How to become a project manager: the 2024 guide

Discover the essentials of becoming a project manager in 2024 with our comprehensive guide, covering skills, certifications, and practical tips.

Now that you know why project management is so important and you understand what a project manager actually does, you might be wondering how you can become a project manager yourself.

Project management is a rewarding career that gives you an opportunity to make a real difference to a company’s bottom line. And there’s massive, growing demand in project manager jobs: the Project Management Institute projects (heh) that employers are going to need to fill 2.3 million new project-oriented roles each year through 2030.

2.3 million.



That’s a heck of a talent gap.

No wonder more and more people are exploring the project manager career path and looking to learn how to become a project manager.

Whether you plan to go the traditional route and get certified as a project manager, or you’re one of the thousands of “accidental project managers” doing the work without formal experience or credentials, this definitive guide is for you.

2 pathways to becoming a project manager

As mentioned above, nowadays, there are two types of project manager positions:

  • The “traditional” project manager: Someone who intentionally embarked on the project management career path and has a degree or qualification in project management.

  • The “non-project-manager” project manager: Also known as an “accidental project manager.” These are the people who never set out to become project managers but who find themselves managing projects as part of their daily work anyway. NPMPMs can be anyone: marketers planning a campaign, product managers coordinating the development of a new product, web designers creating a new website. They walk among us.

For anyone wondering how to become a project manager, this is good news: it means that there are more ways than ever to get on that project management career ladder.

Let’s start with the NPMPM or accidental project manager route.

Earlier in this guide, we talked about how more people are already project managers than they realize.

Most work involves projects. And most projects involve lots of moving parts — like research, planning, budgeting, coordinating, managing resources, and much more — that all need to be managed and overseen correctly to make sure that your project stays on track.

That means even if your organization doesn’t hire dedicated project managers, it still has people doing the work of project managers and project coordinators. Accidental or unofficial project managers are everywhere, leveraging their critical thinking skills, people skills, and years of experience in other roles into project-related duties.

If you’re starting to find that you love the thrill of the project management side more than any other aspect of your job, here’s how to break into project management without a bachelor’s degree or formal certification in the field.

Whatever role you’re currently in — marketer, designer, developer, whatever — you’ve likely been honing your project management skills all along.

According to the Project Management Institute’s Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (or PMBOK Guide), there are 10 key project management “knowledge areas”:

  • Integration management

  • Scope management

  • Schedule management

  • Cost management

  • Quality management

  • Resource management

  • Risk management

  • Communications management

  • Procurement management

  • Stakeholder management

Think about the projects you’ve been on lately. Which of these areas have you been involved in?

Maybe you played an integral role in outlining the project plan, timeline, or scope.

Maybe you were the one who outlined the budget and were able to stop things from going off track when unexpected costs came up.

Maybe you helped to reallocate resources across team members to ensure that no one was over capacity.

Those are all project management skills that any great project manager needs to know.

On the flipside, maybe you haven’t had much exposure to some of the other knowledge areas, like risk management or stakeholder management. In that case, you know exactly what you need to focus on to gain the experience you need to become a more well-rounded project manager.

Once you’ve identified where you need to grow, it’s time to start putting your plan into action. (Which is what project managers do every day — double win!)

That’s because the #1 thing you can do if you want to become a project manager without experience is start getting that experience.

Projects are all around us, so volunteer when you can. Take on extra responsibilities and develop your organizational skills, scheduling skills, people management skills — everything you identified in step one.

Always seek out opportunities to develop your project management skills and knowledge.

Learn by doing. Learn on the job. Learn from your mistakes. Learn from other project managers (in your company or elsewhere). See if you can find a mentor who’ll teach you their project manager tips.

If you want to pursue your project manager education but you don’t yet feel ready to fully commit, take one of the many online project management courses available on platforms like Udemy or Coursera.

You can also look for conferences or local networking events that will help you to stay on top of new industry trends and meet people who can help you navigate the project management career path.

Using a PM tool can help you to develop your project manager experience.

It allows you to automate your work, quickly assign tasks to groups of teams, and easily view projects in Gantt charts, as well as being able to manage all of your project resources from one place.

Using a flexible and intuitive project management tool like to manage your work also means that you can get up and running without needing to spend a ton of time on training or onboarding.

Whether you’ve been an accidental project manager for a while and you’re looking to add a formal qualification to your CV, or have always known that you wanted to be a project manager when you grew up, a qualification is a great way to signal your expertise and commitment to the PM career path to employers.

Even though a formal qualification is no longer a necessity to become a project manager (see: all of the above), it’s still worth considering if you’re really serious about upping your project management game.

Not only will it make more job opportunities available to you and give you a higher earning power, but it will also teach you some project management best practices and techniques that you might not otherwise have been exposed to.

Here’s what you need to know if you want to become a certified project manager.

