What’s the Difference Between a Master’s in Project Management & an MBA?

Industry Advice Business Project Management

First, full disclosure: I’m a faculty member in our Master of Science in Project Management program and an active member of the local and international chapters of the Project Management Institute. But I hold both a project management degree and an MBA, so I can offer some unbiased insight into what each program is like from firsthand experience.


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Here’s some advice:

Forget the Stereotypes

It’s important to lose the notion that if you want to be in the c-suite, you need an MBA, or that if you’re a type-A personality who pushes projects through, you need a project management degree. It’s not accurate; don’t get pigeonholed by these outmoded ideas. Either degree is excellent for preparing students for high-level managerial and executive roles.

One Size Does Not Fit All

What it comes down to is that different businesses call for different kinds of leadership skills. What’s needed varies industry by industry, and, more importantly, company by company. It’s good to consider what kind of role you want to play in a particular business and go from there.

Strategy Vs. Context

Generally, an MBA is designed to teach you about how to identify core competencies and market dynamics to develop a strategy for your organization. Project management also focuses on strategy, but looks more closely at how one will actualize it given the current organizational structure and assets. Both address strategy, but think of the MBA as being more focused on how we identify our strategy and project management more focused on how we actualize the strategy.

A Macro and Micro View

MBA students drill down to learn the nuts and bolts of how a company makes decisions, how each department, such as business, accounting, marketing, and finance, functions and how each relates to one another. Project managers also study this, but from a slightly different perspective—through the lens of how to best drive work and execute projects across each of these functional areas.

It’s All About the Environment

It’s tough to generalize, but if you know you’re going into an industry with traditional divisions and hierarchies, like banking or finance, an MBA may be more useful. If you’re looking at a career environment in which executing projects are what drive business, then a project management degree might give you an edge. Either, however, can teach you skills for success. The question to ask is, “Which is best suited for my own career path?”


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