If you’ve been considering a career change, why not put the role of IT project manager on your radar?
Whether you have a technical background or you’re coming into the field from a completely unrelated discipline, it can be relatively easy to transition, particularly if you earn a certification from a project management program. It’s a terrific time to make the move. As companies scramble to stay on top of digital innovation and transformation, the role is in high demand, which is exacerbated by the complex combination of technical and soft skills that the job requires. As a result, the average annual salary of IT project managers in the United States is currently $106,328.
What Is An IT Project Manager?
The role of IT project manager can be an exciting challenge for the right person.
In most cases, an IT project manager is a mid-career professional who can draw on their wealth of technical knowledge and project management skills to ensure that complex technical projects are completed on time and on (or under) budget while maintaining exceptional quality control. They lead each project – and all those involved in it – through every phase of the project life cycle, including initiation, planning, execution, monitoring, and controlling, through to completion.
The IT project manager begins each project by consulting with the client to develop a clear understanding of the client’s goals and requirements. Then, the planning begins, and the IT project manager works with their team to ensure that the team has all the information and resources needed to complete the project successfully. As the project unfurls, they manage the budget and keep everyone on track so that all deadlines are met, continuing to liaise between client and team. At the completion of the project, the IT project manager remains committed throughout the user adoption stage, to help address any concerns that the client may have and gather feedback.
In short, as noted on Berkeley’s website, “Project managers have transformed the way companies plan and execute projects. They are innovators, strong communicators, data-driven facilitators and problem solvers who lead and inspire others.”
While it’s ideal for IT project managers to come to the role with both in-depth technical knowledge and highly-developed soft skills, it’s the soft skills that are most important. It’s possible for people without a technical background to become specialists in IT project management as long as they have the needed soft skills and relevant experience.
Skills Needed To Become An IT Project Manager
While technical knowledge is beneficial for the role of IT project manager, highly developed soft skills are critical. People in this role will need to work closely with clients, external stakeholders, upper management, and their team in order to see each project from initiation through completion. The role requires finely-tuned leadership, communication, negotiation, problem-solving, and time management skills.
Leadership skills are absolutely essential for IT project managers. While some people use the terms “leadership” and “management” interchangeably, it’s important to note that the two concepts are actually quite different.
Leadership is a people-focused skill that’s needed to assess the skills that others bring to the table. Once those skills are assessed, a leader can figure out how to encourage and motivate each person to use their skills so that their own performance – and that of the entire team – is maximized. Leadership often involves creativity and innovation in order to develop ideas. All of these things are critical when it comes to project management. (Management, on the other hand, is a role wherein one encourages others to adhere to existing processes and structures.)
Needless to say, communication is a key skill for IT project managers. Not only do they need to communicate clearly, both in person and online, with all involved in the project, but they need to tailor those communications to the appropriate audience. This means understanding and using appropriate technical language when working with the IT team and deciphering those terms for clients.
Organizational skills are critical to a successful IT project manager. In order for a project to be completed on time and within budget, your organizational skills need to be applied not only to your own work but to your team’s work as well. Planning, prioritizing, and problem-solving are key to being well organized.
It goes without saying that IT project managers need to have exceptional problem-solving skills. While part of the job involves assessing risks and making adequate preparations, unexpected problems happen daily. For example, team members might clash, deadlines might be missed, budgetary issues might arise, or equipment might fail.
Problem-solving ability is actually based on several other skills, including:
- Active listening;
- Innovation and creativity; and
In order to meet deadlines and stay under budget, it’s critical for an IT project manager to have exceptional time management skills. And those skills must be applied not only to the project manager’s own tasks but also to the entire team in order to keep the project on track. As Judy Tsuei points out in a terrific piece, “Time is one of your most finite, and valuable, resources in any project, whether you’re utilizing an agile workflow to create a new app or planning a virtual retreat for your team.”
While negotiation is often thought of as a formalized process, we all negotiate in our day-to-day lives as we use various skills and methods to persuade others. Effective negotiation involves drawing on a number of other skills, including active listening, communication, and problem-solving.
As pointed out on the Southern Illinois University website, “the work of a project manager consists of many negotiating scenarios in which the PM engages in discussions to arrive at a joint decision, works to find mutually acceptable solutions to a shared problem or collaborates to achieve an agreed-upon outcome.”
How To Become An IT Project Manager
Although most job postings for project management roles list an undergraduate degree in a related field and relevant work experience, it’s possible to transition into a project management role based on exceptional skills and/or project management certifications. There is no one path to becoming an IT project manager.
If you are still in school and are considering a career in IT project management, it’s ideal to earn a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as computer science, computer programing, or business administration. While it’s unlikely that you will be able to launch into a project management role directly after graduating, an undergraduate degree will provide a solid foundation for this career path.
Project management is typically a mid-career advancement since the required skills are developed and refined on the job. While employers may favor those who have worked in a project management role previously, a career trajectory that demonstrates growth and excellence in communication, organizational, and leadership skills can provide a path for pivoting into project management.
Courses and Certifications
Whatever your educational and work experience background, boot camps, online courses, and certifications that are directly related to IT program management demonstrate your commitment to the field and your expertise.
Hands-on boot camps and courses can help you further develop the soft skills required for IT program management and can teach you specific hard skills by providing training on requirements documentation, test plans, resource planning, scrum frameworks, and traditional, agile, and hybrid methodologies.
Certifications are professional credentials that can help further your IT project management career. There are several that are relevant, including:
- Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM), via the Project Management Institute;
- Project Management Professional (PMP), offered through the Project Management Institute;
- Agile Certified Practitioner (ACP), which can be earned from the Project Management Institute; and
- CompTIA Project+ Certification, which is specifically for small- to medium-sized projects and is offered by CompTIA
As well, certifications in frameworks or methodologies such as Certified Scrum Master (CSM), PRINCE2, Certified Six Sigma Black Belt, and Certified Six Sigma Green Belt demonstrate your mastery of the skills needed to successfully lead projects to completion.
A Day In The Life Of An IT Project Manager
As might be expected, there is really no typical day for an IT project manager. The scope of projects can be quite large, and responsibilities will fluctuate depending on the current stage of the project life cycle, which keeps daily tasks varied. Katya Popova provides a big-picture explanation of her role, describing her days as handling:
the management of development projects for new software functionality and gathering business requirements. I coordinate between development resources and stakeholders, and plan every aspect of a project to make sure everything goes smoothly and is delivered on time. It can be quite interesting when new things come up just after you thought that particular part was already clarified and completed.
While an IT project manager’s schedule may differ from day to day, there are a few constant tasks on a daily basis: meetings, planning, and problem-solving.
Project managers are expected to lead or facilitate meetings with all stakeholders in the project. Time will be spent each day not just in meetings but in preparing for them. Preparation is important to ensure that the meetings run smoothly and are productive.
Daily planning is also critical, to keep projects and all stakeholders on track, but even with extensive planning, problems will inevitably arise. A project manager will frequently have to quickly reprioritize their day and change plans as they switch into problem-solving mode and work towards solutions.
Most IT project managers work full-time during regular business hours but they may occasionally need to work overtime to respond to emergency situations, troubleshoot an issue, or meet a firm deadline.
As you can see, the IT project management role can be exciting and fulfilling, particularly if you have strong soft skills and thrive in busy atmospheres where you need to juggle shifting priorities. It’s not a difficult role to pivot into as long as you have well-developed soft skills, some relevant experience, and an introduction to the field through boot camps, courses, and/or certifications. If you’ve been thinking of a career shift, it might be time to look more closely at the IT project management field.