The Complete Guide to Project Management Salaries

This article was originally published on Quick Sprout

Project managers are in high demand. But like any job, salaries vary based on a wide range of factors.

Can you support your lifestyle by pursuing a career in project management? How long will it take for you to increase your salary? How much money can you make as a project manager? These are some questions you might be asking yourself.

Whether you’re a beginner that’s interested in becoming a project manager or you’re an existing project manager that wants to make more money, this guide will explain everything you need to know about project management salaries.

How Much Does a Project Manager Make?

According to a recent survey by the Project Management Institute, the median annual salary for a project manager in the United States is $116,000. So project management has the potential to be a six-figure career.

With that said, you can’t expect to make this amount right out of the gate. Several factors impact the average salary of a project manager, including team size, project size, project budget, and years of experience.

Other factors like formal education, industry, and credentials also play a large role in the amount of money you can make as a project manager. We’ll cover these elements in greater detail throughout this guide.

5 Ways to Improve Your Project Management Salary

Whether you’re applying for your first job in project management or you want to make yourself more appealing to higher-paying positions, these are the top five ways you can increase your project management salary.

#1 — Higher Education

Like many jobs, project managers with formal education get paid more than those without a degree.

In the United States, just 1% of project managers don’t have any education beyond a high school diploma. 7% of project managers have an associate’s degree or some college education. But the vast majority of managers have at least four years of post-secondary education. In fact, 42% of PMs have a bachelor’s degree, and 47% have a master’s degree. Project managers who have a master’s degree make over $15,500 per year more than those who only have a high school diploma.

Continuing your education might not seem like it’s relevant to project management, but the numbers don’t lie. If you’re competing for the same jobs with other project managers who have a higher degree than you, it’s going to be harder for you to secure that job. But with the right degree, not only will you increase your chances of getting that job, but you’ll be able to get paid more for your efforts.

If you’re unable to go back to school full-time or in person, consider taking classes online. This might take a bit longer to earn your bachelor’s or your master’s degree, but it will pay off (literally) in the long run.

It’s also worth noting that a bachelor’s degree will make it easier for you to obtain specific project management certifications, which brings us to our next point.

#2 — Project Management Certifications

Becoming a certified project manager is another great way to boost your salary. Certified project managers are more appealing to prospective job opportunities, and they get paid more than PMs who aren’t certified.

Project managers with a PMP certification are paid 25% more than those without one.

The process to obtain a project management certification depends on what you’re trying to get. Each certification has different qualification requirements, but they all typically involve education, experience, and project management training. Top project management certifications to increase your salary include:

  • Project Management Professional (PMP)
  • Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)
  • PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)
  • PMI Professional in Business Analysis (PMI-PBA)
  • Portfolio Management Professional (PfMP)
  • PMI Risk Management Professional (PMI-RMP)

If you’re still in school and don’t have any project management experience, you can still obtain certifications to make yourself more appealing to future job opportunities once you graduate. PMI Project Management Ready Certification is a good place to start if you fall into this category.

#3 — Change Industries

Some of you might feel like you’ve reached a dead-end in your industry. You’re not seeing many opportunities for higher-paying jobs in your existing field. Looking at job openings in other industries could lead to higher pay.

Here are some examples of the average project management salary by industry in the US, according to the PMI:

  • Training and Education — $92,700
  • Business Services — $97,232
  • Real Estate — $108,554
  • Healthcare — $111,248
  • Construction — $112,850
  • Manufacturing — $114,773
  • Government — $116,664
  • Financial Services — $118,358
  • Legal — $121,990
  • Engineering — $124,434
  • Aerospace — $129,732
  • Pharmaceuticals — $133,246
  • Consulting — $134,149
  • Resources (Mining, Agriculture, etc.) — $134,577

As you can see, there’s a $40,000+ difference in salary between the highest-paid project management industries and the lowest-paid project management industries. Switching from one sector to another might be easier said than done. But if you want a big pay jump, this is one way to make that happen.

#4 — Get More Experience and Become a Specialist

Like many other professions, you’ll get a higher salary if you have more experience as a project manager.

The PMI survey we’ve referred to several times throughout this guide also discovered that the average pay for a project manager with less than three years of experience is $87,459. That number jumps up to $107,668 after five years, $122,461 after ten years, and $138,128 with 20+ years of experience.

You can’t fast-track your career 20 years overnight. So this won’t put more money in your pocket today. However, it’s nice to know that you can expect an increase in your salary over time. So don’t get discouraged if your entry-level project management salary is lower than you wanted. There is plenty of money to be made if you stay the course and continue to gain experience as a project manager.

Another way to increase your salary without waiting decades is by becoming a specialist in a particular field of project management.

For example, the average salary for a Director of Project Management Office (PMO) is $148,262. Project portfolio managers are paid $140,784 per year, on average.

The type of project management methodology you’re using can have a direct impact on your pay as well. Project managers with more than six years of experience using agile frameworks are paid an average of $131,477 per year. So make sure you’re well-trained with versatile frameworks and get familiar with the best project management software to apply those methodologies to real projects. This strategy can have a direct impact on your pay.

