What Project Managers Do and How to Choose a Project Management MBA Program

A person who takes pride in his or her organizational and people skills may enjoy a career as a project manager, a business professional who often oversees major corporate initiatives and complex group assignments.

One way to prepare for this type of career is to earn an MBA degree. Some business schools offer an MBA specialization in project management, which may appeal to an aspiring project manager.

What Project Management Is

Professors and practitioners of project management describe it as the art and science of converting big ideas into concrete results.

Project management, experts say, is a type of management that focuses more on action than theory. The primary objective is to ensure that dreams come true and hopes are realized. It requires the ability to come up with and implement smart procedures for workers to follow as they collaborate on tasks, and it necessitates strategic thinking about how an organization can accomplish its mission.

The field also demands diplomacy, since project managers may need to peacefully resolve conflicts between team members who disagree. Project managers may be responsible for coordinating negotiations between factions within a team. The ability to inspire coworkers to overcome formidable challenges is also a plus in this profession, as is the courage to confront people about problems with work product, according to individuals working in the field.

[Read: Project Management Courses: A U.S. News Guide.]

“Project management, in layman’s terms, is making things happen,” Sergei Brovkin, the founder and principal of Collectiver Inc. — a Canadian-based consulting firm — wrote in an email.

“Project management is a methodology and a set of tools that helps (with) creating value more efficiently,” says Brovkin, who earned a Master of Business Administration, or MBA, degree from McGill University in Canada and has project management professional certification. “Hence, almost any delivery may be set up as a project — and there will be a project manager to run it, regardless of the industry or the preferred vocabulary.”

Adam Lange, a senior adjunct professor with Medaille College in New York who oversees the school’s project management MBA concentration, says that nearly any aspiring manager could benefit from training in project management because it provides key implementation skills.

“Every manager, for the most part, will do project management as part of their role,” says Lange, who earned his MBA at Medaille.

Who Should Get a Project Management MBA Degree

Vanja Djuric, an associate professor of practice in the marketing department at the University of Akron College of Business Administration in Ohio where she is also a director of research and analytics, says that anyone whose dream is to become a C-suite executive should consider an MBA in project management. A project manager serves as a “liaison between the team and the higher management and/or client,” she wrote in an email, adding that this type of business professional is prevalent in the information technology industry.

“Project managers are responsible for leading the entire project through all of its steps — from planning and execution to completion,” says Djuric, who earned an MBA from Kent State University in Ohio, a Master of Science in Management degree focusing on information systems from the University of Akron and a Doctor of Business Administration degree from the University of Liverpool in the U.K.

A job as a project manager demands a detail-oriented, level-headed, practical and methodical approach, according to people who have this type of position, so it is a profession that is especially suitable for someone interested in logistics and strategy. Project managers say precision is highly valued in their field, so it may be a good fit for a person who embodies orderliness and is zealous about meeting exacting standards.

What Project Managers Do And Why It Matters

Project managers often play a pivotal role in the organizations where they work and some exceptional ones rise to senior executive roles, with a few becoming chief operating officers or chief executive officers, according to individuals who work in these jobs. The work of a project manager has the potential to have a tremendous positive influence on the bottom line of a for-profit corporation, and they tend to regularly interact with and be observed by high-level executives, which means that project managers are often first in line for coveted promotions, project managers say.

Lange notes that senior project managers sometimes lead high-stakes, multimillion-dollar initiatives, often doing work that is essential for the function and survival of their employer. He suggests that solid communication abilities are vital to project management roles, since these jobs require consistent, clear and constant communication with others.

“You have to be somebody who is very comfortable with responsibility, because as you move along in your career, you are going to have progressively more,” Lange says. At the beginning of his career he led projects that were typically worth between $10,000 and $100,000, but now he estimates that he oversees an $80-million portfolio of projects.

[Read: Hot Jobs for MBA Graduates.]

Salary statistics reveal that project management is a high-paying field that often leads to a six-figure salary. According to the Project Management Institute’s 11th edition of its salary survey, the median annual salary among U.S. project managers is $116,000. The U.S. is a country where project managers are paid especially well: The only country where they are paid better is Switzerland, according to the survey.

