Career Path for a Project Manager: How to Get There

Editorial Team

Career Path for a Project Manager: How to Get There

Human beings are inherently looking for higher, if not better, positions and chances of moving up the social and economic ladder. This explains why employees are often promoted to higher positions after some time based on the value they bring to the organization and the belief that senior management has in them.

This same logic also applies to project management. Project managers do not aim to occupy that same position for the rest of their lives. Just like humans love new challenges, so do they. Most project managers did not also start out as project managers, having progressed in their careers.

What happens after you become a project manager? Does it stop there, or can you progress further? What are some of the lower positions before one becomes a project manager? These are some of the answers that this article aims to answer.

We will cover the career path of project managers to help you know what to expect once you decide to pursue project management.

First Steps into Project Management

Becoming a project manager does not have a direct route. It mostly comes indirectly when a person managing a team of professionals such as developers rises ranks to manage an entire project and is then promoted and awarded a more prestigious job title.

For many people, their first interaction with project management was being part of project teams, working on major projects to achieve the set deliverables. Team membership also means working on the project milestones and deadlines while interacting directly with the work required for its successful execution.

Team members are also expected to report progress, assess risks, and act on change requests. This is quite different from senior roles, which involve planning, managing the change requests, and defining all the project schedules. However, it is worth noting that provided that one is offered the proper support and training, progressing through ranks and transitioning to project management is not a challenging task.

Early Career Roles of Project Managers

Employees are often promoted to project managers once they show a level of management and responsibility. Therefore, save for extraordinary instances, it is pretty impossible to directly rise from a regular team member to a project manager.

There are several roles that one can take before becoming a project manager. These should help you prove your worth and hasten your chances of reaching your desired end goal. Let’s take a look at these:

Career Path for a Project Manager

1.    Project Assistant

This is one of the earliest positions that you can assume in your project management journey. Project assistants’ primary role is to coordinate team members towards the achievement of the project objectives. In some industries, this is a full-time job with its sets of requirements.

As the project assistant, you will also be expected to work closely with the project manager and the team to ensure productivity. This includes coordinating efforts within the team and any other outside consultant for successful project execution.

These individuals also report updates to the management, be it verbally or in written form, and complete any pending administrative tasks, either research or responding to emails. Other roles include monitoring budgets and ensuring proper use of resources, organizing and monitoring schedules, showing commitments to clients’ needs, assigning tasks to team members with the permission of the project manager, and collaborating with the whole project team.

Most of the time, you need an associate or bachelor’s degree in the relevant field for this job. Some of the qualities required include superb communication skills, proactiveness, independence, high motivation, reliability, and collaborating with different working teams. You will also need relevant experience in the given industry and outstanding organizational skills.  

2.      Project Coordinator

The project coordinator also plays a vital role in the successful execution of the project. His/ her position is quite different from the project assistant, and they have different roles. These individuals work under the project managers, ensuring that projects are completed on time and within the budgeted amount.

He/ she is charged with overseeing smaller parts of a larger project, and their jobs are generally administrative.  Part of the job includes ensuring that all the aspects of the project are running efficiently and smoothly.

They, therefore, work with the project team and clients to come up with a timeline, ensures that the project goals are met, and create schedules. With the help of project assistants, these individuals track budgets, dates, and any other relevant information with the help of spreadsheets.

Part of their job includes organizing reports, invoices, financial files, contracts and attending to various administrative duties such as billing and bookkeeping. They further coordinate and attend meetings as well as develop the project strategies.

This role requires that one should be a good problem solver with the ability to multi-task. Other skills include organization and communication. Some positions may also require a level of education, mostly a Bachelor’s degree or given certifications.

3.      Project Management Support

Also known as the project support officer, these individuals work closely with the project managers and the project team. Whereas several project management support officers support one project at a time, others may support more than one project when the need arises.

They play an essential role in the coordination, planning, and control of the entire project. The People in this role do not need to be supervised by the project managers. On the other hand, they are entrusted by these managers to ascertain that the agreed project management methods and standards are upheld in the project lifecycle.

Other roles include maintaining risk and issuance of logs and change control records, coming up with and supporting effective communication mechanisms as the project progresses, assisting project team members in applying the project procedures, and recording and reporting standards.

Project management support officers also develop and implement the right configuration management policies, overseeing the production of all reports and defining the applicable procedures based on the agreed methodology.

Based on these roles, project management support officers must be highly computer literate, have vast knowledge and experience in formal project management methodology and IT programs, analyze and present information.