PMP, PRINCE2, CAPM, PMI-ACP… There's a whole alphabet of project management degrees. It can be overwhelming. So, how do you know which project management certification is right for you?

The first step is to check out your options. Which qualification is most common in your industry? Which one do you see listed most in the kind of job descriptions you’re interested in? Which one is best suited to your available time and budget? Which one will better fit the kind of processes your company uses? Where in the world do you want to work?

There’s lots to consider. Here’s an overview of some of the most popular degrees for project managers to help start your formal project manager education.

Project Management Professional (PMP)

The Project Management Professional (PMP) is a certification offered by the Project Management Institute (PMI), the leading global organization for project management professionals.

It’s one of the most popular and well-recognized qualifications in the field — and it can have a major impact on your salary. According to the PMI, project managers (and other project management professionals such as PM consultants, PM specialists, and program managers) with PMP certifications earn a 33% higher median salary than non-credentialed project managers. Over the course of a career, that difference easily adds up to hundreds of thousands of dollars! 

The PMP qualification is based on the PMI’s standards and guidelines as outlined in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, or PMBOK Guide.

It’s aimed at people who already have project management experience (at least 4,500-7,500 hours of it, to be specific), as well as either 35 hours of project management education or a CAPM certification.

So, while it’s not for absolute beginners, it’s definitely one to consider as you build out your project management portfolio.

For more on the requirements and process, check out the official PMP site here.

Projects In Controlled Environments (PRINCE2)

PRINCE2 stands for PRojects IN Controlled Environments, which also emphasizes how it differs from a PMP certification.

While the PMP certification is knowledge-based — i.e., it focuses on general project management knowledge and best practices for each stage of the project — the PRINCE2 is project- and process-based method in and of itself.

Unlike the PMP, it doesn’t have the same prerequisites, so it might be more suited to someone looking for a PM grounding at the beginning of their project management career. It also comes in both Foundation and Practitioner flavors for every stage of your project management journey.

If you’re trying to decide between a PMP and a PRINCE2 certification, there are a few other factors that should influence your decision, such as industry and geographical location (both of which can affect which qualification is preferred).

Ultimately, it’s not an either-or situation. Both certifications have benefits, and the two certifications can actually complement each other.

Learn more about getting a PRINCE2 certification here.

Certified Associate In Project Management (CAPM)

The Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) is an entry-level project management qualification offered by the PMI. It can be a standalone certification, or you can use it as one of the “prerequisites” needed to progress to getting a PMP.

The CAPM provides you with a foundational knowledge of project management based on the standards and guidelines outlined in the PMBOK Guide.

Learn more about the CAPM certification here.

Agile certifications

If you work in an industry where agile practices are the norm, you might decide to get an agile certification instead (or as well!).

The PMI offers a qualification specifically designed for agile practitioners, the PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP).

There’s also an agile-specific PRINCE2 certification, PRINCE2 Agile, which is available at both Foundation and Practitioner levels.

Depending on which agile methodologies you (and your organization) prefer, you could also choose to specialize even more. For example, if you’re a Scrum aficionado, you might decide to become a Certified ScrumMaster with the Scrum Alliance.

It all depends on what processes and frameworks your industry (and company) prefers to use — so do your research, talk to others in the field, and decide what the best agile certification for you is.

You probably thought there were going to be more steps to becoming a certified project manager than just:

  • Decide which project management certification you want.

  • Get the certification.

But once you’ve decided which project management certification is right for you, it’s all about knuckling down, putting in the hours, and preparing for the certification exam. You might also need to log more practical hours as well as make time for all the book-learning.

There are lots of prep courses available online that can help you study and prepare for the exam, but ultimately, it’s all about putting in the time and effort. (You can do it! We believe in you!)

Then, once you’ve got your certification, you need to maintain it.

Most project management certifications — such as the PMP — expire after a few years. This means that you’ll need to retake the exam every few years to show that you’re still up-to-date with PM best practices and standards.

As a project manager, you’re always looking for ways to increase efficiency and improve processes.

Finding the right project management tool will help you to put everything you’ve learned in your project manager education into practice. It allows you to oversee your projects with more clarity, forecast more accurately, manage your resources more efficiently, and report more precisely.

A good project management tool amplifies the project manager's work: It helps you take care of the everyday details so you can focus your skills where they’ll have the most impact. It works with you to elevate your best practices and scale your project successes — so learning how to use your PM tool to your advantage is essential, and will save you tons of time and money in the long run. was built to support you and your workflow, regardless of which project management methodology you use. Whether you need a Gantt chart or a Kanban board, it has all the features you need to deliver your project — your way.

Roles and responsibilities of a project manager

Project managers — whether credentialed, accidental, or somewhere in between — are responsible for numerous facets of their projects. These roles and responsibilities typically fall within and deal with most, if not all, of these responsibilities.

