What Is a Project Manager? A Career Guide by Industry

Project managers are responsible for organizing, planning, and executing projects — making them team members at organizations in a variety of industries. These organized team leaders are often responsible for ensuring a project runs efficiently, keeping projects on track, on budget, and on schedule. As a result, they’re tasked with coordinating resources and communicating with key stakeholders about projects along every step of the planning and execution process. 

Projects can vary heavily depending on the industry. A project manager might oversee the rollout of a piece of software, the launch of a new vehicle, or the construction of a new building. In this guide, we’ll discuss what project managers do, how project managers operate in various fields, and go over the educational and experience requirements for most project management disciplines.

What Does a Project Manager Do?

According to the Project Management Institute, the process of project management helps businesses save time and money, reduce risk, and improve ROI on business investments. Acting as a guiding force for projects across an organization, project managers can help improve collaboration across teams and help make the project completion process smoother for all parties. Project managers work across many fields, but technology is becoming more critical globally, making tech-focused skills more important than ever before. Columbia Engineering Technology Project Management Boot Camp can help you get started with the tech and project management skills required to work in the field, regardless of your current experience level.

The Five Phases of Project Management 

Professional project managers frequently handle complex tasks — the scope of a specific project can be quite large and requires interfacing with many different parts of an organization. One of the most essential skills for a project manager is the ability to break a project down into steps or stages. According to the Project Management Institute, this typically involves five project phases

  • Phase 1 — Initiation: At the beginning of a project, the goal is to define a project broadly and understand what needs to take place for the project to be successful. This phase can involve feasibility testing: Is the project even possible? Will the project help a business achieve its objectives?
  • Phase 2 — Planning: Once a project has been deemed feasible, a project manager plans out the rest of the project: they determine the project’s scope, milestones, communication plans, risk mitigation plans, and budgets. The project manager will also break down the work required to complete the project and who will do the work. 
  • Phase 3 — Execution: This is the biggest step of the project — where deliverables start to take shape. This phase can involve building project teams, executing project plans, and holding update meetings to keep everyone in the loop, as well as troubleshooting and making changes that crop up in the beginning stages of a project. 
  • Phase 4 — Monitoring and Controlling: Once a project starts and deliverables are assigned, a project manager must monitor its progress and help it reach the finish line. Here, a project manager helps keep a project on schedule, monitors deliverables for quality, and tracks the budget and work hours used for a project. This phase can involve troubleshooting issues as they arise, revising schedules and budgets as needed, and allocating resources as project needs change.
  • Phase 5 — Closing: Once a project is complete, project managers are responsible for closing procedures. During post-mortem meetings, a team discusses what went well and what can improve for future projects. A few loose ends might need to be tied up, even though a project is considered finished. This is also when a final budget and project report can be compiled and delivered to relevant stakeholders.

       A graphic illustrating the five phases of project management.

      Example Project Management Job Responsibilities. 

      A project manager’s responsibilities vary heavily depending on the industry they work within. However, some general tasks and duties are the same across industries. Here are some job responsibilities frequently seen in project management: 

      • Developing a plan for the project including key stakeholders, timeline, and budget
      • Creating a team to execute a project
      • Managing project budget and costs
      • Monitoring project progress and setting deadlines for team members
      • Quality management across the lifetime of a project
      • Communicating with key internal or external stakeholders
      • Troubleshooting and problem solving along the project timeline 

      Keep in mind while you’re job hunting that product management and project management are completely different roles. Product management is a common role in high-tech businesses surrounding software or services involving driving the development, launch, and support of a company’s products.

      However, project management can have different meanings within different organizations. Read on for a closer look at the project manager role, and consider our guide to the differences between project management and product management for additional insight.

      Project Management Definition By Industry

      Project managers typically specialize in different fields. Technology project managers might handle the launch of a new piece of software, aviation project managers could manage an airplane’s wing redesign, and healthcare project managers might oversee an initiative to reduce admission times at a specific hospital.

