Advancing in a project management career requires the development of a specialized set of skills. Effective project managers must be able to oversee a diverse team, communicate with executive leadership, and keep project plans on track—and do all of this in a work environment that is becoming increasingly digitized and automated.
For mid-career project management professionals, earning certification from an organization such as the Project Management Institute (PMI) is an important step in demonstrating competency and earning a promotion or raise. In today’s increasingly competitive job market, however, certification alone may not be enough to stand out. That’s why earning a master’s degree in project management is essential for anyone interested in building their skills to get ahead.
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What Are the Responsibilities of a Project Manager?
“A project manager takes a project and drives it through an organization, helping the organization achieve the project goals set forth by executive leadership,” says Christopher Bolick, lead faculty for Northeastern University’s Master of Science in Project Management program.
The main responsibilities of a project manager, he says, focus on oversight of the five stages of the project life cycle, which include:
- Initiating: Define the primary objectives and scope of the project, identify the key stakeholders, discuss overall expectations, and secure the permission to move forward.
- Planning: Create an integrated project plan based on project goals in order to manage elements such as scope, cost, timelines, risk, quality, and communication.
- Executing: Complete the work as scheduled and resolve issues as they arise.
- Monitoring and Controlling: Throughout the project, compare actual performance with planned performance and adjust project plans as necessary.
- Closing: Release resources that are no longer needed, close contracts, pay invoices, archive project files, and lead a post-implementation review.
Why Is a Master’s in Project Management Worth It?
The project management field is expected to see substantial growth over the next decade, making now a great time to upskill and meet demand. According to the PMI, employers will need to fill about 2.2 million project-related jobs each year until 2027. This need comes at a time when many project management professionals are retiring, which will create even more of a demand for early- or mid-career professionals with the right skills and project management experience.
One way to advance your career in this industry is by obtaining PMP certification from the PMI. Certification helps demonstrate your proficiency in managing projects and teams. It also tends to lead to a salary boost; according to the PMI, the median annual salary of a project manager with PMP certification is $111,000, as compared to $91,000 for non-PMP holders.
However, PMP certification alone does not provide you with the wide range of skills necessary to manage complex projects or increasingly diverse teams. Instead, a master’s degree in project management can be the key to advancing your career, as it focuses on building the critical project management skills you need to thrive in this industry. These skills can include developing cultural awareness, managing interpersonal conflict, and leading remote teams, among others.
“The foundational goal of the Master of Science in Project Management program is to teach students how to efficiently and effectively deliver projects in an ethical manner,” Bolick says.
5 Benefits of an MS in Project Management
A Master of Science in Project Management will help you advance your career in five key ways.
1. You’ll learn project management skills in a real-world setting.
A high-quality master of project management program like Northeastern’s will offer students multiple opportunities for experiential learning—such as co-ops or internships—which allow them to gain real, hands-on experience and put their education to use.
Through these experiences, students acquire knowledge and skills through observation and experimentation in a professional setting. At Northeastern, this is achieved by providing students the chance to support organizations that would otherwise lack the resources to perform critical tasks, including cost estimating, scheduling, and quality assurance.
“We partner with a company that has a project to complete, and develop a project management plan that they will use,” Bolick says. Through this approach, “students see how the processes and tools that they are learning [in the classroom] can be used in the workforce.”
Experiential learning also allows students to build their communication skills, especially with executives and project sponsors who authorize a project to move forward. This alone may make a master’s in project management worth it to some, as a PMP certification will not address the nuances of interpersonal communication in the same way.
2. You’ll identify key project management trends.
Today’s emerging project management trends reflect the changing nature of how organizations define and organize teams. “Teams may no longer be comprised of traditional resources,” Bolick says. “They may not be centrally located. They may be supported by artificial intelligence and machine learning systems.”
