you what they’d like to do and then expect you to figure out how that can be accomplished (somehow engage readers before a book release). In either case, you’ll start breaking the project down into actionable steps.
- Assemble the necessary team. You’ll be responsible for putting together a team to accomplish the various objectives in your project. For example, if you need to develop a social media marketing campaign with short videos, that could involve hiring a copywriter, a graphics design artist, a videographer, a commercial composer, a market researcher, and more.
- Coordinate the various parties involved. Once you have your team assembled and start handing out assignments, you’ll need to actually lead the team. Make sure they clearly understand their assignments, get materials from one team member to another, keep them on target and full of creative energy, and quickly respond to any delays so project momentum doesn’t break down. (Like replacing a team member if they can’t hold up their end of the deal, or dealing with poorly executed work.)
- Stay on budget. As the project manager, you’re also the money manager. You must balance the cost of freelancers, services, and production costs against the requirements of the project, all to the satisfaction of your client.
- Make your deadlines. You’re responsible for ensuring your team hits every milestone on time so that the final project concludes on the appointed day – or even early. A project lives or dies on its deadlines, especially when dealing with a fast-paced online world that changes every day.
- Engage with involved parties. Besides coordinating with your team, you also need to be communicative with all involved parties (just one, if you’re client’s an individual, or perhaps several if you’ve been contracted with by a company). Doing this well and respectfully involves learning the company’s culture and treading lightly when talking with their C-suite or managing employees of theirs who are also on your team.
- Transition Smoothly. For those projects which involve a continuous service (like building and launching an app) or some minimal upkeep (book promotion, where reader reviews will be collected after the book launches), you should oversee the handoff from your team to the client’s staff.
These are the major guideposts for each project, and attending to them carefully and completing them successfully will lead to a happily concluded project. Which can then go in your portfolio as you move on to the next project!
What skills, tools, and certifications should a Project Manager have?
You’ve already seen that you need strong organizational and planning skills along with finely-tuned communication skills. You need to know where to recruit strong talent, how to create (and stick to) a budget, and have the gut instincts to finesse a team and keep them involved and productive. You should also have some contract management and risk assessment skills. Depending on the industries you target, you may need specific knowledge of industry processes, terms, or science. You should also know how to use the best software and services available for project management, such as Basecamp, Microsoft Project, Slack, Smartsheet, etc.
Beyond skills, you also need experience. You can come at this from an informal angle – all you need is someone willing to hire you. Successfully complete their project and bam! You’ve gotten on-the-job experience and have a project to put in your portfolio. You can keep moving on and up from this informal pursuit alone, especially if you have well-placed connections who are willing to vouch for you. There are projects all around you, too, and finding them may be as simple as your local hairdresser’s salon needing a website but not knowing how to get started or your cousin’s small day planner business needing a Kickstarter managed.
To supplement your hard-earned experience or give you the necessary training up front, there are courses and certifications you can complete: many universities (including online colleges like Kaplan University and Liberty University) offer degrees or certification courses in Project Management. You can also go directly to the Project Management Institute for certification: they offer several different certification types with different requirements in education and experience. (You’ll almost certainly want PMI certification in order to command the fees you deserve.)
This is also a great time to grow your skills by taking project management-adjacent courses. A class like Tina Forsyth's Online Business Manager Certification Training is a 90-day course of intensive training that will give you the tools necessary to virtually manage the day-to-day of an online-based business. This includes managing operations, employees – and projects!
Where do you find Project Management jobs?
Once you’re ready to hang out your shingle and start searching for project management gigs, there are several resources you can turn to:
- Personal Connections. Never underestimate the power of the personal connection – check with your family, friends, and business contacts on LinkedIn to see if any of them have companies or individuals in need of a project manager.
- PMI. Once you’re certified, it’s definitely useful to become a member of the Project Management Institute. Besides immediately establishing your cred, they also offer their members a job board.
- Online Job Boards. Job boards such as FlexJobs, Remote.co, and Virtual Vocations can be great resources to find remote project management positions. And, of course, there’s always Indeed.
That’s the end of our starter’s guide, leaving you ready to get started on your Project Manager life! What are you waiting for?