Project Management Certifications

There is a vast market for project managers in Australia, and employers need to be able to identify whether their potential candidates have the skills required to effectively manage their projects. The first thing most employers will look for in a potential project manager is evidence of their ability to run successful projects or programs, as well as relevant industry experience.

However, this does not always provide the information an employer needs. Certifications are a way of demonstrating externally assessed skills that meet pre-defined capability criteria, allowing the employer to gain an accurate understanding of the project manager’s capabilities and helping the project manager stand out from the crowd.

The certifications

There are a number of Project Management certifications available that are recognised both in Australia and world-wide, and the level of experience required to be awarded certification varies significantly. Some have requirements that can be met over a single online workshop, while others demand years of real-world management experience. The process for gaining the certifications also varies; some are instructor led and require in-person assessment, while others require self-driven coursework and are assessed using an online exam system.

Several of the more common certifications are Projects IN Controlled Environments (PRINCE2), Project Management Professional (PMP) and Managing Successful Programmes (MSP). These certifications are recognised worldwide, and are often split into different qualification levels.

In addition to the purely project management-based certifications there also those that are based on Agile Methodologies, such as the Certified ScrumMaster (CSM). It’s important to understand the distinction between a Scrum Master and a Project Manager, as the two are not equivalent roles.

When is the best time to get certified?

There are pros and cons to early career vs. late career certifications.

Early career certification creates a framework that a junior project manager can refer to and build their experiences on, establishing good practice and providing a structured approach in the absence of an organisational methodology for their early projects. However, the lack of real-world experience can present difficulties when sitting certification exams (especially questions based on a real-world scenarios) and can make the process of certification both long and expensive, with some training courses costing upwards of $2,000 per attempt.

Late career certification increases the speed and ease at which certifications can be gained, as an experienced project manager should already have the bulk of the skills and knowledge required to gain certification. Gaining or renewing certifications later in their career presents an opportunity for project managers to update their skills and learn about new methodologies and recommended best practices. It also provides a point against which to compare how they have managed their own projects in the past and reveal new areas for continued development.

There is no hard and fast rule to decide when each certifications should be pursued. Each certification is different, and their suitability can depend on factors such as the point at which a project manager is at in their career and the type of projects they intend to be managing.

For example, PRINCE2 is a structured method that covers the fundamental principles of project management and is applicable to any project regardless of scale type or organisation. PRINCE2 offers two qualification levels; the Foundation course can be used as an introduction to project management, and the Practitioner course can either be gained immediately after or left until the project manager has gained more real-world experience.

At the other end of the scale, the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification is intended to verify extensive experience in project management, and involves a robust accreditation process that requires thousands of hours of project management experience. It therefore cannot be approached early on in a project managers career.

What next?

The most practical path forward is to identify a certification that best suits both the experience of the project manager and the maturity of the organisation’s project management practices. Information about recommended skill levels and intended audiences can be found by researching registered certification providers, and many workplaces will have preferred or desirable certifications listed in position descriptions.

Certifications are a valuable asset at any stage in a project manager’s career, but it’s important to identify the ones that are right for you.

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