How to Select a Project Management MBA Program

Professional project managers who have MBA degrees suggest that B-school hopefuls look for a school that provides excellent coursework in a variety of academic areas that are relevant to project management positions, including strategy, finance, accounting, operations and human resources. They note that effective project management requires someone to understand why their project matters and how it influences the success of the organization they work for, which means that they need to know about multiple aspects of business.

[Read: 20 MBA Programs That Often Send Grads Into Lucrative Fields.]

Jonathan Friedman, founder and CEO of TrueNxus – a project management software company, says MBA applicants with an interest in project management should look for a school that offers a broad curriculum and excels at teaching general management principles.

Friedman, who earned an MBA at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, says “well-roundedness” and an ability to think critically are essential to the project management field, as is the ability to speak the language of experts in various technical business disciplines.

Some experts suggest that business schools which do not offer a formal concentration or specialization in project management may still provide solid preparation for the profession. They explain that it is possible to become a project manager after receiving an MBA degree even if the phrase “project management” isn’t attached to the degree. However, other experts point out that an MBA concentration or specialization in project management can give MBA grads an edge when competing for project management jobs.

Aspiring project managers who plan to attend graduate business school can elect to supplement their business degree with a certification in project management, although professional project managers have varying opinions about the importance and value of certification. Expertise in certain popular project management methodologies like Agile, Waterfall and Lean is helpful within this career path, according to experts on the field.

“Increasingly, organizations are also interested in project management programs that include the skills and ability to conduct a Social Impact Analysis,” wrote Russell Darnall, a leading faculty member in the M.S. in Project Management program at Walden University — an online academic institution — who also has a doctorate in management and a master’s degree in project management.

“A Social Impact Analysis provides a mechanism for the project manager to assure that the environment, social and economic impact of their project is consistent with the Corporate Social Responsibility goals of the organization,” Darnall explained in an email. “Project managers are also required to understand their project’s impact on sustainability, including people, profit and planet, and manage their project to minimize negative outcomes and maximize positive ones.”

Experts recommend seeking out project management programs that allow students to work on real-world business projects.

“Hiring managers look for battle-tested individuals who have faced and overcome the typical and unforeseen challenges that all projects face,” wrote Brian LeBlanc, a professor of practice at the Clark University School of Professional Studies in Massachusetts.

“A program that successfully prepares students for this eventuality will provide relevant application of the principles being learned; it will focus on building communication skills, strategic thinking and accountability, not just ‘right answers’ for a quiz,” explains LeBlanc, who has an MBA from Babson College’s F. W. Olin Graduate School of Business in Massachusetts.

What Can You Do With an MBA in Project Management?

A project manager will often create the blueprints describing how an ambitious goal will be achieved and explaining how potential obstacles to that goal will be overcome, MBA faculty say. His or her specialty is figuring out how to execute a grand vision and navigate roadblocks that come up along the way, according to MBA faculty.

John Paul Engel, a lecturer in entrepreneurship with the University of Iowa John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center with significant project management work experience, says project management is a highly marketable skill that is valuable in nearly every type of organization. The extensive list of companies that hire project managers includes prestigious employers such as high-profile consulting firms and major government contractors, Engel says. Utility and energy companies can also benefit from the expertise of well-trained project managers, he adds.

“Having a strong background in project management and cultivating that among your team is extremely valuable,” Engel says.

Explore the top five project management programs in the U.S. News 2021 Best Business Schools rankings.

School U.S. News project management program rank Overall rank in the U.S. News Best Business Schools rankings
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloan) 1 5
Stanford University (CA) 2 1 (tie)
University of Michigan–Ann Arbor (Ross) 3 12 (tie)
Arizona State University (W.P. Carey) 4 (tie) 35 (tie)
Boston University (Questrom) 4 (tie) 48 (tie)

Searching for a business school? Get our complete rankings of Best Business Schools.

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What Project Managers Do and How to Choose a Project Management MBA Program originally appeared on usnews.com

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