Other requirements include project planning ability and superb communication skills. Given that the project management support specialist officer works closely with the project manager, this is an excellent position to learn how to become a good project manager.

These three supportive standard roles are some of the most common before getting into senior project management. If you have the right project management qualifications, you may like to progress further. Let’s look at some of the ‘relatively’ senior project management roles that you can undertake.

4.      Assistant Project Manager

Large organizations and more complex or more prolonged projects call for assistant project managers. This individual is charged chiefly with monitoring project progress, following up with different stakeholders, and scheduling meetings.

The assistant project manager also maintains different project documents and reports and handles issues touching on the delay or completion of project phases with the stakeholders. However, the assistant project manager still falls under the project manager and should therefore be ready to handle any task given by the manager promptly and efficiently.

Other roles include researching the required information, supporting the project manager in coordinating and managing projects, undertaking administrative tasks, and maintaining communication with the stakeholders. In this role, one is also expected to keep an oversight on all the project activities, identify any issues and ensure prompt resolution.

You will probably need vast experience in the given industry and proficiency in several tools. Other requirements include high levels of organization, attention to detail, excellent communication skills, ability to work with a team, and the right level of education.

Also, it is not mandatory that every project must have an assistant project manager. This role is usually familiar in organizations with complex, long, and concurrent projects. The role of assistant project managers in such cases is, therefore, to oversee shorter or lesser projects, which may still be quite challenging.

However, where there is a project manager and his/ her assistant, the latter must work closely with the project manager to execute the project successfully.

5.      Project Manager

The only way up for an assistant project manager is to be a project manager. The project manager owns the center stage when it comes to the planning, execution, monitoring, control, and closure of projects. Therefore, they are answerable to the stakeholders regarding the project scope, team, resources, and project outcomes.

The project manager plays different roles in the initiation, planning, and execution phases.  Other roles include monitoring and control as well as the closure of the project. Given their diverse roles, these individuals must be highly skilled.

They are required to be accountable, know how to handle stress, become a strategic business partner, respect and motivate the different stakeholders, be fully invested in the success of the project, and encourage others to make valuable contributions as well as encourage them.

With the proper certifications, a project manager can qualify for higher career opportunities with good pay. Contrary to what many people believe, the career path of a project manager does not end here. Let us look at some of the senior positions that one can advance to.

Senior Project Management Positions

1.    Senior Project Manager

The senior project manager plays a more prominent role than that of the project manager. He/ she is in charge of projects that stretch one or more business units. This calls for effective resource management, being in charge of schedules, and ensuring that the right quality and control guidelines are adhered to throughout the project’s lifecycle.

Therefore, t

he senior project manager runs the project daily and verifies that the correct procedures are followed. They can also be in charge of several project managers, given that they are often engaged to manage one or more complex initiatives.

The project manager also manages all aspects of several related projects, procure resources, and monitor staff performance. These individuals also offer status reporting, manage project scope and changes, support formal and informal schedules, and delegate tasks to the right persons.

You will need a range of qualifications to be a senior project manager. You must have quality experience in Agile, Scrum, and SDLC methodologies. You must also show strong leadership, the ability to work both creatively and analytically, self-motivation and decisiveness, as well as best research practices.

One must also be conversant with several tools, such as MS Project and Excel.

2.      Implementation Manager

You can then choose to be an implementation manager in charge of a team of implementation specialists. The implementation manager also reviews external client’s product demands, comes up with project plans, and ensures that implementations are made on time.

3.      Project Leader

The project leader is different from the project manager. He/ she leads people, making sure that the project is successfully undertaken. He/ she engages the team, takes care of their needs, and maintains a productive work environment.

Other responsibilities include attending meetings, testing product prototypes, keeping the team focused, and developing progress reports based on the projects they are working on.

4.      Management Consultant

Management consultants help organizations solve issues, drive growth, create value and improve business performance. They offer objective advice and expertise aimed at helping an organization come up with a specialist skill that it lacks.

These individuals can work in several industries. You can, therefore, choose to take your project management role a notch higher and become a management consultant.

5.      Program Manager

The program manager coordinates the different projects for an organization. Some of their roles include supervision and organization of activities to ensure that the project goals are in line with the organization’s objectives.

Other possible careers include portfolio manager, head of projects, and directors of projects.


You can choose to advance further from your role as a project manager. We have looked at the project path of project managers to help you know what to expect career-wise. I hope that this article has been quite informative.