Should I Get a PMP?

Published March 25, 2019 by Steven Ruggles

I like numbers. I like them because they allow us to understand the world in an objective way.

Hundreds of times people have asked me about whether they should pursue their PMP and I can only offer some feedback on the general usefulness of a credential (it isn’t a replacement for experience, it is more valuable at the beginning of one’s career). What I want to do here is examine what the numbers behind the PMP certification demonstrate. Specifically, my goal is to analyze the salary difference that having a PMP makes during a project manager’s career.

I’ve summarized a quick first pass below. A few interesting points:

  1. The PMP is more valuable when a project manager has fewer years of experience, in terms of the annual salary difference
  2. The PMP never adds less than $3,000 to the annual median salary according to this data

PMP Effect on Salary Graph
PMP Effect on Salary by Year Graph

The annual salary difference is valuable but it doesn’t tell us enough. We want to know about the salary difference for each year of a project manager’s career - this is summarized in the second chart above.

The next step, and the real question that I’m curious about is: what is the total value of the PMP during the course of a project manager’s career? Who should pursue the PMP?

How much more money will I make with a PMP?

To answer this, in an approximate way, I’ve summed the salary differences in each year of a 20 year career for our fictional PM. If you have a PMP in the first year of your PM career, and you earn the median expected salary in Vancouver, you can expect to earn an additional $113,000 during the first 20 years of your career. If you wait ten years before earning the PMP, the additional expected salary during a 20 year career is $48,000. So, if you’re looking to earn more then the PMP appears to be a good choice.

Of course this data is based on a fictional “average” PM and there are always exceptions to the data. With that said, it seems as though the payoff (purely financially and ignoring the qualitative benefits) for completing the PMP is significant.

How will a PMP advance my career?

To get a sense of the qualitative benefits I’ve reached out to some PMPs in the area to see: why they earned their PMP, whether they are up to date in their PMP status (or whether they let it expire), what the value has been in holding their PMP, etc.

Luiz Portella, a PMP holder with around 10 years of project management experience had this to say:

The PMP hasn’t made me a better project manager, but it hasn’t made me worse either. It has opened doors in my career, especially in more traditional organizations who like to see certifications when they make hiring decisions.”

Part of maintaining the credential is to complete PDUs (Professional Development Units) every year. This activity ensures that you keep up to date with the latest in the project management profession and provides an opportunity to meet others in the community. The network that you can gain from earning and maintaining a PMP can create excellent career development opportunities.

In the world of project management, soft skills are a major factor in career success. Relationships matter and if you’re running a change management process, building trust will be necessary to the outcome of the project. The PMP can help you to build trust with your stakeholders and can give you a formal structure to apply to your organization. More mature organizations seem to gain more from a formal process because an immature organization is less likely to adopt and follow processes.

So, if you’re looking to work in an earlier stage company or some other kind of less mature organization, you’ll have fewer opportunities to apply your PMP knowledge.

The one category of project delivery candidate who might want to pursue their PMP is consultants/independent contractors. The PMP is commonly held by folks making a change to a role as a consultant for the same reasons noted above for mature organization employees (builds trust and provides a formal structure to follow within the client organization).

Financially, earning the PMP seems to be a clear win for your career. Employees in mature organizations and independent contractors will likely get more value from what they learn in the PMP curriculum. As always, remember that no credential can make up for a lack of soft skills.