There’s a lot of money to be made in project management. But which industries pay the most?
Whether you’ve always loved using project management software to complete projects, or you’re just really good at communicating with people, staying organized, and leading teams, you’re probably reading this article because you’ve chosen project management as your career path.
Great choice! Project management can be a rewarding career, both mentally and financially. It can be even more lucrative if you earn your project management professional (PMP) certification, which can increase your annual salary by more than 20%.
The question is, which industry do you want to work in?
If the construction, healthcare, or pharmacy industries all equally call to you, or if you’re just wondering in which industry a PMP-certified project manager can make the most money, you’ve come to the right place.
In this article, we’ll look at the top five highest-paying job markets for PMP-certified project managers, along with the average U.S. salary, a brief overview of the job responsibilities, and pros and cons of the role.
First, a note on PMP certification
In 2019 in the U.S., the average project management professional without a PMP certification made $100,247 per year, according to a 2019 survey of almost 9,000 project managers by the Project Management Institute. Not bad, right?
But get this: With a PMP certification, the average project manager salary goes up to $123,314, an increase of 23% over a non PMP-certified project manager.
Now more than ever, a PMP certification is critical for project managers who want to earn more money.
The Project Management Institute (PMI) says that any experienced project manager “responsible for all aspects of project delivery, leading, and directing cross-functional teams” is a good candidate for PMP certification.
The 200-question PMP certification exam costs $555 (or $405 for PMI members), with a four-hour time limit for completion.
Note: Big changes are coming to the PMP exam starting July 1, 2020. If you’ve already prepped for the current version, make sure you take it by the end of June. After that, the new exam will have a less technical feel and instead will focus on three key areas: process (50% of the questions), people (42%), and business environment (8%).
Highest-paying PMP jobs
Now, on to the fun stuff. Of the industries that had at least 100 respondents on the PMI salary survey, these five jobs for project management professionals pay the most. They are listed in order of increasing average salary, based on the PMI survey.
1. Engineering project management professional
Anyone who knows an engineer (like my dad) knows that they are some of the smartest people on the planet, but they can sometimes get caught up in the minutiae and lose sight of the big picture. An engineering project management professional keeps engineers focused on completing the task at hand for project success.
The job: Engineering PMs work with, you guessed it, engineers. They also communicate with clients to make sure the end product is what the client wants. A successful project means guiding the development of a product to completion within a specified timeline and budget.
Pros/cons: An engineering project manager has the satisfaction of seeing something very real, useful, and tangible at the end of their project—a large bridge, a new computer chip, or a satellite. On the other hand, the engineering PM must have extensive knowledge of the product they are overseeing, so experience as an engineer in that field may be a prerequisite.
2. Aerospace project management professional
If you were the kind of kid who built model airplanes and dreamed of flying, but became a project manager instead, a job as an aerospace project management professional might be just what you’re looking for.
The job: Aerospace PMs work with engineers and designers to make sure new aircraft is delivered on time and on budget. Focus areas include risk management and quality control. A successful project means overseeing proposals leading to the development of new aircraft and aerospace systems.
Pros/cons: An aerospace project manager gets to work with airplanes and some of the most advanced technology on the planet. Because aerospace projects have a lot of moving parts (like, a lot) there are lots of opportunities for something to go wrong if anything is missed.
3. Pharmaceutical project management professional
The average salary of a pharmaceutical project management professional grew by less than $2,000 per year over the past two years, causing this job to fall from the top spot to No. 3 on this list.
Globally, the pharmaceutical industry is expected to breach $1.1 trillion in sales by 2022. So it’s no wonder that pharmaceutical project management professionals earn one of the top five salaries among PMPs.
The job: Pharmaceutical PMs work with doctors, researchers, and engineers to ensure that research and development activities stay on schedule and on budget. A successful project means overseeing the development of new medication for the treatment of diseases or other health problems.
Pros/cons: A pharmaceutical project manager can literally help find a cure for cancer and save millions of lives—talk about a rewarding career. On the flip side, pharmaceutical PMPs need an advanced healthcare degree or experience to approach top-tier salaries. Also, pharmaceutical research can move at a frustratingly slow pace in order to ensure compliance with necessary quality and safety regulations.
4. Consulting project management professional
A consulting project management professional is different from a project management consultant—the first works as a project manager for a consulting company while the second works as a consultant who specializes in project management. We’re talking about the first of the two.
The job: A consulting project manager is the chameleon of the project management universe. The consulting PM could work with environmental engineers one month and sales managers the next. A consulting project manager’s goal depends on the industry of the company they are working with on a case-to-case basis. In general, the goal is to furnish industry expertise and advanced knowledge to the client so that they can be successful in their project.
Pros/cons: A career as a consulting project manager is especially rewarding for someone who enjoys variety, as they will be asked to wear every hat from a construction helmet to a computer technician’s… computer hat? However, that same unpredictability could be dizzying for someone who works best in a defined environment.
5. Resources project management professional
The average salary of a U.S. resources project management professional increased by more than $5,000 per year since the 2018 survey, helping this job move into the top spot from No. 2. Resources project managers work in industries such as mining, petroleum, and agriculture that extract and grow natural resources.
The job: Resources PMs work with farmers, mining, and oil companies to make the process of extracting and growing natural resources as efficient as possible by eliminating waste and improving communication. A successful project means overseeing the procurement of natural resources for efficient delivery to end consumers.
Pros/cons: Resources project management offers plenty of opportunities to travel and be outdoors. Because of the specific processes related to each natural resource, background as an engineer in a given field (farming, mining, drilling) may be required.
Getting your lucrative PMP job
Of course, your resume will look a lot better with some project management software skills highlighted. In fact, 96% of SMB leaders surveyed as part of our 2019 Top Tech Trends survey say that project management software is critical or beneficial to their business.
You can also use our Buyer’s Guide to learn how to talk the technical talk during your interviews. Speaking of interviews, our rundown of common project management interview questions (and what business leaders are looking for in your answer) can help you prepare. Good luck!
Note: With the release of the 11th edition of the Project Management Institute’s Project Management Salary Survey this year, we updated this piece to reflect the latest salary information available. This information is based on almost 9,000 U.S. respondents, down slightly from the almost 11,000 respondents in the 2018 survey.