What Does a Project Manager Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Image shows a man scrambling to catch flying pieces of paper, with a cluttered desk and an open laptop. Text reads:

Image by Ashely Deleon Nicole © The Balance 2019

The role of a project manager is wide-ranging. A project manager assumes full responsibility for successfully initiating, designing, planning, controlling, executing, monitoring, and closing a project. These professionals work in a wide range of industries, although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies this type of manager as a construction position.

Approximately 403,800 project managers worked in the construction industry in 2016.

Project Manager Duties & Responsibilities

Many aspects of this role in a company are the same, regardless of the project manager's field:

  • Develop the big idea: Project managers are expected to pick up an idea and turn it into an executable project plan.
  • Organize the project tasks: You’ll work with your team to figure out exactly what needs to be done to bring the project to fruition.
  • Assemble the team: You'll put together a team that can help bring the project idea into reality.
  • Engaging stakeholders: Stakeholder engagement means working with the people affected by the project to ensure that they understand the coming changes and how the changes will affect them.
  • Managing the money: Projects cost money, and a project manager must be able to put together a project budget, managing how the money is spent and controlling costs.
  • Lead the team: You might be required to coach, train, mentor, and develop the people who work on the project. Leading the team involves setting up and managing collaboration on the team.
  • Manage the handover: Project managers are expected to provide a clear and complete handover to the team who will manage the project going forward, or working with the output that the project team delivered.

Project Manager Salary

Pay ranges can vary significantly by industry, but construction tends to pay very well.

  • Median Annual Salary: $91,370 ($43.92/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $159,560 ($76.71/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $54,810 ($26.35/hour)

Education, Training, & Certification

This is one of those occupations where you'll get further with education and specific training, but the door isn't necessarily closed to you without an education and certification.

  • Education: Earning at least an associate degree, or more preferably a bachelor's degree, is becoming increasingly important in the construction industry. More and more companies are placing significant importance on specialized education. Narrow your major down to one that's appropriate to your field.
  • Experience: Some level of experience in the field where you want to work as a project manager can also be important. Many project managers begin their careers as assistants and work their way up.
  • Certification: Not all industries require certification, and not all even have certification standards. Look into the Construction Management Association of America (CMAA) if you're considering construction. The CMAA certifies workers with experience after they pass an exam. The American Institute of Constructors also offers a certification program.

Project Manager Skills & Competencies

A project manager is by defiintion a leader, and some core leadership skills can be beneficial, not only in landing a job but in producing exceptional work.

  • Leadership skills: You’ll be in charge of numerous people who fulfill various roles on your project team. Successfully leading a team means negotiating the challenges of disagreements and conflict, and being on top of communications at all times. You'll need to motivate your team to do a great job.
  • An ability to think ahead: A project is a living thing, ever evolving on its way toward completion. It can be as important to plan for what might happen later as it is to manage what's happening now.
  • Money management skills: This can begin with a simple aptitude for math, but understanding how to finance a large endeavor from salaries to supplies to unexpected cash emergencies can be critical.
  • Writing skills: A project must be documented from start to finish, in clear, concise language.

Job Outlook

Where there are projects, there will be jobs, and where there are industries, there will be projects. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that employment of construction project managers is likely to grow by 11 percent from 2016 through 2026. Those with bachelor's degrees will be more in demand for this position.

Construction careers can be heavily dependent on the economy, but the BLS expects that the retirement of existing workers will keep occupation opportunities in this sector relatively steady.

Work Environment

Project managers tend to be office-bound, even in the construction industry—and even though that office may be a trailer at a construction site. But they tend to be hands-on across industries, usually found where the action is at critical points of progress. Travel may be required.

Work Schedule

This is almost invariably a full-time position, but meeting deadlines and emergencies along the way can require overtime, sometimes unexpectedly. About one-third of project managers in the construction industry work more than 40 hours a week.

Comparing Similar Jobs

Some similar careers might provide related experience.