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How much is a project manager worth?

Adeline Teoh ed.
July 30, 2012

I was talking with a few friends the other day about the often delicate subject of pay. One of them is a part-time nurse who is currently studying to be a podiatrist and planning a February wedding. Another is in the vague overlap of IT and compliance for a gaming company. Yet another is a business process architect who has a decade’s experience working with software companies. Then there’s me: I eke out a living turning concepts into words for clients.

My gaming friend recently overhauled her CV and has applied for a position as a project team member to finally put into practice the PRINCE2 knowledge she acquired a few years ago. “It sounds interesting and the pay is better than I’m getting now,” she reported. My process architect friend kind of grimaced. “I don’t think I could be a project manager,” she remarked. Turns out she thinks the opposite, that project management is boring and doesn’t pay as well as business process architecture.

A glance at some of the recent literature around pay scales reveals that a project manager, if he or she were to apply for a job today, would be offered on average more than $118,000* in the IT sector or more than $138,000* in the construction/engineering sector. It follows a report from earlier this year that project management is the highest paying certification if you’re in IT. Compared to nurses, who reportedly have a salaries that average less than $75,000* per year, that’s a fair bit more of the folding stuff.

In terms of practical value, I’d say my nurse friend deserves the highest pay, and yet that honour goes to the business process architect. That’s mostly because it’s easy to articulate what nurses do for a living: “I assist in bringing people back from the brink of death” is an easier concept to latch onto than “My construction project added $4 million value to the city’s infrastructure” and yet much harder to quantify.

That’s not to say I don’t believe project managers should earn upwards of $138,000 per annum. I know what my project manager friends go through and I know they earn every penny. It’s just—how do you perceive the value you bring to your project, your team, your organisation? Would you still do it if you had to take a pay cut?

As the exchange between my two IT friends showed, perhaps it depends on context as to how you regard a project management role. Me? I write because I like learning new things about whatever subject I’m researching. And as for my almost-podiatrist friend, she says, “I find feet fascinating.”

*According to the MyCareer Salary Centre.

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Adeline Teoh ed.
Adeline Teoh is the editor of ProjectManager.com.au. She has more than a decade of publishing experience in the fields of business and education, and has specialised in writing about project management since 2007.
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3 thoughts on “How much is a project manager worth?

  1. I have a writing background. But it doesn’t pay, it really doesn’t unless you break into a top communications job. I’ve thought about project management. But I don’t know if certification with no experience will give me the edge or land me a job. Doesn’t seem likely. So I am opting for digital marketing right now. Although I really want to move into a management role in life – soon. Only way I can plan for a future. Any advice?

    1. Also, I’m in the U.S. and don’t know if the market is good here for that. I’ve heard it’s a demand field, but I don’t know for sure. I would love to just write.

  2. mn, it’s difficult to obtain meaningful certification without experience, for example, PMP requires you pass a knowledge test and have experience; if you don’t have experience you need to start with CAPM, which is less valuable in terms of having an effect on your employability/salary.

    You don’t say *what* you want from a management role and whether you want that role to be in communications or not. Marketing manager roles require some project management, as does event management. They may be complementary to your current skills.

    I’m afraid I’m not qualified to comment on the US market.

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