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Job: Project manager

The role: Project managers are responsible for managing tasks that are temporary, unique, undefined or otherwise distinct from the company’s standard business operations.

“There comes a time in an organization where they have a big project and can’t dump it on an operations manager, because it will take 50 per cent of their time or requires collaboration across multiple departments,” said Wan How, career coach and founder of Wan How Consulting, a Vancouver-based career and project management service. “That’s when they need a project manager, either as a long-term role within the organization if it’s a long-term project or to hire a consultant if it’s a short-term project.”

Mr. How explained that in-house and third-party project managers are utilized across a range of industries, including technology, construction, agriculture and finance. He added that most project managers have specialized training and experience in that particular domain, on top of their managerial skills.

“The project manager oversees the project schedule, the project budget and the project scope, which is all the deliverables. In totality, that is the project plan,” he said. “Project managers are responsible for creating, monitoring, executing and controlling the project plan.”

Salary: According to Glassdoor, Indeed and Payscale, the average annual base salary of a project manager in Canada in 2020 was approximately $80,000. According to data compiled by Mr. How, those with a Project Management Professional (PMP) accreditation from the Project Management Institute earned an additional $12,000 to $14,000 a year in 2019.

Mr. How said salaries can range from $60,000 a year for entry-level project managers and reach $150,000 for more senior practitioners. He added that the most significant factor in determining salary expectation for project managers is often the industry in which they operate, with cutting-edge fields often providing a higher salary. “The greater the complexity, the higher the salary,” he said.

Education: There are no educational requirements for project managers; however, most have a background in management and their field of specialization.

“Prior experience is more important than credentials when it comes to landing a job as a project manager,” Mr. How said. He explained that project managers often begin their careers in a designated field, then transition into the role after gaining a few years of experience. Making that transition, he said, typically requires some prior experience managing projects or some additional project management specific training via a college or university program.

Practitioners also have the option of pursuing a PMP designation, which can increase earning potential, but Mr. How said the designation isn’t always a requirement.

“There are portfolio managers who do not have a PMP,” he said. “The project manager is tasked with delivering a return on investment, and a PMP does guarantee that you’ll get that return.”

Job prospects: Mr. How said that at the start of the pandemic, in the face of uncertain economic circumstances, many organizations put their special projects on hold. Now that the economy has begun to reopen, he said, project managers are in high demand. In fact, the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs 2020 listed project managers as the 11th-most in-demand job for the following five years.

Not all project managers, however, are in such high demand. Mr. How explained that as more organizations experiment with new and emerging technologies, there will be a higher premium on project managers with experience in those fields. “Those fields have to do with artificial intelligence, machine learning, emerging fields like biotech, agritech, digital transformation,” he said. “There’s actually less demand for general project managers.”

Challenges: The greatest challenge project managers face often has little to do with the technical aspects of the job and more to do with leading a team of people with different skills and expertise.

“The biggest challenge of the project manager is to align the leaders and managers and directors and even the VPs of those departments, to get them to all move in the same direction,” he said.

Why they do it: Mr. How said some project managers see the role as a fast track to upper management, while others are natural leaders who enjoy taking on complex and unique challenges.

“There is that satisfaction of delivering something, but it’s more than that,” he said. “There’s also [the satisfaction of] building a team, getting people to work well together, coming up with a plan and delivering that plan.”

Misconceptions: Project managers are often looked upon as leaders, but Mr. How said the best project managers instead see themselves as strong collaborators. “A successful project manager is not the lone ranger who calls the shots,” he said. “It’s the person who consults a lot with subject matter experts in all these different domains.”

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