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Why become a project manager?

Globally, businesses are increasingly becoming more project based. According to Dr Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez in Harvard Business Review December 2021, by 2027, some 88 million people around the world are likely to be working in project management and the value of project-oriented economic activity will have reached $20 trillion.

In 2018, the PMI (Project Management Institute) estimated that annually, about 1 570 000 new project management jobs were being created and that there simply were not enough project managers to fill these positions. Since then, governments have promised trillions of dollars for pandemic recovery and these will require millions of projects that will require millions of project managers. Add to this the projects required to recover from earth quakes and wars, and it is clear that a staggering number of project managers will be required.

But research shows that only 35% of the projects undertaken worldwide are successful—which means we’re wasting an extravagant amount of time, money, and opportunity. The solution obviously lies in more project managers that are properly trained.

According to a McKinsey survey, project management has, in 2020, become one of the top three skills that companies have prioritized through reskilling. The other two top-rated skills are closely related to project management and typically form part of project management courses. These two skills are Leadership and Managing Others, and Critical Thinking and Decision Making.

Good project managers are difficult to find, and great opportunities exist for project managers who have completed sound project management courses and have obtained relevant experience.

Projects come to an end and, unlike people working in operations or do other routine work, project managers are involved in a variety of projects during their careers. Each project has its own set of unique objectives, challenges, risks and opportunities and involves different stakeholders and team members. Each project is therefore an adventure and when it comes to an end, the next adventure is waiting. Especially if you are someone who easily gets bored, project management definitely is the right career for you, and many opportunities exist.

How to get accredited as a project manager?

So you have finally decided to become a project manager and still are lost on what is the best route to get in there and make your mark? The project management field have several options available for you to get started and whet your appetite, but the most recommended way would be ideally to get a trustworthy formal qualification because it is important to have your competencies and skills formally recognised. Such recognition can be in the form of accredited qualifications on your CV or in the form of certification by a reputable institution.

The purpose of this article is to guide you in obtaining recognition by obtaining credible qualifications and by certification by professional organizations.

Some project managers can be quite competent but still not being recognised for his or her skills. Some South African companies recognize the contribution that the competence of their project managers make to the success of the company.

Certification by international professional organizations

While certifications also exist for Programme Managers and Project Portfolio Managers, we focus here on certifications for project managers. We also do not specifically address certifications for specialist areas such as project risk management, project scheduling or agile project management.

There are a number of organizations that certify individuals for their proficiency as project managers. In South Africa PMI (Project Management Institute) certification is quite popular. The PMI has two project management certifications, namely PMP (Project Management Professional) and CAPM (Certified Associate in Project Management). The former of these two recognizes experienced project managers while the latter accommodates individuals that are not that experienced. The certification process includes that you have to write an examination and courses exist to coach you to pass these examinations. One example of such a course is the PMP Examination Preparation course offered online by the University of Pretoria.

The PMI also recognises certain institutions as Accredited Training Partners that implies that project management courses presented by such organizations are recognized by the PMI. An example of such an institution is the unit of the University of Pretoria that offers anything from 2-day project management courses to a PhD in project management, the GSTM. Although the short courses and continuing education programmes of this unit are open to people from all different fields, the masters’ and PhD programmes are aimed at graduates qualified in engineering or technology.

IPMA (the International Project Management Association) has a standard called the Individual Competence Baseline for Project, Programme & Portfolio Management. Some large companies base assessments of their project managers on this standard and even use the 4 levels of certification in their project management career paths.

The PRINCE2 standard was developed by the British Office of Government Commerce and subsequently privatised to be promoted by Axelos. Two certifications are PRINCE2 Foundation and PRINCE2 Practitioner.

Recognition of project managers by South African organizations

While international certifications are popular with South Africans, you should also note local recognitions such as SACPCMP (South African Council for the Project and Construction Management Professions), that is empowered by Section 18 (1)(c) of the Act, 2000. (Act No.48 of 2000) to regulate the Project and Construction Management Professions in South Africa. Some project management courses earn SACNASP CPD (Continuous Professional Development) points.