      According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for project managers in 2020 was $77,420. It’s important to note that the actual salary for a specific role depends on the employee’s level of experience and the specifics of the industry. For example, the annual mean wage in 2020 for a project manager working in colleges, universities, and professional schools was $70,450, while the mean wage for someone working in management, scientific, and technical consulting services was $86,200. 

       A chart that highlights the median annual wage for product managers in 2020.

      Project management is a very specialized field, and the specifics of each project will differ based on the industry. In the following section, we’ll discuss project management across different sectors. 

      What Is a Technical Project Manager?

      Technology is a critical component of how organizations manage their resources and grow over time. Most modern projects will involve some kind of technological component — understanding how to work in technical frameworks to achieve an organization’s objectives will be crucial to success in a tech project manager role.

      Technical project managers should be well-versed in specialized topics, leadership principles, and project management methodologies. Despite their title, tech project managers can be involved in both tech-focused and non-tech-focused areas. They aren’t segmented into tech-specific organizations, rather, they work with projects that apply technology in various fields. For example, a technical project manager could integrate a new content management system (CMS) at a media company, update a website at a large enterprise organization, or integrate a new 3D modeling system at a construction firm. Technology is changing how organizations do business across many fields, and a technical project manager can be behind any number of these changes. 

      If you’re interested in becoming a tech project manager, Columbia Engineering Technology Project Management Boot Camp covers the fundamentals of software development, the project management life cycle, project management methodologies, and more throughout the 18-week online course.

      What Is an IT Project Manager?

      IT project managers are experienced information technology professionals who plan, execute, and close tech-focused projects. They’re typically responsible for supporting teams of technical specialists to build software, computer systems, or other pieces of software that can augment or completely change how a company operates. Projects might include software and app development, networking equipment upgrades, cloud computing integrations and rollouts, data management projects, and hardware installations and rollouts. 

      Becoming an IT project manager requires a robust set of fundamental technology and project management skills. Our guide on how to become an information technology project manager can help you learn how to get started on this career path. 

      What Is a Project Manager in Healthcare?

      As the name suggests, project managers in a healthcare environment plan, monitor, and execute projects related to the healthcare industry. Projects could involve redesigning emergency room procedures to improve intake time or enhancing a hospital’s billing system to make the process smoother for everyone involved. 

      Healthcare project managers typically work on high-stakes projects that can have severe consequences if projects run over budget or over schedule, as issues can directly impact patients. Healthcare projects can be especially challenging due to the healthcare industry’s regulatory burden and privacy laws. Furthermore, the healthcare industry is constantly growing and changing, meaning that project managers must keep up to date with current industry practices. 

      While complicated, healthcare project management is a promising field that provides a dynamic, rewarding work environment. After all, successful projects can significantly impact people’s lives in this area. 

      What Is a Project Manager in HR?

      Human resource departments oversee employee processes, company HR practices, training, benefits, onboarding, and more. HR project managers handle projects surrounding the internal operations of an organization. 

      For example, a quickly growing business might want to streamline its onboarding process to get new employees up to speed more quickly and efficiently. To accomplish this, an HR project manager would analyze the organization’s current process, work with existing departments to understand the organization’s pain points, and find ways to improve the process for new employees. 

      HR project managers are incredibly people-oriented, and the projects they undertake can have a significant impact on the livelihoods of an organization’s employees. HR projects can involve a significant amount of research and information-gathering from relevant internal stakeholders: interviewing existing employees and managers to determine pain points with processes, exit interviews with employees who are leaving the company, and feedback on changes from existing employees. Being able to connect with people and integrate their input is an essential skill for HR project managers. 

      What Is a Project Manager in Marketing?

      Marketing campaigns are becoming more and more all-encompassing, with organizations expected to create large campaigns with a range of multimedia assets and other pieces of content. Marketing project managers specialize in planning, managing, and executing projects related to marketing campaigns. 

