Project Management Certification: Where to Begin, and Success Strategies

In survey after survey, project management is cited as a top technology job. Employers everywhere hunger for project managers who can effectively run complex projects. Technologists often see project management skills as key to unlocking more opportunities and a better salary, and they wonder whether a project management certification (or multiple certifications) is similarly important.

In order to secure a project-management position, you’ll often need to prove to employers that you have the right skills. Possessing certain certifications can go a long way towards convincing recruiters and hiring managers that you have what it takes. But which certifications are most valuable?  

Does project management have an official certification?

There are many project-management certifications. Here are some of the more popular ones:

Project Management Professional (PMP): This popular certification is offered by the Project Management Institute. Requirements include a four-year degree, 35 hours of project management education/training or CAPM certification (see below), and three years of leading projects. 

Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM): New to project management? CAPM (also managed by the Project Management Institute) is a way for project-management newbies to validate skills ahead of earning the PMP. 

Certified Project Director: This certification focuses on the more complicated aspects of project management, including budgeting for large projects. It is conducted by the Global Association for Quality Management

Certified Project Management Practitioner (CPMP): This certification, overseen by the EC-Council, indexes management skills, including technical abilities. 

Certified ScrumMaster (CSM): Overseen by The Scrum Alliance, this certification covers project managers’ knowledge of Agile, Scrum, and so on.  

CompTIA Project+: CompTIA Project+ is a comprehensive certification, covering management skills from product lifecycle to team communication. As the name suggests, it is overseen by CompTIA

Professional Scrum Master (PSM): Overseen by Scrum.org, this certification covers the skills and knowledge of Agile, Scrum, and the role of the Scrum Master. There are three levels of certifications for PSM.

What are the best project management certifications?

There’s a better way to frame this question: What are the best project management certifications for the various stages of your career?

If you’re not a full-time project manager, but you want to demonstrate that you possess project management skills (perhaps because you’re angling for more management responsibility), you should consider pursuing a Project Management Professional (PMP) or similar certification, offered through the Project Management Institute (PMI).

While a PMP is valuable to anyone considering a project management track, it requires some experience. For those interested in an entry-level certification that doesn’t come with a previous experience requirement, consider PMI’s Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) certification.

“The two questions I tell people to ask themselves when determining where to start with project management certifications are: ‘What experience do I have?’ and ‘In what direction do I want to drive my career?’” said Sierra Hampton-Simmons, vice president of products at the PMI.

For those unfamiliar with project management, it might be a little daunting to dive right into a certification. In that case, it may make sense to take a few introductory courses on project management, Agile, or something similar to get your feet wet. PMI has a free resource for new project managers called Kickoff, which takes around 45 minutes to complete and teaches the basics of project management, even providing downloadable templates to put learnings into practice immediately.

“It’s a great option for those who are still discovering what they want to pursue and can even be a good resource for experienced project managers looking for a template document or refresher,” Hampton-Simmons said.

Is it worth getting a project management certification?

Even if you don’t necessarily want to launch a career as a project manager, a project management certification can still come in useful. For example, if you want to figure out how to utilize your Agile knowledge in a real-world context, PMI has an Agile certification for those new to project management: The Disciplined Agile Scrum Master (DASM) certification, which helps learners understand the benefits of Agile and best practices in leading and supporting agile projects.

James Stanger, CompTIA’s chief technology evangelist, pointed to PMI’s PMP certification as a solid start for those who already have a bit of project management experience and want to become masters, as well as PRINCE2 or PRINCE2 Agile for IT pros living in Europe or the U.K.

CompTIA’s Project+ certification is also designed to give IT pros the basic concepts to successfully manage small- to medium-sized projects. Stanger suggests that, when looking at project management certifications, it’s best to drill down a bit and find certifications that fit your specific needs.

“If you’re a security person, it’s more about governance, risk management and compliance, so the Risk Management Professional PMP, if you’re a security person, would fit very nicely there,” he said. “Even as an IT professional, the PMI risk management professional would work.”

Certified project managers can help organizations better oversee projects and reduce the amount of time and resources wasted. “The global economy needs 25 million new project professionals by 2030 to keep up with demand,” Hampton-Simmons said. “This number alone proves the dire need for project professionals over the next decade, meaning that professionals who take the time to enhance their careers through certifications will be set up for success in terms of career advancement.”

Certifications allow professionals to maintain higher levels of skills and overall knowledge of the field, proving their commitment to continued learning and current practice standards. “It also benefits organizations to hire and retain certified individuals,” Hampton-Simmons said. “Employing and supporting highly skilled individuals not only attracts talent, but also demonstrates to clients that they are dedicated to quality by employing the most skilled individuals.”

For budding project managers, it’s also important to reach out to department leaders and strategy stakeholders in the organization, and have a discussion about what types of project management certifications will help the company with longer-term efforts.

“You would be surprised how relieved the CIO, the CISO, or CEO will be having their IT person actually talking about long-term strategy instead of having tactical discussions,” Stanger said. “If they want to automate certain things and want to make the company move forward more securely or with better platforms, you have to have those discussions early on with the IT folks, and that means the IT folks have to have that project management experience.”