Although the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA), a statutory body established in terms of the Engineering Profession Act (EPA), 46 of 2000, does not certify individuals as project managers, professional engineers and technologists need to earn CPD (Continuous Professional Development) points to retain their professional registration. Several project management short courses earn such points.

Obtaining accredited qualifications from credible institutions

Universities are rated internationally on several websites, including the following:
QS World University Rankings 2023: Top global universities and
World University Rankings 2023

It is however important to note that universities specialize in specific fields. For example, the University of Pretoria specializes amongst other things in project management and has more credibility in this field than some other universities that may have higher overall ratings.

Qualifications from South African universities that have solid international ratings are in general quite good, even if the qualifications are not registered on the NQF (National Qualifications Framework).

You can search for the profiles of lecturers to check out their academic standing at the following website:
Google Scholar

What are the different levels of project management according to seniority?

Junior Project Managers and Senior Project Managers differ in terms of experience, responsibilities, decision-making authority, and leadership skills. Here are some of the major differences between the two roles:

1. Experience:

Junior Project Managers: Typically have less experience, often in the range of 1 to 3 years. They may be relatively new to project management and are still developing their skills.

Senior Project Managers: Have extensive experience, often 5 years or more in project management. They have a proven track record of successfully managing complex projects. Executive project managers in large companies typically have decades of experience in large, major or mega projects.

2. Responsibilities:

Junior Project Managers: Usually handle more straightforward or smaller projects. They might focus on specific tasks within a project and work closely with senior team members.

Senior Project Managers: Handle larger and more complex projects. They are responsible for overall project success, including planning, execution, monitoring, and closing. Senior Project Managers often have a strategic role in aligning projects with organizational goals. Executives involved in projects are involved in major or mega projects in roles such as project directors or project sponsors.

3. Decision-Making:

Junior Project Managers: Make decisions within the scope of their assigned tasks and responsibilities. They often report to senior project managers or other higher-level management.

Senior Project Managers: Make critical decisions impacting the entire project. They have a higher level of autonomy and authority to make strategic decisions related to project scope, resources, and risk management.

4. Leadership and Team Management:

Junior Project Managers: Focus on developing their leadership skills and may lead smaller teams or specific project components.

Senior Project Managers: Demonstrate strong leadership skills, guiding and managing larger project teams. They are responsible for fostering a positive team culture and ensuring that team members collaborate effectively.

5. Stakeholder Interaction:

Junior Project Managers: Interact with stakeholders but may have limited exposure to high-level stakeholders or executives.

Senior Project Managers: Have significant interaction with senior management, executives, and key stakeholders. They are often responsible for communicating project progress, risks, and outcomes at a strategic level.

6. Strategic Planning:

Junior Project Managers: Focus more on the tactical aspects of project management, implementing plans and strategies developed by senior project managers.

Senior Project Managers: Contribute to strategic planning and play a key role in aligning projects with the overall strategic objectives of the organization. Some experienced project managers are employed in Project Management Offices (PMOs) and some research indicates that a PMO can contribute significantly to project and organisational performance.

It's important to note that the specific responsibilities and expectations for these roles can vary between organizations. The above distinctions provide a general guideline, but organizations may use different titles or have variations in the responsibilities assigned to project management roles.

From the above, it is clear that practical experience is a critical element in advancing your project management career.

Nobody starts in a senior position. In addition to completing a reputable project management course, it is therefore essential to get experience in project management – stating in a junior project management position and working your way up into more senior positions.

Should I get involved in many different types of projects or should I focus on a specific type of project?

That a ‘good’ project manager can manage any type of project, is a serious misconception. Some people believe that a ‘good’ project manager can manage any project because he or she can simply appoint specialists to advise him or her about technical aspects. The problem is that a project manager who is clearly ignorant regarding the industry, the relevant technology and practices loses the respect of the project team and of other stakeholders. Such a project manager can easily be misled by the experts on the team and is clearly not in a position to lead.

