Calculating an accurate average base salary for project managers is nearly impossible. You'll find plenty of sites reporting median salaries for project managers (PMs), with some claiming the national average salary for project managers is around $85,000 while others report that most project managers' salaries are well over $100,000.
Who's right? They all may be. The reality is that every one of the websites publishing project management salary data could be offering accurate information.
Here's the problem: there's no such thing as a typical salary for project managers. A project manager's salary depends on a variety of factors that include experience level, location, and the size of the projects they handle. The most crucial factor to consider when calculating salary averages for project managers is probably industry. Compensation can vary by tens of thousands of dollars, depending on whether a PM works in marketing, healthcare, or manufacturing.
So, what kind of pay can you expect to receive when you become a project manager? In this article, we dig into what the typical project manager salary looks like in different industries, and also how PMs can boost their salaries. We also cover:
Project managers are responsible for keeping projects on track. PMs are like orchestra conductors, who are vital to an orchestra even though they don't play an instrument. Project managers don't contribute directly to projects, but they play an essential role in almost all industries because they're instrumental to project success. One might say they 'conduct' the project.
They contribute to projects by:
Project managers and related professionals (like program managers and systems managers) work in fields like:
Some project managers work on one project at a time (e.g., a construction manager overseeing the construction of a hospital). In contrast, others juggle multiple internal and external projects (e.g., the digital project manager at a company that develops custom software for clients). In both cases, the work of the PM is essential.
For now, it's possible to launch a lucrative project management career with a bachelor's degree. There are only a few Bachelor of Science in Project Management programs out there, which suggests that employers are looking for candidates with project management experience plus any undergraduate degree. If you're passionate about project management and want to study it in college, there are dedicated programs at Northeastern University and Embry - Riddle Aeronautical University - Daytona Beach. You should also look into degrees like the:
Any of these degrees can help you get your start in project planning and then work your way into a project manager position. Your annual salary may be somewhat lower than that of your colleagues with master's degrees, however. According to salary survey data collected by the Project Management Institute, the median salary for PMs with bachelor's degrees is about $110,000 while project managers with master's degrees earn about $120,000. Sites like PayScale and Glassdoor report even bigger salary discrepancies among PMs with different degrees.
Salary shouldn't be your only consideration when you're deciding whether to get a master's degree, however. You also need to consider that the highest level of education PMs need may be changing. A report published by Burning Glass Labor Insight found that 34 percent of employers posting project management jobs prefer or even require applicants to have a master's degree.
Currently, 45 percent of project managers actually have master's degrees, up from 28 percent only a few years ago. There are still jobs out there for PMs without a graduate degree, but the trend is pretty clear.
Many PMs opt for MBAs or Master of Science in Business degrees, but there are project management master's degree programs you should look into at:
Not as well as you might assume, given the high salaries that project managers with more experience can demand. The average salary for an entry-level project manager is just about $45,000, according to multiple sources.
That said, the Project Management Institute's latest salary survey suggests that having the right certifications can boost entry-level salaries by quite a bit. A project manager with less than five years of experience who has earned the organization's Project Management Professional credential can earn $108,000 or more.
So why the vast disparity? Perhaps because PMP certification serves as proof that a less-experienced project manager not only has the requisite project management skills and knowledge to keep projects on track but also a proven track record of successfully managing large projects and teams.
The answer to this question depends on where you look. Don't bother searching for mid-career PM salaries on the US Bureau of Labor Statistics website. It doesn't track income information for project managers by career level. That's too bad since BLS data is quite reliable.
Fortunately, the Project Management Institute gathers data on a pretty granular level. The organization reports that project managers with 5 to 10 years of experience earn a mean salary of $105,000, a number that jumps to almost $122,000 for those in the 10-to-15 year range. Add a PMP certification and those figures jump to $112,000 and $131,000, respectively.
The salary increases PMs enjoy over time are pretty striking. Senior project managers with the most experience can make $145,000 to $155,000—and that's without a fancy title. Salary estimates for the highest-earning directors of project management—professionals who oversee the work of an entire project management department—approach $200,000.
Work experience matters a lot when it comes to salaries in project management, but certification may be even more important. There are a number of certifications available for PMs, including:
The Project Management Institute has found that certified project managers earn higher median salaries than those without certifications—22 percent higher on average—and the potential earning discrepancies between non-certified and certified PMs only grow as those PMs gain experience. It pays to get certified early.
Figuring out where project managers earn the most money isn't as simple as looking at where salaries are highest. Geography indeed plays a huge role in earning potential, but cost of living has to factor into that. The Bureau of Labor Statistics identifies the top-paying states for project management specialists as:
Unsurprisingly, the most lucrative jobs are generally located in the states with the highest cost of living (New Mexico, with a cost of living below the national average, is the rare exception). More affordable states with relatively high average annual incomes include:
Some PMs spend their entire careers working in a single industry, and these specialists can earn more money than generalists. That's because some industries pay project managers more than others—something to consider when you're planning out your project management career. These are the industries that pay PMs the most, according to the latest PMI report:
The reason project managers in these industries are paid more than PMs in marketing and business is that they have to know more and often do more. Mining and engineering project managers, for instance, have to travel from site to site and may need a background in civil, environmental, and geo-engineering. PMs in the aerospace industry might require specific high-level security clearances. Pharma industry project managers may have to have ISO and LEED certifications.
What this means is that if you become a project manager but aren't happy with how much you're earning, the fastest way to get a salary boost might be to get the knowledge and skills you need to transition to a higher-paying industry.
Project managers are in demand across industries, and the demand for these professionals is expected to grow. Just about every sector, from healthcare to construction to energy to finance, needs qualified project managers who can keep projects moving forward. The outlook for project managers now and into the future is bright. A Project Management Institute report forecasts that employers worldwide will be looking to fill nearly 90 million project management-related roles between now and 2027—most of which will be in manufacturing, construction, management, and professional services.
There will also be jobs for project managers, program managers, schedulers, and change management experts in publishing, finance, insurance, information services, utilities, and energy. Some of these openings will probably go unfilled, which is good news for anyone who got into the field for the high pay. The average project manager salary will probably remain on the higher side as long as there is a talent gap. If so, project managers will continue to enjoy the kind of job availability and job security that people in most other careers can only dream of.
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