This digitization of the workforce requires new competencies among project managers, as well, Bolick adds. As tactical and repeatable processes such as routine cost estimation are automated, these professionals will have to increasingly use their soft skills to facilitate a team’s work. This requires developing a unique range of abilities, including cognitive flexibility, analytical savvy, and managing resource efficiency.
Leading a digitized workforce also requires paying closer attention to cultural dynamics. Project teams, like the companies that employ them, are increasingly global, with employees based in disparate locations and representing a variety of cultural backgrounds. “The cultural awareness factor [in today’s project managers] is important now more than ever,” Bolick says.
3. You’ll be more prepared for a senior project management role.
A master’s degree in project management is not always required for a role as a project manager, but the requirement is becoming increasingly common. According to a recent report from Burning Glass Labor Insight, 34 percent of project management job postings prefer or require a graduate degree in addition to requiring PMP certification.
What’s more, a master’s degree can prepare you to take on additional project management responsibility within your organization and increase your earnings as a project manager. For instance, with a graduate degree, you may get the opportunity to:
- Take a role as a senior project manager. According to a recent PMI survey of project management professionals in the United States, promotion to a more senior project management role is often accompanied by a salary increase of at least 10 percent. For example, moving from a Project Manager II role to a Project Manager III role typically comes with a 13 percent raise.
- Manage a larger team. Project managers’ earnings increase as they take on the added responsibility of managing larger project teams. A project manager who oversees a team of 20 or more people earns about eight percent more than a project manager with a team of 10 to 14 people, according to the PMI.
- Manage a larger project. The overall budget of a project can impact the salary of the project manager overseeing that project. Larger projects tend to have larger teams and tend to be a higher priority for an organization. According to the PMI, a project manager overseeing a project with a budget of more than $10 million can expect to earn about 18 percent more than someone overseeing a project with a budget of less than $1 million, and 40 percent more than someone overseeing a project with a budget of less than $100,000.
4. You can prepare for a project management role in a specific field.
While many of the guiding principles of project management can be applied to a job in any industry, there are certain business processes, regulations, and best practices that apply to specific industries. For example, construction and energy have specific regulations regarding workplace safety, healthcare has strict protections in place for the use of personal health information, and information technology often moves and changes direction at a much faster pace than other industries.
One factor that makes a master’s degree in project management worthwhile is the ability to select a concentration in the field that you currently work in or would like to transition into. In top programs like Northeastern’s, faculty members will have direct experience working in a variety of industries and concentrations, which they will be able to share with students as they embark on this kind of specialized training.
In Northeastern’s masters in project management degree, for example, students are able to choose from a number of concentrations to find the option that best fits their career interests and goals. These include:
- Agile Project Management
- Construction Management
- Organizational Communication
- Project Business Analysis
- Leading and Managing Technical Projects
5. You’ll learn skills with an impact beyond project management.
Even if your career path eventually takes you in a different direction, the skills that you can learn during the pursuit of a master’s in project management will help you in whatever new role you take. The key characteristics of an effective project manager—which include organization, discipline, time management, and communication—are well-suited for any job in today’s ever-changing world.
How to Choose a Master’s Degree Program That Works for You
If you are considering earning a master’s degree in project management, it is important that you evaluate all of your options in order to find the program that best aligns with your personal and professional goals. When trying to figure out which program is right for you, keep the following points in mind:
- Does the program offer experiential learning opportunities that will allow you to put your learning into practice?
- Does the program offer a concentration specifically in your desired industry or field so that you can gain the industry-specific knowledge you’ll need for success?
- Have the program’s faculty members actually spent time working in the field as a project manager?
- Does the program have enough flexibility to allow you to continue working while you pursue your degree?
Each of these criteria is a hallmark of Northeastern’s Master of Science in Project Management program, making it a coveted choice among project managers on the path toward career growth.
For more information about how a master’s degree in project management can help advance your career, download our free guide to breaking into the industry below.
This article was originally published in December 2018. It has since been updated for accuracy and relevance.