#5 — Explore New Locations

Are you interested in moving to a new area? This move could come with higher pay.

The United States ranks second worldwide in terms of the highest median salary for project managers ($116,000). With a median project management salary of $132,086, Switzerland has the highest paying project management jobs in the world. Depending on your industry, you could potentially manage teams overseas remotely. If you’re adventurous and can see yourself moving to a new country, then Switzerland might be for you.

If you don’t want to make an international move but like the idea of exploring new locations, you can secure higher-paying project management jobs in the US. For comparison purposes, here are the top three highest paying and top three lowest-paying states in the United States for project managers.

  • Massachusetts — $101,716
  • Rhode Island — $101, 456
  • New Jersey — $101,723
  • West Virginia — $57,591
  • Arkansas — $57,071
  • Montana — $54,639

As you can see, the northeast corner of the US has the top three highest paying average salaries for project management. So if you don’t mind cold winters, this could be a good place to look for your next job.

Just make sure you secure the job before you pack up your life and move. Moving expenses and cost of living should also be considered before you make such a drastic choice.

The Basics of Project Management Salaries

Let’s take a closer look at the core components of a project manager’s salary. A firm understanding of these factors will make it easier for you to find the highest-paying jobs.

Demand

If there are more project managers than project management jobs available, then the pay will likely be lower. On the flip side, lots of open project management jobs with nobody to fill them will create higher-paying jobs.

Fortunately, the latter seems to be the case right now. According to the PMI, project-oriented roles are expected to grow by 33% through 2027—creating 22 million new jobs. It’s a great time to be a project manager.

Skills

You need to make sure that your project management skills fit the description for the jobs you’re applying to. Highly skilled PMs with a proven track record have more leverage than those seeking entry-level employment.

If you’re truly skilled in the profession, you could even create a bidding war between multiple companies seeking your services. Instead of you trying to impress them, they’ll be actively looking for you.

Company

The type of company you’re applying to will also impact your pay. Are you being brought on full-time as an in-house project manager? Or are you working as a contractor for a single project? In some cases, you might be hired by a third-party agency providing project services to their clients.

All of these factors will impact your pay.

In most cases, you can expect higher pay from a more established company seeking to fill a long-term full-time position. But this will vary case by case.

Job Title

“Project manager” is a broad term. There are other project management roles within this field, all of which come with different pay levels. Other examples include:

  • Senior Project Manager
  • Director of Project Management Office (PMO)
  • Portfolio Manager
  • Program Manager
  • Project Management Specialist
  • Project Management Consultant
  • Project Scheduler
  • Assistant Project Manager

If you have a job within one company, you can potentially advance your career by moving up the ladder with higher-paying job titles.

4 Tricks For Increasing Your Salary as a Project Manager

Getting a Master’s degree or moving to a new country isn’t easy. But these four quick tips are fast and easy ways to increase your project management salary today:

Trick #1: Ask For More Money

Unhappy with your existing pay? Try just asking for more.

You’d be surprised how often this works. This is especially true if you’ve proven your value to a company or a client and can show specific examples. It’s worth it for them to invest more money in you instead of starting from scratch with someone new. While these conversations can feel awkward at first, you won’t know unless you try. Worst case scenario, your request will be denied.

Trick #2: Leverage Other Opportunities

Take a look to see what other project management salaries are paying. If similar jobs to your role are paying more, you could use that as bargaining power during a salary negotiation.

If you’re in a position where multiple companies have offered you a job, see if you can play those offers against each other to get the most possible money. Just don’t be too greedy, as this could backfire if done unprofessionally.

Trick #3: Look Beyond the Dollar Amount

All too often, we’re guilty of looking at the base salary of a job and using that as the sole factor for how well it pays. But you should evaluate other forms of compensation as well. I’m referring to things like:

  • Health insurance benefits
  • Retirement plans and 401(k) matching
  • Reimbursement for certifications and training
  • Paid time off
  • Subsidized food
  • Childcare
  • Transportation reimbursement
  • Housing stipends
  • Bonuses
  • Company vehicle

You’ll need to weigh these factors against the dollar amount of your salary. In some cases, a lower salary job could be more valuable than a higher paying job when you consider these other elements.

Trick #4: Take On Larger Projects

When your current project ends, ask to take on more responsibility. Not only will this be a chance to show your value to a company, but it’s also an excellent way to increase your pay.

According to the PMI, PMs managing teams of 1-4 people are paid an average of $110,486. That figure jumps to $124,240 for teams of 10-14 and goes all the way up to $135,975 for teams of more than 20.

Your project budget has a direct impact on pay as well. If you’re managing a budget under $100k, expect to make about $99,539 per year. But project budgets above $10 million result in the PM’s salary increasing to $139,459.

Bigger teams and larger budgets come with added responsibility. But you should be compensated accordingly for your efforts.

This article was written by Lars Lofgren

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