Project Management for Beginners

Last updated: Jan 17, 2023

From kids’ birthday parties to home renovations, everyone has managed a project at some point in their personal lives. And chances are, you’ve managed a project or two at work, even if project manager isn’t in your job title. Do you enjoy the responsibilities and want to make a career out of it? If so, our project management for beginners guide can help you enter this burgeoning field or take on new tasks in your current role.

What Is Project Management?

Let’s start with what constitutes a project. According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), a project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result. A few factors set projects apart from day-to-day management and business processes:

  • They have a clear start and end date – A project can last several months to several years, but it can’t go on indefinitely.
  • They create something new – Every project is unique and produces something that didn’t exist before.
  • They have boundaries – A project operates within the constraints of time, money, quality, and functionality.

Project management, as defined by PMI, is the use of specific knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to deliver something of value to people. In layman’s terms, it is the process of creating, organizing, and executing a plan to meet specific goals. 


Careers in project management span a wide variety of industries from construction to IT to finance — and the demand for skilled professionals is growing. According to PMI’s Talent Gap report, the global economy needs 25 million new project professionals by 2030 due to economic growth, an increase in the number of jobs requiring project management-oriented skills, and retirement rates. To close the talent gap, 2.3 million project managers will be needed to fill these roles every year to keep up with the demand.


Clearly, project management is an in-demand career, but it’s also a lucrative one. In the U.S., the median annual salary for a project manager is $115,000 across all industries, with entry-level professionals earning $78,279 and those with 20+ years of experience earning $138,000. Exact salaries depend on multiple factors, however, including level of education, team size, region, and company industry.

 A project manager planning and organizing a project.

What Are a Project Manager’s Responsibilities?

On a day-to-day basis, project managers are responsible for planning, tracking, and controlling projects. In addition, they also lead team members, manage suppliers, and guide projects towards completion. They have complex assignments that blend organizational and analytical skills, technical proficiency, business awareness, and interpersonal skills, along with the ability to delegate and manage tasks of team members who are not always direct reports.


Every project follows a four-step lifecycle that a project manager is responsible for overseeing, including initiation, planning, execution, and closure phases.


Initiation Phase

High-level stakeholders including clients, project sponsors, and project managers are involved in this phase, which is all about understanding the project. Key steps include:

  1. Identifying project goals and deliverables
  2. Uncovering project risks, constraints, and priorities
  3. Establishing project scope
  4. Submitting the project proposal

Planning Phase

Once the project proposal is approved, it’s time to move on to the planning phase. Far from being a one-time activity, planning continues over the course of the project as client goals may change, resources may become unavailable, or estimates may increase. Key steps in this phase include:

  1. Creating a project roadmap
  2. Creating a detailed project plan

Execution Phase

This is where team members complete tasks as outlined in the planning phase. Key steps include:

  1. Managing tasks and tracking project progress
  2. Reviewing and adjusting the project plan
  3. Communicating project progress to stakeholders

Closure Phase 

At the conclusion of the project, it’s time to do a wrap up. Key steps include:

  1. Handing over deliverables
  2. Analyzing performance
  3. Releasing resources

 A project manager leading her team to achieve all project goals.

How Can You Level Up as a Project Manager?

Truly great project managers wear a lot of hats, including leader, coordinator, and strategic thinker. Whether you’re just starting out in the field or looking to move up, it’s important to continue building these skills and improving your processes. Here are a few of the ways you can take your project management career from good to great.


Develop Leadership Skills

All project managers eventually find themselves in leadership roles, whether by accident or design. Work on developing this often-overlooked skill set before you need to call upon it.


Improve Time Management

Project managers are quite adept at managing time, but there’s always room for improvement. Work on ferreting out all the little ways that steal efficiency from your process. Learn to say no. Remember that perfection isn’t always required. Question whether something is truly urgent or necessary.


Develop Your Negotiation Skills

Project managers must negotiate a host of variables, including people, time, resources, money, and scheduling. Upping your negotiation game can help you navigate land mines that threaten to blow up schedules and derail projects permanently.


Learn to Communicate Better

Great communicators know how to do more than just talk – they listen, stay informed, and keep a strategic vision top of mind. Honing these skills can help you deliver projects more successfully.


Think Strategically

Yes, task lists and immediate crises are important, but so is the big picture. Truly great project managers know how to step back and ensure everyone is on board with the project strategy, which is critical to avoiding risk and scope creep.


Learn From Failure

Everyone fails sometimes. What’s important are the takeaways. Do a post-mortem to determine what went wrong, what could be done differently, and how can it be avoided in the future.


Use Project Management Tools

Recent years have seen an explosion of project management tools. Rather than always sticking with what you know, evaluate these new technologies and determine whether they can streamline your process and are worth the time and effort to implement.


Earn a Certification or Master’s Degree

Whether it’s the prestigious Project Management Professional (PMP) designation or an MBA, additional training can provide the advanced skills you need to accept bigger, more prestigious projects. It also signals to employers that you’re a well-trained professional who is qualified to carry out the complex responsibilities required of today’s project managers.


If you’re ready to take your project management skills to the next level, USF can help, whether you’re interested in an introductory course, a certificate program, or an exam prep course for the sought-after PMP designation. All courses are delivered in a live online format that’s ideal for busy working professionals. Learn more about course costs, schedules, and instructors today.