How to Get Paid More as a Project Manager

Two businessmen shaking hands in an office building
•••

Peopleimages / Getty Image

In project management, your salary depends on a variety of factors. Location, experience, and the size of the project come into play when calculating what a project manager can expect to earn.

Project Management Variables

You may be responsible for managing a large project team who work directly for you. Or your team responsibilities might be smaller, with only a handful of people reporting to you for project work who otherwise have direct line management into someone else. (This is called a matrix structure.)

So, given all the variables, how can you get paid more as a project manager? Follow these tips to increase your chances of having a successful conversation with your manager to get what you deserve.

Ask for More Money

It might seem obvious, but no one will give you more money unless you ask for it. When companies do have an annual inflationary pay increase, this is not equal to being paid more for the work you do. All that does is ensure you aren’t paid less in real, comparable terms, given that the cost of living goes up every year.

However, you need to plan for this kind of conversation. If you go to your manager and ask for a pay increase today, you probably won’t get very far. Prepare yourself by doing some research, knowing what you are worth, and planning. Ultimately, you are trying to make it impossible for your manager to say no to your request.

Know the Market

Know the kind of salaries that are being paid to people in comparable jobs in your field. The average salary of project managers differs from industry to industry and city to city. Even cities within the same country can have vastly different salary ranges.

Check out research like the 2018 project management salary survey from PMI to get a benchmark of what other project professionals in your area earn. It may still not be completely aligned and relevant to your situation, but it gives you data to help you work out where your skills and experience should put you in the salary range.

Check the Job Ads

Another way to find out what project managers who do what you do earn, is to check the recruitment ads. You’ll see what other companies are prepared to pay people doing similar roles to you. It can help you establish how much you are worth to others, and by extension, to your management team.

Remember, it is far cheaper for them to give you an increase than it is for them to hire someone else. Having data that backs up your claim to deserving more makes it an easy conversation for you both.

Know Your Company

Before coming out and directly asking for a boost to your pay, find time to talk to your boss about the project management pay scale. Is there one? What do they expect you to be able to demonstrate before you move up to the next salary band?

Knowing what is expected of you can make the conversation about pay increases easier because you can be prepared to demonstrate how you meet each of the criteria. If you don’t currently meet the criteria to move to the next level of pay, you can still have the conversation but be prepared to be knocked down unless you can demonstrate something else exceptional that trumps the formal pay scale.

It’s a lot easier to get a pay rise as a project manager in companies that do have a formal pay structure because you can see what is required. Then you can engineer your experience to get to that salary.

Build Your Experience

A key way to prove you deserve a higher salary as a project manager is to show you have earned it. This comes through being able to demonstrate you have experience in the relevant areas.

Look critically at what you have achieved in your career so far and the kind of projects you have run. Compare this to any project management career path information or salary scale from your employer, if there is one.

You can also use job ads to show you the kind of skills you require to get the pay increase you desire. Check the recruitment ads in the salary bracket you are hoping to earn and see what skills they require. Then see if you measure up.

Have you worked with project sponsors who sit in the executive suite? Do you have experience creating and managing project budgets?

If not, you can work with your manager or mentor on a development plan to help you achieve the level of opportunities required to boost your experience and create a watertight case for a pay increase.

Get Certified

The average salary for PMP®-certified project managers averaged 23% higher than for those who don't hold the qualification, the PMI Research revealed. The difference gets more significant the longer you hold the qualification. In other words, getting certified while you are a relatively new project manager will pay back over the longer term.

PMP® certification might not be right for you, but a number of other project management credentials are available. Again, check job listings to find out the qualifications most often requested by hiring managers.

Some other commonly requested project management certifications include:

  • APMP
  • PRINCE2
  • CAPM® (This one is the younger sibling to PMP®)

If your management team prefers a particular qualification, see if you can sign up for that one to make your case for a salary increase.

Change Companies

Sometimes your best option is to take a position elsewhere. You might be ready to do that now, or you might want to explore salary opportunities with your current employer before making the decision.

Moving to a new company is a major change in your career. If you are going to do it, seek out the highest paying project management jobs in your industry and apply for those.

It’s no secret that the biggest pay increases come from joining a new company. Companies that are hiring know they need to attract the best talent. Good salary packages (combined with other staff benefits) are one way to do that.

However, it’s good practice not to make salary the first conversation you have with your interviewer. It doesn’t start the relationship well to have your potential new boss think you are only in it for the cash.

Let the conversation and interview process flow naturally to its conclusion. Then you can negotiate your salary. Recruitment firms can be a big help here as they can do some of that negotiation on your behalf. They’ll be able to guide you to jobs in the appropriate salary bracket for your aspirations and experience.

Think Beyond Salary

Salary is only one part of your overall compensation as a project manager. There are other factors that add up to your total benefits package. These include:

  • Vacation and other paid time off
  • Pension or 401(k) contributions
  • Health insurance
  • Help with childcare costs
  • Paying for certification or other career development opportunities such as attendance at conferences and other training events
  • Help with transportation, parking, and commuting costs
  • Subsidized food, such as a discounted (or free) staff restaurant

All of these can be negotiated with your current or future employer and have a monetary value that goes beyond what you see in your bank account every month.

Work-life balance also plays a big part in your overall well-being and happiness at work. Making the shift to a company that requires you in the office at 8 a.m. every day with a 40-minute commute in rush hour traffic is a very different proposition if you're leaving one that allows you to work flexibly and sometimes from home. You may decide, on balance, that the extra pay increase from moving companies isn’t worth the hassle of the change in lifestyle, so take everything into consideration before you sign that acceptance letter.

Be Excellent

None of this is going to matter if you can’t demonstrate you have the project management skills commensurate with a higher salary.

You must be able to prove you are worth the extra money. It’s not enough to know how to write a business case for your project. You have to write one, and it has to be excellent. Every project manager knows how to manage project risk. How have you done it and resolved a major problem for the company, or headed off a potential crisis?

Perhaps you have mentored other, more junior project managers, or led a team successfully and won an internal award for your project?

Managers want their staff to be fantastic and are (normally) very happy to reward star performers. Your challenge is to show that you are a star project manager and that you deserve the extra money.

Be Realistic

Finally, apply a bit of common sense to what you are asking for. Your current manager is unlikely to approve a 50% raise. Be realistic and fair, and you have more chance of being treated similarly.

Implement Your Plan

Once your research is complete and you've updated your project management resumé to showcase your experience and skills, you're ready to have a conversation with your manager about increasing your pay.

Book a time in their diary and let them know what it's about so they can be prepared, too. Employers expect their staff to talk about money, so don’t be afraid to bring it up. Even if the conversation does not go the way you want it to, you will get useful feedback either way, and it opens the door for further discussions later.