There are project managers that specialize in IT projects while others specialize in projects for new product development (NPD), projects for social upliftment or in engineering projects. Within each of these relatively wide fields many subcategories of projects are found. For example, engineering projects include transport projects and transport projects, in turn, involve road projects, rail projects, bridge projects, and even the development of autonomous vehicles. But engineering projects are not limited to transport projects, they also include projects in diverse fields such mining, mineral processing, agriculture, development of defence products, aerospace projects, construction of buildings, food processing plants, automotive engineering, etc.

In countries where mining is a large industrial sector, such as South Africa, you may find a project manager who not only specializes in mining projects, but who specifically focuses on sinking of shafts for underground mines. Such a project manager obviously has much knowledge about the industry, technology, equipment and processes involved in shaft sinking. Would he also be an appropriate project manager for the development of a new software system? Probably not.

Megaprojects are typically considered as projects with budgets of US$1 billion or more [ Willem Louw, Herman Steyn, Jan Wium, Wim Gevers. 2022. An investigation of sponsor attributes on six megaproject cases. International Journal of Managing Projects in Business, Volume 15(1), pages 58-81.

Such projects, e.g. the construction of airports, power stations, metro rail systems, etc. normally involve much engineering work and the managers of such projects typically have some engineering background. For them, project management is in all likelihood a second career.

Does this mean that a project manager must be a specialist in a specific, narrow discipline? Definitely ‘No’. If the project manager specialised in a specific narrow, technical field, he or she may probably focus too much on technical aspects and neglect other essential aspects such as interacting with stakeholders, cost management, project scheduling and project control.

In conclusion: project management is a multi-disciplinary field that includes leading of a project team, project scope management, scheduling and progress management, cost management, risk management, quality management, procurement and other commercial aspects as well as subject matter related to the specific type of project. Project Management also typically requires the mobilisation of resources from a number of different functions or disciplines. (Steyn, H. et al. Project Management, a Multidisciplinary Approach, 4th Edition, 2016. FPM Publishing, Pretoria.) The project manager should be a generalist with sufficient working knowledge of all the diverse aspects involved in his or her project to communicate meaningfully with all stakeholders, including the experts. Regarding the technical subject matter related to the project, he or she should be able to ask ‘the right’ questions to the experts.

Should I study Project Management directly after school?

Because project management has become such a popular profession, it is easy to understand why many school leavers aspire to become project managers. As indicated earlier in this article, project managers normally specialize in projects of a specific type, and project managers need some background in such a field. Prof Herman Steyn of the University of Pretoria therefore advises school leavers who aspire to become project managers to consider studying towards a bachelor degree in fields such as engineering, architecture, construction, or IT. He says they should then gain work experience in such a field and, once they are ready to move into middle management, consider studying a project management course such as a certificate in project management, a postgraduate diploma in project management or a masters degree in project management.

This explains why institutions such as leading universities in project management often don‘t offer a bachelor degree in project management but do offer several postgraduate courses and continuing professional development courses in project management.

Project management as evolved from an ‘accidental profession’ to a real profession but is often still the second career of leading project managers

How to use software in your project management career

Project management software applications are useful and even essential in your project management career but what role should it play and how should you go about it?

Artificial intelligence (AI) will play increasingly important roles in project management in the future. In the past the roles that technology would play were debatable but all indications are that technology will exceed the expectations of a few years ago.

While project managers at different levels routinely use software, the question is how you should go about adding value to your career through the use of project management software. Prof Herman Steyn at the University of Pretoria believes that novices in the field should first learn the basics of concepts such ass project scheduling and practice these basics manually so that they would understand what a software programme does and how it contributes for example to project scheduling.

The best-known project management software, that is generally used on relatively small projects, is MSProject. Once you have the basics of concepts such as project scheduling, project budgeting and project control under the belt, doing a short course on the use of thins software could be a good idea. Several organizations offer such short courses.