      Creating marketing campaigns requires a mix of strategic planning and creative execution across an organization or agency’s marketing team. Marketing departments can house teams of writers, graphic designers, marketing strategists, photographers, or other creative professionals — the project manager is tasked with interfacing with these teams and keeping the project on track throughout the process. 

      As with many other project management fields, marketing project managers are typically responsible for external vendor relationships. For example, if a company doesn’t have an in-house videography department, a project manager could interface with an external agency to produce creative assets for a campaign. Marketing project managers can build a diverse skill set of creative skills while also building a broad portfolio of projects. 

      What Is a Project Manager in Construction?

      Compared with the roles listed above, construction project managers work in a more physical field. Whereas a marketing project manager might work through a digital design campaign, and a technical project manager oversees a tech-focused project, a construction project manager oversees the building of physical structures. 

      The fundamentals of construction project management are similar to other fields. Project managers in construction produce project planning documents for a building, allocate resources, build and manage construction teams, manage budgets, and troubleshoot issues along the way, and are usually responsible for the final build quality of the finished project. Construction projects can be complex, and a project manager has to interface with many vendors, equipment rental companies, and contractors throughout the process. 

      Construction project managers work on projects at various scales, from minor additions to existing buildings, to large-scale high-rise building developments. Positions exist within both private and public organizations. Public projects can involve roads, bridges, or other public structures. If you’re interested in learning more about projects in the public sector, the Federal Transit Administration’s most recent construction project management handbook has a wealth of information about the process. 

      What Is a Project Manager in Software?

      Software project managers oversee and prioritize development tasks, working to bring a piece of software to completion. Project managers define the scope of projects, coordinate with internal and external resources, and execute a software project from conception to delivery. The software development process can involve front and back end developers, UX/UI designers, and business analysts. Understanding the many facets of the software development process is vital for project managers in software.  

      Most software projects have different life cycles from projects in other fields. While a construction project might take a linear path to completion, a software project can go through multiple rounds of testing, updating, and customer feedback. Handling phase four — managing and controlling — can be a significant component of most software-focused projects, as product teams integrate tests and user feedback. Software projects typically include an important post-launch maintenance component, requiring bug fixes and updates after launch to keep a piece of software up and running. 

      Project Manager Requirements

      Now that you know some of the types of project manager roles across a variety of industries, you can plan your educational route to start your career in project management. As you’ve learned, project management is a vast field, and the specific job requirements can vary significantly between project management jobs at different organizations. Getting started in a project management role can be a promising career choice — according to CareerOneStop, the profession should grow much faster than the average profession over the coming years. 

      Generally, project managers have a wide range of skills to help them plan and complete projects in their field, in addition to a variety of project management approaches and methodologies used across project management. One popular example is Scrum, a project management framework.

      In terms of educational requirements, project management differs from some other fields — most colleges and universities don’t offer a degree track in project management specifically, though some offer certifications in project management for those who want to upskill into the discipline. The most critical requirements for project managers are expertise within a specific field and strong organizational skills. Some project managers get started by earning a bachelor’s or master’s degree in a field and using that as a jumping-off point for their project management career. Other managers have existing field experience that can help them. 

      Whether you’re a new graduate or looking to pivot to a career in project management from your existing job, a certification can help you be more attractive to potential employers. You can gain an Award of Completion from Columbia Engineering through their Tech Project Management Boot Camp. This boot camp will teach the technical skills you need for success and the project management fundamentals to help you get started in a new career. This online course takes just 18 weeks to complete, allowing you to learn quickly and lead technology projects across a wide variety of industries. 

      What Is Project Management? Learn More Today

      Project management is an incredibly dynamic field with incredible career growth potential. Project managers carry a lot of responsibility within organizations, and they’re key players on teams in fields including healthcare, construction, technology, and just about everything in between. Project managers build a diverse skill set of both hard and soft skills across varied and dynamic projects. 

      If you want to start your journey in this profession, Columbia Engineering Technology Project Management Boot Camp can help you get started. You’ll learn the technical and project management skills necessary for success in this field while collaborating with other learners and building a portfolio to show to employers. 

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