Is Project Management Certification Necessary?


Do you need to be certified as a project manager? If you are serious about managing projects as a career then that is definitely a question you’ll be asking yourself at some point. But many other people find themselves in project leadership roles, without formal certification, and wonder whether it’s a necessary step for better project performance and career growth.

Plus there are a dizzying array of acronyms to confuse the certification seeker:  PMP, MPM, CPM, compTIA Project+ and CAPM to name a few. Needless to add, the process can get confusing. Let’s look at some of the things you should be thinking about.

What Certification Is

There are lots of different certification routes for people working in project management. There are qualifications that cover entry-level jobs, aimed at giving you an understanding of the project environment and some of the jargon, right up to certificates like IPMA Level A for Certified Projects Director. And that doesn’t even include MBAs with a specialism in project management or other Master’s level university courses.

The level of choice can be problematic if you don’t know what course or qualification to take. The easiest thing to do is to look to your peers and find out what certification they hold. You can also check job adverts from employers in your sector (or the sector where you would like to work) and find out what they are asking for.

Project management certification of any kind proves two things:

  • It shows you care enough about project management as a career to go through the effort (and cost) of applying, studying and often sitting for an exam.
  • It shows that you have knowledge about a particular approach to project management.

In many cases, it will also give employers a clue about the experience you have in working in a project environment. The popular PMP qualification from PMI requires candidates to record thousands of hours of project experience across a range of competencies.

What certification doesn’t prove is if you are any good. You could have racked up those hours on projects that closed down due to your mismanagement. Qualification doesn’t tell a future employer if your customers are happy with your work, or how good you are at tailoring the project management techniques to suit the team, the client and the environment you are working in.

Who Needs Certification?

No one really needs certification. It’s not like food or a roof over your head. One of my old managers told me off once for using “needs” in a document and made me rewrite the sentence with “should have.”

However, when the job market is competitive, having project management qualifications can help open doors to future opportunities. PMI’s Talent Gap Report says that there will be 41.5 million positions in project management by 2020, so there could be a lot of future opportunities for that well-placed to take the top jobs.

Certification can also lead to a higher salary. There are several studies that report credential holders to earn more than their peers who don’t have the same qualifications. If improving your salary is important to you, then it seems to literally pay to have certificates listed on your resumé.

I would also say that being certified gives some people more confidence to do their job. Having letters after your name or a certificate on the wall can be a real tangible boost to performance, especially if you are working with stakeholders who can be difficult.

How Do You Get Certified?

The route to certification is different for every qualification. PMI, for example, expects you to fill in a long application form. Taking other certificates like PRINCE2 Practitioner may require a short training course. The thing most of them have in common is the exam.

Exams strike fear in the heart of candidates. I have known several candidates who are perfectly competent at passing the exam, with a good knowledge of the material and high results on their practice papers. But the stress of the exam room was too much for them and they didn’t perform to their best.

Achieving your certification goals means both being able to understand and apply the theory well enough to get through the exam and actually being able to get through the exam! I’m sure you have heard stories of people who forgot to turn over the exam paper and missed out a load of questions, or failed to keep track of the time and rushed their answers in the last ten minutes – I certainly have.

Pro Tip: Whatever certificate you are going for, spend some time practicing in exam conditions so your nerves don’t take over on the day.

Many certifications require candidates to keep their qualifications up-to-date through a program of continuous professional development or by sitting a refresher exam at some point in the future. This is valuable because it means you continue to progress in your knowledge and skills – you should never stop learning in this job.

Certification Trends

We are definitely seeing a trend in project management to work more flatly. By that, I mean that teams create informal structures outside the standard hierarchy, and their companies may not even have formal hierarchies. While the traditional sponsor-project manager-team leader-team member structure is still prevalent in larger companies and more traditional industries, digital tools, flexible requirements, small teams and agile methods have changed that hierarchy in many places.

As a result, more people are doing project work and other knowledge work without a formal credential. Having said that, the demand for project management qualifications is still high. PMI reports in July’s PMI Today magazine that there are over 660,000 PMP holders globally and nearly 29,000 CAPM holders.

All the while that employers value certificates – whether they use them for weeding out candidates to create an interview shortlist or because they genuinely value what the qualification stands for – employees will want to get them.

Regardless of whether you go the certification route or not, the most important to the success of your project are the tools you bring to the job. You’ll want a collaborative suite of features from an online software that can plan, track and monitor your work in real time. ProjectManager offers this and more. Check out our free 30-day trial.


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