There are many benefits to choosing a career in project management.
Job security, flexibility, and upward mobility, to name a few.
And while there are many more lucrative career paths that someone might pursue if getting rich is the driving force (NBA basketball player? CEO of a Fortune 100 company? YouTube star?), the average project management salary is nothing to sniff at.
I started my career in print journalism, so to me, a good salary means being able to pay rent AND have enough money left over for a tank of gas. If I was also able to buy a few Hungry-Man dinners for my freezer, I felt like I was living the high life.
According to the Project Management Institute, the average yearly project management salary in the U.S. is more than $108,000.
But what if you’re not even close to that number? Or, what if you are making more than $100,000 per year, but want to make more? There’s nothing wrong with trying to get paid! At least that’s the impression I get from blinged-out millionaire musicians.
Unfortunately, there aren’t any “hacks” or magic tricks to increasing your project management salary. There are, however, some proven strategies that will not only make you a better project manager, but also help you add a few tanks of gas to each paycheck.
1. Pursue an industry-specific education
It shouldn’t be a surprise that a good education is key to a good career. Though I’m sure there are exceptions—say for YouTube stars—this is especially true for project managers.
In the U.S. in 2015, 99% of the project managers surveyed in PMI’s annual salary survey had at least a high school degree. More than 90% earned a four-year college degree, and almost 50% achieved a master’s degree or higher. Furthermore, project managers with a doctoral degree earned about $16,000 more per year than those holding only a four-year degree.
Interestingly enough, earning a degree specifically in project management seems to have little bearing on salary. Only 11% of project managers surveyed held such a degree, and the difference in salary was negligible. In fact, project managers without a PM degree reported earning about $2,000 more per year.
This data tells us that having a degree is more important than having a project management degree. So, it’s more important to study the field that you are interested in—engineering, finance, IT, etc.—and then apply project management skills to that field, rather than the other way around.
But how do you get better at project management if you’re not specifically studying it in school? We’ll get to that.
2. Keep building up your experience
Perhaps the most surefire way to increase your project management salary is to keep being a project manager. As long as you’re not treating your career like an episode of The Three Stooges come to life, that is.
The Three Stooges are not good role models for building project management experience
The PMI survey shows that a project manager’s salary steadily increases with experience. The biggest jump—more than $20,000 per year—occurs between those with three to five years of experience ($67,590) and those with five to ten years of experience ($87,867).
Project managers with more than 20 years of experience made, on average, $120,196 per year. That’s more than double the average salary of a project manager with less than three years of experience ($56,222)!
3. Enhance your CV with certifications
Say you’ve already earned a master’s degree and have ten years of project management experience on your resume. You’re probably taking home a pretty respectable paycheck at this point, but maybe you want to learn new skills and boost your salary.
This is a great time to look into project management certifications.
PMI’s Project Management Professional (PMP) certification is widely considered the gold standard for American project managers, and earning a PMP certificate can increase your salary by more than 20%.
PRINCE2, on the other hand, is the standard project management certification in the U.K. and Australia, because of its roots in the British government.
Considering the PMP requires 4,500 hours of project management leadership experience, the CAPM (Certified Associate in Project Management) is a great alternative for younger project managers, as it only requires either 1,500 hours of project management experience or 23 hours of project management education.
Earning these certifications requires passing an exam, but there are plenty of good courses online to help you prepare.
If you already have earned a PMP or PRINCE2, more specialized project management certifications include:
- PMI Agile Certified Practitioner
- PMI Risk Management Professional
- PMI Scheduling Professional
- PMI Professional in Business Analysis
- Microsoft Project certification
4. Consider moving to a higher paying industry
If you have education, experience, and all the certifications you can find, but you’re still not making as much money as you’d like, it may be time to shift your focus to a more lucrative industry.
For example, did you know that project managers in the pharmaceutical industry make, on average, about $127,000 per year, while project managers in education make less than $94,000 per year? That’s a $33,000 difference! That jump is more than a lot of people (including many journalists) make in a year.
Of course, you might enjoy working in education or real estate (average salary, $98,544), but if you’re looking to maximize your salary you should look at these industries:
- Pharmaceuticals, $127,426
- Resources, $127,382
- Consulting, $124,697
- Aerospace, $118,147
- Engineering, $116,990
- Utility, $114,676
- Government, $113, 781
- Information Technology, $112,291
- Financial Services, $110,591
- Legal, $110,548
5. Work on bigger projects
The final frontier of increasing your project management salary is to take on bigger, more complex projects with bigger budgets.
The PMI survey shows that the bigger the team and the bigger the project, the bigger the project manager’s paycheck.
For example, the manager on projects undertaken by teams of fewer than four people can expect to take home a little more than $100,000 per year, while a project manager who regularly leads teams of more than 20 people can make more than $125,000 per year.
And those who oversee projects with budgets upward of $10 million earn an average salary of $133,525 per year, or more than $40,000 more per year than their counterparts who manage projects with budgets of less than $100,000.
Getting a good education, gaining experience, earning certifications, working in a competitive industry, and taking on bigger projects are a great approach to making more money as a project manager.