How to Become an IT Project Manager: What You'll Need to Get Started
By Will Erstad on 11/02/2020
One of the most exciting things about working in information technology (IT) is the wide variety of ways you could potentially branch out and progress in your career—it’s typically not a straight line from IT help desk staffer to chief information officer. If you’ve been exploring your options for advancing within the field, IT project management is one career focus area that may be a perfect fit.
This IT career path requires you to blend technical know-how with traditional business acumen in order to keep crucial technology initiatives on track. Sound intriguing? In this article we’re taking a closer look at what an IT project manager is and what you’ll need to successfully become one.
What is an IT project manager?
Before we get too far along, let’s make sure we have a solid understanding of the role itself.
“IT project management 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 technical specialists and coordinate their work 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 optimal project outcomes.
The IT project manager’s objective is to successfully lead information technology projects to completion while staying on time, on budget and within a predefined scope. Of course, this is typically easier said than done—but IT project managers with the right mix of technical competence and leadership skills make it happen every day.
What does it take to be an effective IT project manager?
How do you know whether you’re cut out for IT project management? We asked several tech professionals and they agree that much of it comes down to your 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 these professionals must possess soft skills like communication, emotional intelligence, collaboration and leadership, alongside hard technical skills like knowledge of project management frameworks and procedures, as well as a functional understanding of the technology systems involved.
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,” Rome explains.
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,” she says. “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 management skills?
Based on what we’ve heard from our experts, 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 the 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,” according to him.
With that in mind, we used real-time job analysis software from Burning-Glass.com to examine more than 22,000 IT project manager jobs posted over the past year.1 This data helped us identify some of the top skills employers are seeking in candidates.
Here’s what we found:
- Project management
- Project planning and development skills
- Microsoft Project®
- Stakeholder management
- IT management
- Software development life cycle
- Atlassian JIRA®
- Stakeholder management
As you can see, a healthy balance of management skills and technical skills is needed to find success in this position. But don’t let lack of experience in the items on this list deter you from pursuing the profession. Keep reading to learn about the education and training that will help you acquire these abilities.
How to become an IT project manager: Experience, education and training
As you might expect with this being a highly technical role, employers typically have high expectations of potential candidates. Our analysis of IT project manager job postings found that 94 percent were seeking candidates with at least a bachelor’s degree.1 Additionally, 50 percent of these job postings were seeking candidates with 3-5 years of experience in the field.1
While experience requirements can sometimes feel discouraging, keep in mind there’s quite a bit of latitude for what type of experience is applicable. It doesn’t all have to be project management-centric experience—time spent learning the ropes in a more technical role is certainly an asset.
“Don’t be afraid to start out your career as a technician first, and then transition into a project manager role,” advises 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 to become a technology project manager, 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 offer a viable path for you to pursue that position.
“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 are visible in your current work.
“Showing that you can consistently get the job done on a smaller scale is key,” Rome says. He adds that reliability is one of the main factors he looks for when deciding whether someone should move into a management role.
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 the mindset of a project manager
“Always look for ways to structure your own personal project work as if you were the PM,” Glick recommends. “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.”
Acquire 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.
Qualify yourself to become an IT project manager
Can you see yourself excelling in a PM position? Now that you know more about how to become an IT project manager, it’s time to get serious about your next steps.
At Rasmussen University, you have the option to pursue an IT Project Management Certificate, which can help boost your resume with practical project management skills in as few as 6 months.2 This academic offering also transitions seamlessly into the IT Management Bachelor’s degree program so you can continue rounding out your education as you progress toward your career goals.
1Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 22,994 IT project manager job postings, Sept. 01, 2019 – Aug. 31, 2020).
2Completion time is dependent on the number of transfer credits accepted and the number of courses completed each term.
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 2020. Expert insight remains from original article.