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What is a Project Manager?

March 9, 2015

I often get confused looks when I tell people that I’m in the field of project management. Many don’t know what project management is as a field or what being a project manager means as a profession. Here are some answers, along with a few predictions about the field.

Project Management is a Young Profession

There are fewer professional project managers in the world than there are medical doctors.

Doctors and Project Managers Worldwide

Project Management is a Growing Profession

The number of professional project managers has grown more than 240% over the last 20 years and is projected to continue to grow.

Growth of Project Management

Project Managers are Social Scientists

Project managers apply the science of project management to improve the health of projects. A healthy project starts before it is planned and runs through the full life cycle of the project. Some project managers are practitioners, others are researchers. Some do both.

There are General Project Managers and Specialists

At a general level, the science of project management is not industry specific and provides a comprehensive tool set for many aspects of a project. For example, a project manager can diagnose and treat a schedule, as it were, regardless of the type of project it is.

Sample Schedule Analysis
But there are specialists who focus on one type of project or another, such as oil and gas projects or telecom projects. There are also specialists who focus on specific aspects of a project such as schedule, costs, scope, risks, communication, organizational structure, etc.

Project Management is a Young Science

Project management is a young science. By most estimates it is less than 100 years old. There are a growing number of academics and practitioners expanding the boundaries of the domain. There are a growing number of universities offering undergraduate and graduate programs in project management and even in specialties within project management.

Project Managers are Not a Government Licensed Profession, Yet

Doctors are licensed by the government. Accountants are licensed by the government. Attorneys are licensed by the government. Project managers are not licensed by the government. But that seems to be slowly changing.

The trend is starting in the United Kingdom. The Crown is set to create the official profession of a Chartered Project Manager. This is akin to a Chartered Accountant in the UK or a Certified Public Accounts (CPA) in the US.

I would expect the US to follow suit sometime in the future and create a Certified Project Manager. This may take time, though.  The US began licensing accountants nearly 50 years after the UK did. Chartered Accountants were established in the UK in 1854. Certified Public Accounts were established in the US in 1896.

The Future of Project Management

Project management will continue to grow as a profession and as a domain. More and more universities will begin offering programs in project management. It will become better known as a profession and field of study.

Over the next 50 years we will likely see government licensed project managers in the UK, US and the rest of the world. Some will be general practitioners. Some will have further licensing and degrees in specialty areas. Much like how there are attorneys with a JD and those that further have an LLM in taxation.

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