Some people choose a career path because they’re passionate about the role they’ll be performing, such as coding software, treating patients, writing articles, parsing data and managing teams.
Other people, however, are more focused on the actual industry they’ll work in: the world of television, the corporate business realm, a Silicon Valley-type tech company. It’s the field itself that spikes their passion.
But what if you’re unsure about your dream industry, or you have aspirations to dabble in multiple work worlds throughout your career?
If you have an eye for strategy and knack for organization and collaboration, a career in project management can take you across a number of industries and companies — and a master’s degree in the field can open up even more opportunities.
To gain a better understanding of the project manager career path and job options for master’s graduates, we spoke with three faculty members from USC’s online Master of Science in Project Management (MSPM) program — Tim Stanton, Erika Bobbitt and Dina Keswani — below.
What Is Project Management?
A project manager is a relatively new position in the U.S. workforce, but it’s also a vital one. Project managers oversee the planning of a project within a company, whether it’s an isolated or an ongoing proposal. They corral the team, organize the resources needed for project completion and keep everyone on task to make sure the initiative is a success.
An MSPM degree is useful because it teaches students to build business relationship skills, become better learners, and understand the concepts and methodologies related to project management.
“To me, I think it’s a great means of getting professionals trained and familiar with all the complexities of project management,” Stanton told USC Online. “There’s a lot of knowledge that people pick up in classes, and it’s extra stuff that gets added into your project management toolkit.”
The MSPM program at USC Bovard College imparts skills that students will use for the rest of their careers, touching on both practical methodologies and more complex, essential topics.
“You can learn skills that are traditional in nature, like basic time management, or more sophisticated skills that are more project-focused and unique to an industry … Analytical attributes that are always in demand are taught, and as a project manager, the ability to use those skills and communicate plays a big role in problem-solving … Cross team collaboration would also be a key area that they study and can truly apply it in the real world,” Keswani explained.
Of course, the best part about getting a master’s degree in PM may be the most obvious: “I think it helps students ultimately land a job, which I think is a good goal to have achieved,” Keswani said.
What Careers Are Available as a Project Manager?
One of the main draws of a project management career — as Bobbitt put it — is the fact that it is an “industry-agnostic” position. All kinds of fields hire project managers, including tech, media, entertainment, business and the government.
“[Project managers] can be in any industry. They can be in manufacturing, they can be in service, they can be in technical, they can be in aerospace. I mean, you name it, every industry uses project managers. Oftentimes, they don’t give them that name, but they’re using those skill sets, or they aspire to use those skill sets … Any industry has it, needs it, wants it,” Bobbitt said.
In the MSPM program, students are fairly split between the private and public sectors, with many working for large corporations like Google and Amazon as well as smaller companies, according to Stanton. Others employed by nonprofits and government entities enroll in the program to add to their “professional environment for promotion and advancement,” he said.
But it’s not just specific “project manager” titles that are available. Bobbitt also cited possibilities like business analysts, risk management roles and scheduling positions that require the same PM skills and expertise.
Project management is a field where people enhance their leadership skills, too, and it can even lay the groundwork to become a director of a department, for example.
What Is the Future of Project Management?
Of course, every graduate school applicant likely has one major question on their mind: Will this field continue thriving for years to come? After all, with the rise of automation, the growth of the internet and the turn toward remote work, plenty of people worry about the future of their own careers.
Luckily, project management is a field that seems likely to not only expand, but positively flourish. By 2023, the global economy is expected to need 25 million new project management professionals, as an increasing number of jobs require PM-oriented skills, according to a recent report by the Project Management Institute.
“At the core, project managers are organizers and communicators. We’re working in an organization and bringing groups together that on their own may not come together to drive results for a business,” Bobbitt explained. “As businesses become more and more focused on driving results with limited resources, the need for project management will only continue to grow … I absolutely see it as a business, as a field, [with] worldwide growth.”
Stanton agreed with the positive forecast for project management, noting, “We’ve always had project management in one form or another, even back to the pyramids. In the last 10 or 15 years, projects are getting more complicated, and there’s less tolerance for time. People want it faster to market, and somebody’s got to be able to make that happen … The technology is going to continue to improve, but the wildcard is always people, and somebody has to be able to make that happen.”
If career longevity is a concern of yours, project management is certainly the right field to pursue. It’s also an ideal role if you want to be one of those forces leading future changes.
“At the end of the day, as project managers, you are driving change, and the future is all about change. That’s why it’s a very high demand area to be. If you are in that place of change management, and if you have the ability to work with different stakeholders, services and products to drive that change and manage through it, you can really thrive in that space,” Keswani said.
When it comes to succeeding in the MSPM program and ultimately landing a career in project management, Keswani had some words of advice: Be excited to learn and grow.
“Students should come in with a growth mindset to the program, where you’re setting yourself up for success, where you’re open to learning, where you’re open to understanding different perspectives. Interacting with teachers and classmates, building your network online through discussion boards, and just being open to taking as much information as you possibly can so you can apply it immediately in your work area — that’s all very important for students. Having that ability to be open to learning will be a good metric for success,” she concluded.
Learn more about online MS in Project Management program today.