A typical project manager is a vital element in any organization, ensuring that complex projects are completed on deadline and (hopefully) within budget. Successful project managers not only grasp every technical element of a project, but also have the “soft skills” necessary to negotiate and communicate with all stakeholders, from software engineers to executives in the C-suite.
Given the importance of project managers, you might be wondering how much the position pays. As you might expect, project manager salary increases with experience, specialization, and skillset. Let’s explore!
What is project management?
Project management is the art and science of leading a team to accomplish certain goals. Project managers are involved in every step of this process, from formulating a strategy through the end goal (which could be the release or iteration of a product). Excellent project managers can accurately forecast the time and budget needed to accomplish a project, as well as optimize the use of resources during the process.
The philosophy of project management is also constantly involving, but experts generally agree that effective project managers have a grasp on the “four Ps”: planning, process, people, and power. The project management lifecycle touches on initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing. However, the exact methodologies for navigating these touch-points can vary by project and industry.
If you’re interested in pursuing project management as a career, head to the Project Management Institute’s website, which offers lots of helpful documentation for aspiring and current project managers. Educational institutions and online learning portals all offer introductory courses to project management, as well.
Are project managers in demand?
According to Lightcast (formerly Emsi Burning Glass), which collects and analyzes job postings from across the country, there’s extraordinarily high demand at the moment for project managers. Over the past 12 months, organizations have posted some 319,856 open project manager positions, and average time to fill an open role is 39 days.
Over the next 10 years, Lightcast estimates that project manager jobs will grow 2.3 percent. That’s not the most explosive growth rate in tech, but it still suggests that project manager will remain an opportunity-rich job for years to come. Organizations will always have complex initiatives that need management.
The Project Management Institute is even more optimistic, stating the project manager role is “growing faster than demand for workers in other occupations.” Through 2027, it predicts, “the project management-oriented labor force in seven project-oriented sectors is expected to grow by 33 percent, or nearly 22 million new jobs.” That means, five years from now, there will be almost 88 million people with project manager job titles worldwide.
What is a project manager’s starting salary?
According to Lightcast, those project managers with between zero and two years of experience can earn a median salary between $42,000 and $71,000. That’s quite a range, and hinges heavily on the candidate’s experience and education; those with a bachelor’s degree, for instance, tend to earn more than those who might have a mix of certifications and completed training courses.
What is a project manager’s average salary?
In tech, PayScale data shows project managers make nearly $90,000 per year on average, with a range reaching $129,000 annually. Compare that to the average technologist salary, which rose 2.3 percent between 2021 and 2022 to hit $111,348, according to the most recent Dice Tech Salary Report.
Although Lightcast puts the overall median salary for project managers somewhat lower, at $77,584 per year, the Dice Tech Salary Report is far more optimistic, placing the average project manager salary at $120,653 per year (a 1.8 percent increase year-over-year). That aligns strongly with salaries for other managers, such as product manager ($139,100 per year). However, you must have the right kind of skills to land these management positions and earn a lucrative payday.
What are the most valuable skills for a project manager?
Education, experience, and mastering certain project management skills will inevitably boost a project manager’s salary, especially if the project manager can show during job interviews how they’ve successfully used their experience and skills to accomplish their previous employers’ broader goals. Here are some of the project management skills that pop up most often in job postings:
- Project Management
- Communication Skills
- Organizational Skills
- Microsoft Office
- Microsoft Excel
- Project Planning and Development Skills
If you’re pursuing a project management role in a technology context, you’ll also need specific technical skills. For instance, project managers overseeing mobile-app development would need to be well-versed in iOS, Android, and mobile development programming languages such as Kotlin, Objective-C, and Swift.
Fundamentally, managing projects means managing people. Matt Erhard, managing partner for Summit Search Group, says: “Communication is the most critical skill for a project manager. Your ability to plan and design projects effectively is useless if you’re not able to see them through to completion, and that means coordinating all the team members, communicating the project’s expectations, tasks, and deadlines, and actively listening to individual team members when they have feedback, suggestions, or problems. This interpersonal side of the project manager position is, in my view, more important for a candidate to have coming in than things like industry knowledge that are easier to teach to an otherwise well-rounded hire.”
Ouriel Lemmel, CEO and founder of WinIt, tells Dice a project manager’s effectiveness is often related to how they manage people. “How project manager treats their team members is an indicator of how successful they will be. If they treat their team with respect and lead with the assumption that they’re capable and competent, a project manager will gain their team's respect. Conversely, micromanaging and constantly hounding a team for every small detail shows little respect, and in return, is less likely to be given.”
How a project manager treats others correlates with the results they’re able to drive—and driving results is something your next employer will be keenly interested in. Being nice might get you a better job offer.
Problem solving is key
Whatever your technical and industry interests, always keep in mind that problem-solving is the heart of the project management experience. Kavin Patel, founder and CEO of Convrrt, tells Dice: “I feel that critical thinking is a skill that all professionals can benefit from developing; it is especially beneficial in the field of project management. Rather than reacting, the greatest project managers take a proactive approach and use their critical thinking abilities to guide them through challenging or unclear projects. By keeping impartial, examining the facts, and evaluating alternatives objectively, project managers can help organizations solve complicated problems while delivering outcomes on time and on budget.”
James Angel, co-founder and CEO of DYL, has a different approach. He notes negotiation is often a core component of problem-solving. As issues arise externally, it often falls on the project manager to ease tensions to keep projects on a progressive path. “Project management, supplier involvement, and team conflict resolution are all continuous negotiations. A good project manager can keep all stakeholders pleased and working toward a single goal,” he suggests.
Not knowing when and how to use persuasive approaches to drive solutions and prevent harming workplace relationships is a key skill for project managers. “Project managers may use a range of negotiating strategies depending on the situation, and it is vital to know which is the most effective,” Angel continues. “Some may push for compromise, others for cooperation (win-win solution), or even competition (in which a project is controlled in a win-lose situation). Successful project managers know how to handle these negotiation methods effectively, regardless of the strategy they use.”
Leadership skills are likewise crucial
“Delegation is a critical skill for a product manager,” Lemmel adds. “It’s simply not possible to manage 100 percent of everything on your own. Knowing what to delegate, and who to delegate to, is key. Delegation of tasks frees a project manager up to work on projects of the highest priority and allows them to tend to whatever emergencies will inevitably pop up from time to time.”
Kevin Cook, SEO Director at On The Map, tells Dice: “When leading a team or project, effective leadership skills are essential. Successfully coaching, mentoring, and encouraging your employees may help move a project forward and ensure a wonderful outcome. Strong leaders also create a productive work environment by regularly engaging with their teams and helping them develop crucial project management skills.
“Also, teams perform better when employees feel they are making a difference. You can empower team members by knowing how to allocate assignments, provide constructive feedback, set goals, and evaluate individual and team performance. Recognize your team's achievements to show you value their work. Combining these elements with your own unique leadership style will help you manage projects better while growing as a leader.”
Manage people, solve problems while managing projects, lead the team successfully, and find a way to communicate your results to everyone in an organization: This is your recipe for success as a project manager when seeking new opportunities and salary bumps.
With enough experience as a project manager, you can also potentially rise to a program manager position, in which you’ll oversee project managers. Other C-suite positions may potentially open up, as well.