How to Become an IT Project Manager: What You’ll Need to Stay on Track
If you’ve ever looked into advancing your information technology (IT) career, you’ve probably noticed two paths. The first path leads to deeper technical specialization and the second leads to more management and business-focused roles—one of which is IT project management.
If you are wondering what becoming an IT project manager could mean for your career, ask yourself about your skills and interests beyond technical expertise. “An IT project manager is a unique combination of business and tech,” says Tamara Mun, software project manager at Mad Devs. “They establish communication between business representatives and developers and eliminate all obstacles to the project implementation.”
IT project managers (PMs) typically oversee a team of specialists and coordinate according to the needs of customers, stakeholders, superiors and anyone else involved in a given project. These professionals know the world of IT, but they also bring business awareness to the table as they lead their team to an optimal project outcome.
If that sounds appealing to you, keep reading! We gathered research and expert insight on how to become an IT project manager.
What qualities matter in an IT project manager?
How can you know whether you are the right kind of person to pursue this role? According to our experts, it’s all about breadth of knowledge.
IT project manager is a title that requires a wide variety of skills, according to Konstantin Zamkov, head of enterprise solutions implementation and support at ShareSoft. Zamkov says IT project managers need soft skills like communication, emotional intelligence, collaboration and leadership, alongside hard skills like project management standards and IT skills.
Attention to detail is also a must-have trait for a project manager, according to Richard Rome, project director at My IT. “Projects can have multiple moving parts that need to be watched—the ability to spot the small things and ensure each task is completed correctly is a must.”
While analytical ability and a knack for keeping things on track is a great start, relationship-building is still a crucial factor.
“The ability to be likable is actually a critical part of being a PM,” Rome says. Part of this comes down to your love for the work itself, according to Mun. “One of the most important traits you can have is passion for the project you’re working on. These characteristics allow a business to feel like you’re on their side and to motivate developers by your example.”
What are the most important IT project manager skills?
IT project managers must possess a unique blend of business, technology and interpersonal skills. They don’t necessarily need to know all of the deep technical details of a technology, but they’ll still need to know enough to effectively work with their teams.
Rome points out that PMs frequently need to troubleshoot issues that arise seemingly at random on a project. “The better rounded you are with different IT skills, the better off you’ll be as a project manager.”
With that in mind, we used real-time job analysis software from Burning-Glass.com to examine over 180,000 IT project manager job postings from the past year. This data helped us identify some of the top skills employers are seeking in IT project manager prospects.
Here’s what we found:1
- Project management
- Project planning and development
- Systems development life cycle
- Microsoft Project®
- Atlassian JIRA®
- Stakeholder management
As you can see, a healthy balance of management skills and technical skills is needed to be successful in this position. But don’t let this list deter you from pursuing the profession. Keep reading to learn about the education and training that will help you acquire these abilities.
What education, training & experience do you need to become an IT project manager?
Our analysis of IT project manager job postings revealed that 87 percent of employers prefer their candidates to have a bachelor’s degree.1 Many of those opportunities are also looking for candidates with a Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification.1
About half of the job listings call for 1-5 years of experience, with another 22 percent asking for 6-8 years.1 Experience in information technology is definitely key to becoming an IT project manager, but even a few years under your belt can start to open doors.
“Don’t be afraid to start out your career as a technician first, and then transition into a project manager role,” says Ryan Glick, co-founder of Pixelayn Innovations. “This type of career path will help you develop a solid technical understanding, and often will provide you with basic PM experience.”
Advice from IT project management pros
If you’d like to advance into a PM position, what can you do to better your chances? Our experts offered their advice on how to move from an entry level role to an IT project manager position.
Think ahead when you are job-seeking
Not every company has room for their professionals to advance into a project manager position. If you think you’d be interested in that option down the road, be sure you seek out companies that can make it possible.
“Ask questions about the path to becoming a PM during your interview process,” Glick says. “This will also shed light on what each respective organization requires of its PMs.”
Be extremely reliable
“Being on time and ready to work is critical to ensure a project’s success,” Rome says. It takes organization and planning to be a great project manager, so make sure those traits show up in your current work.
“Showing that you can consistently get the job done on a smaller scale than full projects is key,” Rome says. “Reliability is one of the main deciding factors when we look for someone to move up to a management position.”
Finding someone who can guide you forward is a slam-dunk in any career. Even if you only look to your immediate superiors, letting them in on your hopes for the future can keep you on their radar. “Ensure your manager is aware of your career aspirations,” Glick says. “They may place you in a position to begin building the right type of experience.”
Approach your work with a project management mindset
“Always look for ways to structure your own personal project work as if you were the PM,” Glick says. “This will help get you in the mindset of being organized and following best practices. Create a project plan, identify key milestones, track your progress, and so on.”
Get work experience however you can
“The best advice I would give to graduating students is to gain as much working experience as possible during their education,” Mun says, emphasizing that experience helps you become a competitive candidate—while also ensuring a PM role is the right path for you.
“I strongly believe that graduates with their fresh eyes can make great projects,” she adds.
Get qualified to become an IT project manager
Can you see yourself in a project management position? Now that you know more about how to become an IT project manager, it’s time to go a little deeper.
Start implementing some of the advice our experts shared as you work to qualify yourself to climb the ranks as an IT project manager. Learn how you can earn your IT Management degree online so you don’t miss a beat while honing the technical and leadership skills you need to succeed.
1Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 186,657 IT project manager job postings, Jul. 01, 2018 - Jun. 30, 2019)
Java is a registered trademark of Oracle Corporation.
Atlassian JIRA is a registered trademark of Atlassian.
Microsoft Project is a registered trademark of Microsoft Corporation.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in October 2015. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2019.