How to Become a Project Manager 💼

  • Remote Working & Freelancing
Contra Tips
· 7 min read

Freelance project management is a challenging career. Independents who enjoy organizing will benefit from this how to become a project manager article.

As businesses grow, their teams often follow suit, and the projects those teams handle become increasingly complex. So it’s no surprise that managing those teams and projects can be incredibly time-consuming. But there’s one profession devoted to keeping people on task, staying within the budget, and delivering high-quality work on time. 

Enter: the project manager. Whether full-time members of the team or Independents hired to make a one-off project happen, project managers are the unsung heroes of the business world.

Interested in exploring this career path? Here’s what you need to know about how to become a project manager and what this crucial role really entails.

What is a freelance project manager? 🤓

Companies hire freelance project managers to oversee a team working on a large-scale implementation. It’s a role that requires great communication skills (both internal and external) and the ability to set and meet realistic deadlines to ensure the timely delivery of completed work.

The job changes on a day-to-day basis, meaning someone in a project management role needs to be able to prioritize, strategize, and manage multiple concerns simultaneously. 

A freelance project manager’s responsibilities may include:

  • Project creation. Establishing the basic parameters of a project (e.g., deadlines, deliverables, end date, budget).
  • Task development. Smaller scale development of individual tasks required to meet overall project requirements and deliverables.
  • Communication skills. Ensuring clear communication between all team members and the business owner/stakeholders involved in a project.
  • Conflict resolution. Resolving disagreements between a client and manager or within the development team itself.
  • Progress monitoring.  Establishing a timeline and ensuring all involved parties adhere to previously agreed-upon dates and deadlines.
  • Final outcome. Proofing and presenting the project's final product(s) to owners and stakeholders, ensuring it meets all the established requirements.

Project management professionals seeking new challenges can find opportunities and advice on Contra’s commission-free, Independent-first platform.

Essential skills and qualifications to be a project manager 🏁

Project management skills cover a vast array of talents and abilities. Some projects require specific skills, like experience with Agile or Scrum methodologies. But a mix of “soft” and “hard” skills is crucial to every project manager’s success, no matter the role:

  • Soft skills
    • Leadership. Knowing how and when to make executive decisions about a project.
    • Time management. Keeping both the project and project team members productive and on schedule.
    • Communication. Transmitting clear, precise, concise communications to all team and management levels throughout the project's lifetime.
    • Decision-making/problem-solving. Making decisions and using critical thinking skills to overcome problems and ensure projects are completed on time.
  • Hard skills
    • Technical expertise. Different projects require different types of expertise. A freelance project management professional should be familiar with a client's products or services or be able to get up to speed quickly.
    • Budgeting/payroll. Keeping a project within the agreed budget and ensuring vendors get paid. Some project managers may also be involved with payroll for the team. 
    • Risk management. Considering any roadblocks or barriers that may inhibit the smooth completion of the project and putting plans in place to mitigate them.

6 steps to becoming a project manager 🚀

If you’re interested in a freelance project management career, a four-year project management degree is a good place to start. A degree or qualification within the field you’re interested in, such as construction, healthcare, or web design, will also give you a leg up when searching for roles.

Becoming a project manager requires a lot of hard work and dedication. Here’s a breakdown of the six steps it takes to get there:

  1. Identify existing skills. If you already have a bachelor’s degree, what is it in, and how can it be applied to project management? For Independents looking to get hired without an official degree, professional experience should be front and center on their profile or website.
  2. Refine and learn. Knowing something and doing something are very different experiences. Be open to the idea that all of your learning may have to be thrown out or re-envisioned once the realities of the project become known.
  3. Consider certifications. Beyond a bachelor's degree, numerous other project management certifications exist, including the Scrum Master Certification, Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM), and Project Management Professional (PMP). Membership with the Project Management Institute (PMI) or other professional associations can also be helpful to the freelance project manager. These certifications aren’t easy, but they’re likely to open a lot of doors!
  4. Gain experience. Before becoming a project manager, join teams and learn project management skills from other professionals. Getting your hands dirty is a great way to get experience and understand the good and bad sides of project management.
  5. Update your online presence. Ensure that each job or project you work on is clearly represented on your website so clients can see your work. Highlight specific jobs and skills that skew toward project management.
  6. Seek entry-level positions. Don't assume that you can jump into a high-level project management position just because you've got the qualifications. Approach businesses that advertise entry-level jobs until you've built some of the experiential know-how required for project management.

FAQs for aspiring project managers❓

How long does it take to become a project manager?

A bachelor’s degree typically takes four years to complete. After that, you’ll spend some time gaining experience in entry-level positions or completing CAPM or PMP certifications before you’re ready to take on freelance project management work.

Do project managers need a degree?

Whether or not a degree is required will depend wholly on the person or business doing the hiring. Some may require their project managers to have a business degree or a degree in a field related to the project. Others may be satisfied with the general qualifications achieved through the CAPM or PMP courses.

Can I be a project manager with no experience?

You may be able to land a role, but it might be hard to pull off without a solid understanding of project management tools and methodologies. Most projects have so many moving parts that an inexperienced project manager without robust organizational skills may struggle to keep track of them all. 

Is it hard to be a project manager?

We won’t sugar-coat it — project management isn’t easy! You’ll act as supervisor, treasurer, and communications specialist, and you may need skills and qualifications unique to specific industries. Not every personality type will thrive in this role, but people with the right organizational and leadership skills will find it a rewarding career path.

Explore opportunities with Contra 🔭

Project management is a challenging — but exciting and diverse — career. It requires a lot of hard work, but those who enjoy organizing, delegating, and getting complex projects across the finish line will find that it’s a very gratifying (and often lucrative!) role. When you’re ready, Contra is here to help answer your questions about how to get a project management job.

Contra’s Independent-first platform guarantees that freelancers are treated equitably and clients get the best professionals for their needs. Businesses seeking a freelance project manager can check out Contra’s hire directory. And Independents interested in this career path can find inspiration on the Discover feed or pose questions to established professionals in our Slack community.

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