What is Project Management?
Strictly speaking, project management is not an engineering discipline in the same way as civil or electrical engineering. There are no specific materials that project managers must work with. There are no subject areas that project managers must specialize in. And there is no limit to the industries in which project managers can be employed.
Rather, project management is a set of shared skills, techniques, and strategies that are uniformly useful across all fields of engineering. In fact, project management is useful in many fields outside of engineering, too, including business, government, the natural and social sciences, and many others.
Basically, project management is an essential activity in any field in which there are projects. But that begs the question: what exactly is a project, anyways?
According to the Project Management Institute, a project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result. So, project management plays an important role when mechanical engineers prototype a new gadget, when computer scientists develop new software, and when civil engineers construct a new highway. To put it another way, project managers are constantly on the cutting edge.
In short, project management is a crucial part of any engineer’s education—which is why the UAA College of Engineering offers both a Minor in Project Management, which you can take alongside your primary discipline, and a Master’s in Project Management for those who want to boost their career prospects to the next level.
What Do Project Managers Actually Do?
In general, project managers work as part of a team in office environments, though that can vary somewhat depending on your field. For example, a project manager who works in manufacturing may spend time on a factory floor, while one who works in disaster relief may spend time at disaster sites, and so on. Because project managers work in so many fields, it’s difficult to generalize their responsibilities, but a job description might include:
- Developing project plans, including budgets, timelines, activities, team members, and logistics
- Providing project leadership and coordinating elements of project plans among team members
- Identifying and establishing processes, techniques, and frameworks to ensure the smooth progression of projects
- Tracking project details to ensure that all activities occur on time and under budget
- Communicating both small details and the big picture to clients via reports and presentations
What Do Project Managers Need to Learn?
An education in project management is both broad and deep, enabling project managers to step into unfamiliar terrain with confidence. In the process of earning an M.S. in Project Management from UAA, our students learn how to employ a wide variety of tools and techniques, and gain the ability to apply the overarching project management principles of scope management, risk management, cost planning, quality control, time management, and more.
How Much Do Project Managers Make?
Once again, it is difficult to generalize salaries for project managers because of the huge number of industries that require project management. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, project coordinators earn a median of $67,280 annually, almost double the national average. And project coordinator is a relatively low-level position. There are many jobs for project managers in manufacturing, software, and government in which the median pay is anywhere between $90,000 and $110,000 annually. Similarly, it is difficult to put an exact number on the projected growth of the project management profession, because it intersects with so many industries.
If you are interested in working as a project manager in a particular field of engineering, it would make more sense to investigate the salary information and job outlooks for those fields. However, a major benefit of project management is that your skills and experiences are transferable across industries. If you are open to multiple career paths, then the versatility of project management could be a huge asset.