How to Get Paid More as a Project Manager

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In project management, your salary depends on a lot of things. Factors like location, experience and the size of the project come into play for calculating average salaries for project managers.

You may be responsible for managing a large project team who are directly working for you. Or your team responsibilities might be smaller, with only a handful of people reporting to you for project work but otherwise having 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 about improving your pay. It’s packed with tips to help you get the project management salary you deserve.

Ask for More Money

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

However, if you go to your manager and ask for a pay rise today, you probably won’t get very far. You need to plan for this kind of conversation. 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 for a salary increase!

Here are some tips on what to look for and how to make that conversation flow easily.

Know the Market

First, know the kind of salaries that are being paid to people in comparative 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 surveys like the latest project management salary survey from PMI to give you an idea of what other project professionals in your area earn.

It gives you a benchmark. 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 back 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 give you that.

Build Your Experience

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

Look critically at what you have achieved in your career so far and the kind of projects that 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 adverts to show you the kind of skills that you require to get the pay increase that you are looking for. Find 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 put development plans together, with your manager or mentor, to help you achieve the level of experience required to boost your experience and create a watertight case for a pay rise.

Get Certified

The average salary for PMP® certified project managers is generally higher than for project managers who don’t hold the qualification (according to PMI research). The difference in some cases can be significant, and it gets more significant the longer you hold the qualification. In other words, getting certified while you are relatively new to being a project manager will pay back over the longer term.

PMP® certification might not be right for you, but there are a number of other project management credential schemes available. It is where your market research comes in handy again. Check the job adverts and find out what qualifications are most requested by hiring managers.

Some of the other commonly requested project management certifications include:

  • APMP
  • CAPM® (Think of this one as the younger sibling to PMP®)

If there is a particular qualification that your management team prefers, see if you can sign up for that one.

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 rises come from moving companies. Companies who are hiring tend to have budgets in mind, and they 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 that you are only in it for the cash.

Let the conversation and interview process flow naturally to its conclusion. Then you can move to negotiate your salary. It is where a recruitment company could be a big asset to your job search 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 time and other paid time off
  • Pension contributions
  • Health insurance
  • Help with childcare costs
  • Paying for certification or other career development opportunities such as attendance at conferences or other training events
  • Season ticket loans or other 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.

And, of course, work-life balance plays a big part in your overall well-being and happiness at work. Making the shift from a company that requires you in the office at 8 am every day which is a 40-minute commute away in rush hour traffic is a very different proposition to 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 that you have the project management skills commensurate with a higher salary.

You have to be able to prove that 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% pay rise. Be realistic and fair, and you have more chance of being treated similarly.

Implement Your Plan

Done your research? Updated your resumé to showcase your experience and skills? Perfect. 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 is about so that they can be prepared too. Employers expect their staff to talk about money, so don’t be afraid to bring it up.

It might not go the way you were expecting but you will get useful feedback either way, and it opens the door for further discussions later. Good luck!