How to become a project manager in the UK – a step-by-step guide

How do you become a project manager? We take a look at the key skills and characteristics you’ll need to kick-start your project management career.

Steps to becoming a project manager

1. Check this type of work would suit you

Before embarking on any new career, you need to know what you’re letting yourself in for.

A project manager is the person who’s responsible for making sure a project is delivered on time, on budget, and within scope. So, to be a good project manager you’ll need to be a skilled planner with a real passion for organising people and resources.

All of the project’s stakeholders will look to you to make sure what was promised will actually be delivered. This means you’ll need to manage expectations if issues crop up along the way, which may affect the delivery timeline or project costs.

What does a project manager do?

A project manager makes sure those with responsibilities for delivering a particular aspect of a project know what’s expected of them – and when they need to deliver it by.

Project managers usually work closely with other roles on a project, including:

  • Project Sponsor – the senior people in the business who want the project completed
  • Stakeholders – people who’re affected by (or who’ll affect) the outcome of the project
  • Business Analysts – the person who helps work out how the changes will take place

While some project contributors will only work during specific phases of a project, project managers lead the whole process, from kick-off to retrospective.

Your first task will be to work out all the risks associated with the project and decide how to manage them.

So organising regular check-in meetings as well as meetings about more specific areas of the project will be a key task on your to-do list. You’ll also create project plans and budgets.

2. Work out which industry you might like to work in

Almost any industry or organisation can employ project managers to help them achieve their aims and objectives. Areas can range from business and finance, to construction, to government, to IT, to retail.

If you want to become an engineering project manager, for example, you may need more specialist knowledge than if you work in a more general business role.

3. Decide whether you want to get project management qualifications

You don’t officially need a formal qualification to become a project manager. But to get the best choice of roles and projects, a university education and project management certification could be very beneficial to your career.

It’s common to start off as an assistant project manager or possibly a project management officer, and career progression can eventually lead you into the role of project director.

Skills and qualities project managers need

  • Planning and organising
  • Attention to detail
  • Communication and negotiation
  • Budgeting
  • Leadership
  • Risk management and quality control

Project management degrees

Project management qualifications in the UK range from undergraduate degrees to courses in specific project management methodology. It really depends on which area you want to work in.

For example, you don’t necessarily need a business degree if you want to work in general business project management. But it could prove very useful to your understanding of project requirements and risks.

If you want to work in an engineering project management role, it’s almost certainly going to be essential for you to understand the engineering industry to at least some degree. This will be the same for other specialised areas.

You can study a three- or four-year undergraduate degree, or masters in project management (over one or two years), at many universities in the UK and overseas.

Project management certification

Many project manager job descriptions will also require applicants to have training in a specific project management methodology, such as PRINCE2 or Agile.

Project management certifications can be completed online or in person, with PRINCE2 courses lasting from a few weeks to several months, depending on the level of qualification and the amount of time you can dedicate to studying.

4. Register for tax

If you decide to set up as a self-employed project manager, you’ll need to register your business with HMRC. This is so you can make sure you pay the tax you owe and avoid any penalties.

You’ll have a number of options for your business structure, including sole trader, limited company, and working under an umbrella company.

If you’re not sure which one would work best for you, read our article on the difference between setting up as a sole trader and a limited company. You may also want to consider whether you want to register for VAT.

5. Get project manager insurance

Working for yourself and being your own boss can bring lots freedom to your working life, but there’s usually also greater responsibility.

That’s why, if you decide to be a self-employed project manager, you should think about project manager insurance, which can protect you in case the worst happens.

Covers contract project managers tend to consider include:

  • Public liability insurance – covers legal expenses or compensation claims if clients, suppliers, or members of the public suffer personal injury or property damage because of your business
  • Professional indemnity insurance – covers compensation claims and legal fees that may arise if a client suffers a financial or professional loss because of your work
  • Business equipment insurance – covers you if your equipment is damaged or stolen, allowing you to replace it quickly and comfortably, and get on with the job in hand

In addition to these covers, employers’ liability insurance is a legal requirement if you employ anyone.

6. Join a professional body

It’s possible to join the Association for Project Management (APM), the chartered body for project managers, as a student. You can progress to Associate and then Full membership once you’ve been in the job for more than five years.

Becoming a member is a great way to stay ahead of what’s happening within the project management profession.

7. Find work

Good project managers are highly marketable in today’s job market. So the first thing to do is to ensure your LinkedIn profile and business page are set up and kept up to date.

You’ll want to showcase what you can offer in the best possible light so that recruiters can easily find you, giving you the widest choice of the most relevant and interesting projects to you.

Are you thinking about becoming a project manager? Tell us more in the comments below.

Looking for self-employed insurance?

With Simply Business you can build a single self employed insurance policy combining the covers that are relevant to you. Whether it’s public liability insurance, professional indemnity or whatever else you need, we’ll run you a quick quote online, and let you decide if we’re a good fit.

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