When an organization has to select projects and prioritize several projects relative to one another, project portfolio management software could be used.

Primavera P6 is popular for managing large construction projects and is an example of enterprise project management software that can handle project portfolio management as well as scheduling, budgeting, risk analysis, etc. of individual projects. Other software solutions are, for example, offered by Realization Technologies, Concerto Integrated Software Solutions and Sciforma.

Some individuals follow a career as project planners and they use project management software extensively to support project managers. While this is one career option in the project management field, all project managers should have a basic working knowledge of project management software.

How much do project managers earn globally and in south Africa and what is needed to get to a great remuneration?

Globally, salaries of project managers vary statistically over a very large range – from fairly unimpressive salaries of some junior project managers to salaries in the million-dollar range for executives in large corporates who have built their careers on involvement in major projects.

When salaries of project managers are listed from the highest to the lowest salary, then the salary of the person in the middle is called the median salary. The PMI (Project Management Institute) did surveys at a number of different dates to determine the median salaries of project managers in various countries. Their 2013/14 survey indicated a median salary of US$134 658 for project managers in Australia and a median salary for project managers in South Africa as US$77 552. Their 2015/16 survey indicated median salaries of project managers as follows: US$130 000 for Switzerland, US$130 000 for Australia, US$68 016 for South Africa and US$63 970 for Saudi Arabia. The data for South Africa was obtained from a survey of a sample of 544 project managers in South Africa. The thirteenth survey of this kind was performed by the PMI in 2023

In March/April 2009, information about salaries of project managers were published in the ProjectNet magazine. Although the actual salaries have obviously changed much since, the article provided an interesting comparison of salaries between people with the word “project” in their job title and people without “project” in their job title. The figure below clearly illustrates significantly higher salaries for people whose careers related to projects, compared to people whose careers were not related to projects. The difference applies to project managers (as compared to other managers), but also to others such as project engineers, project planners, project administrators, etc.

Project Respondents Average Salary Per Age

The diagram also clearly illustrates the effect of experience: the salaries of people in the age group of 55 to 60, and who were related to projects, were much higher than those in the younger age groups – clearly illustrating the value of work experience.

The same March/April 2009 ProjectNet article also provided interesting information about the effect of formal education on the remuneration of project managers. The diagram below clearly indicates how salaries of people related to projects increased significantly with qualifications varying from Matric to Certificate, to Diploma, to (Bachelors) Degree, to Honours Degree, to Masters degree.

Project Respondents Average Salary Per Highest Qualification

While the actual salaries have obviously changed since 2009, there is much reason to believe that:

  1. people who follow careers in project environments today still earn significantly more than those who are not involved in projects;
  2. that years and even decades of work experience in project-related fields is necessary to obtain the highest salaries; and
  3. that for people involved in projects, higher qualifications definitely still lead to higher salaries. Any qualification relating to project management or relating to the subject matter of the type of project your are involved in may be of value. However, qualifications in project management specifically such as certificates in project management, diplomas in project management, bachelor degrees in project management, postgraduate diplomas in project management, honours degrees in project management and masters degrees in project management are especially valuable.

Doctorate programs in project management are available at some universities. A doctorate in project management, e.g. a PhD in Project Management is valuable for project management consultants and project management scholars at universities.

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Quick Links

The PPM is recognized by the following:

  1. PMI (Project Management Institute) – USA and Globally
  2. ECSA (Engineering Council of SA)
  3. SACPCMP (South African Council for the Project and Construction Management Professions)
  4. SACNASP (South African Council for Natural Scientific Professionals)
  5. PMSA (Project Management South Africa)

On successful completion of the PPM, suitable candidates may be eligible to apply for the professional designation of Project Manager (PM) conferred by Project Management South Africa (PMSA). PMSA is the SAQA recognized professional body representing the interests of project managers across sectors.

Contact Information

Simbulele Mtshotane

Course Coordinator

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+27 (0)12 434 2603
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Mpolokeng Rammutloa

Programme Manager

Prof Herman Steyn

Course Leader

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