The planning and initiation phases of a project are where the project takes shape conceptually: what is it, how long will it take, who’s gonna work on it, what kind of budget will it have, and so on. 

Whew — it’s a lot of work even before the project even gets off the ground!

Within planning and initiation, project managers lead, execute, or assist with four areas.

  • Conceptualizing the project: Projects don’t get started without some kind of raw idea, but that vague notion has to be transformed into something a little more fleshed out. Here, the project manager defines the project's goals, scope, and deliverables, ensuring everyone is on the same page.

  • Creating a roadmap: Here’s where we go from concept to “this is how we’ll get it done.” The PM establishes a detailed timeline that outlines tasks, dependencies, and milestones. This roadmap serves as a guide throughout the project's lifecycle.

  • Resource allocation: To succeed with that concept and roadmap, you’ll need to assemble a team. Project managers assess resource requirements and ensure everyone has what they need to succeed.

  • Budgeting: Project managers also typically establish and manage the project's budget.

With a strong plan in place, it’s time to actually do the work of the project. This is the execution phase, where the team members build, make, and do all the things, following the project plan and project roadmap. 

The project manager usually doesn’t do much (or any) of the actual work of the project. But that doesn’t mean the project manager gets to sit back and relax — there’s still plenty to do. 

Instead, the PM ensures that team members do the right things in the right order at the right times, monitoring the project’s progress all through execution.

Specific project management responsibilities during these phases include:

  • Team leadership: Time to don your coach/captain hat! Project managers motivate and guide their team members, creating an environment where people feel safe to collaborate. This leadership includes conflict resolution, problem-solving, delegation, and as-needed support. 

  • Communication hub: Lots of people (stakeholders) need to know what’s going on in a project. But if they’re all interrupting the people doing the work, well… those people can’t do the work. Project managers act as a central point of communication, keeping stakeholders informed about progress, roadblocks, and important decisions — taking that communication burden off of team members.

  • Monitoring and tracking: Project managers should have a strong handle on how the project’s going: who’s working on which tasks, where the project is  deviating from the plan, and so on. They track KPIs, analyze data, and adjust the course as needed to ensure the project stays on track.

  • Risk management: Every project has risks. Like with communication and monitoring, the project manager takes the risk management load off the rest of the team so they can focus on successful delivery. The PM should proactively identify new and ongoing risks and have a plan for how to mitigate them if needed. By anticipating challenges and developing contingency plans, PMs can minimize disruptions to the project's timeline and budget.

Last up are control and closure: control is the stuff that has to happen when your monitoring reveals an issue, while closure is the litany of details and steps needed once the project wraps.

Let’s get a little more specific on these phases as well:

  • Quality assurance: Project managers are one of the earliest lines of defense on quality. They implement quality control measures so they can ensure deliverables don’t just finish on time but also meet client/customer expectations.

  • Issue resolution: Roadblocks and challenges are inevitable, and sometimes the team members themselves can’t resolve issues without an outside hand. Project managers tackle these problems head-on, finding the right solutions that keep the project on track.

  • Stakeholder management: Keeping stakeholders satisfied is key — and so is keeping stakeholders from distracting or slowing down your team members. Project managers take the lead here, managing expectations, addressing concerns, and ensuring everyone is happy with the project's outcome.

  • Project closure and evaluation: Once the project is complete, there’s still plenty to do to wrap it up and close it out. Reflecting on lessons learned — sometimes called a project postmortem — is another area where project managers take charge, facilitating the team and stakeholders as they evaluate what worked, what didn’t and what adjustments should be made for future similar projects. 

Important soft skills and hard skills project managers should have

Every successful project manager needs to master a broad set of skills, including both soft and hard skills.

Soft skills — those relational skills you can’t usually learn in a classroom — are vital for success in project management. These include:

  • Communication skills

  • Leadership skills

  • Decisiveness

  • Time management

  • Conflict resolution

Hard skills are the ones you learn in a more conventional sense, whether in the classroom or through on-the-job experience. 

These are some of the most important hard skills for project managers:

  • Fluency in project management systems and tools (including project management software)

  • Budgeting

  • Risk management

  • Data and analytics

  • Technical expertise

TL;DR: The steps to becoming a project manager

  1. Start managing projects.

  2. Keep managing projects.

  3. Learn the skills and theory behind managing projects.

  4. Use to manage your projects.

  5. Get better at managing projects.

  6. Decide if you want to get a project management certification.

  7. Continue to manage projects.

That’s it — all you need to know to get started as a project manager!

Bonus tip: If you’re ready to start developing your project manager experience, look out for these project management methodologies you need to know.

Keep your projects on track with

Streamline. Connect. Collaborate.

Get started with

Start working together beautifully. See how can help your team with our 30-day free trial.