What Does a Project Manager Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

two people arranging sticky notes on wall
•••

Robert Nicholas/OJO Images/Getty Images

Project managers organize resources—such as time, money, and people—to make projects successful. The Project Management Institute (PMI), defines a project as “a temporary group activity designed to produce a unique product, service or result.” PMI describes project management as "the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements."

Project Manager Duties & Responsibilities

Exact duties can vary greatly depending on the employer's needs, but the job generally requires the ability to perform the following duties:

  • Work with project sponsors to establish the goals of the project
  • Flesh out goals out in a project charter, which is the document that formalizes the beginning of a project and outlines high-level expectation of the project like milestones, budget, and timeframes
  • Work with others to organize a dedicated project team if one is not already formed
  • Develop a project plan and a work breakdown structure, which divides the milestones of the project into manageable chunks that can be assigned to one person or small groups
  • Communicate about project status with project team members, sponsors, and other stakeholders inside and outside of the organization
  • Hold regular meetings with the project team and meet with individual team members as necessary
  • Ensure that the project is running as planned and meets its goals
  • Identify any problems that may affect project completion and propose solutions
  • Create and maintain a project budget, monitor expenses, and project cash flow

A large part of a project manager’s job is communication. In the planning phase, the project manager and sponsor are in constant communication. Once the project has started, the project manager meets with stakeholders regularly to ensure the project is going as expected. As the project draws to a close, the project manager must communicate to make sure everything comes together. After the has closed, the project manager documents and communicates lessons learned from the project.

Project managers are not always experts in the subject matters of their projects. On larger projects, there is practically no way a project manager can be an expert on all the aspects of the project. This is why teams are so important.

Project Manager Salary

A project manager's salary can vary depending on location, experience, and employer.

The average base salary for a project manager in the U.S. was $73,763 as of April 2019, according to Salary.com. Depending on the employer, additional compensation in the form of a bonus is also possible. Use the tools on Salary.com to calculate what your project manager salary might be based on your experience, skills, and more.

Education, Training & Certification

As project management has blossomed into its own distinct discipline, the value of certifications has increased. In fact, many job postings in both the public and private sectors show employers require or prefer new hires to be credentialed. People with long work histories in project management may not need certifications, but those new to this line of work must pursue them.

  • Education: Typically, people need at least a high school diploma to enter this occupation. However, some employers may require job candidates to have a bachelor’s degree in a discipline related to the industry that they're in.
  • Certification: Many professional associations offer certification in project management. In the U.S., the most prevalent certification for project managers is the Project Management Professional, or PMP, offered by PMI. To obtain a PMP credential, a project manager must meet educational, experience and training requirements. After meeting these requirements, a project manager must apply with PMI and take an exam. This exam is based on the Project Management Body of Knowledge, or PMBOK.

    Project Manager Skills & Competencies

    There are several characteristics common among successful project managers. With these traits, project managers are well on their way toward accomplishing their projects' goals.

    • Communication and interpersonal skills: Project managers are constantly communicating. Whether communicating with the project sponsor, stakeholders or team members, project managers must make the most of opportunities to disseminate and gather information. The project manager must be open and honest about what is going on with the project. Such candor enhances a project manager's trustworthiness. People know they will get reliable information no matter what is happening during the project.
    • Organizational skills: Planning is critical to success in project management. Project managers must be planners not merely to establish a good plan but to follow a plan and to know when that plan needs to change. Project managers stick to a plan until it no longer meets the project’s needs. Then, they make adjustments on the fly to ensure the project’s goals will be met. They communicate the changes to the necessary audiences.
    • Critical thinking and decision-making skills: Project managers must be able to cut through bias and emotion to find relevant information and apply it to the decision-making process. When critical decisions about time, quality, and scope arise, project managers need to determine what needs to be done.

    Job Outlook

    The U.S. Department of Labor Statistics doesn't gather data on project managers specifically, but it does offer information on business operations specialists, the broader category in which it falls. The BLS projects that employment in this field will grow 9 percent through 2026, which is slightly faster than the overall employment growth of 7 percent for all occupations in the country.

    Work Environment

    Project coordinators usually work in offices, but they may need to travel sometimes, depending on the type of project they're managing. They're often working in a deadline-driven environment and must be able to handle that type of pressure.

    Work Schedule

    Most project managers work full time during regular business hours but may work additional hours, especially when deadlines are nearing, depending on the type of project.

    Comparing Similar Jobs

    People who are interested in becoming project managers can also consider some related careers, listed here along with their median salaries: 

    • Logisticians: $74,590
    • Meeting, Convention, and Event Planners: $48,290
    • Fundraisers: $55,640