I've seen many questions here on the endless project management certifications and their benefits in the job market (or not).
To provide objective answers I've crunched over 300,000 project management job posts and stratified the average salary expectations for each of the leading PM certifications across country, sector, and position description. You just can't imagine what a painful experience this was, but the results are below.
I've included here in this post static links to the salary data visualisations. On the blog post they are interactive and you can scroll over each certification for the precise salary averages: https://pmprojections.com/blog/6/
Cash Rules Everything Around Me
There’s a growing array of Project Management Certifications in the market, and they all claim outlandish salary benefits and career progression opportunities. But which ones will maximize your earning power right now?
The answer to this question will vary depending on your desired country, industry, role, and your current level of experience. To provide clarity, we analyzed more than 300,000 project management job postings between March and August 2020. The certification requirements for each role were compared to the expected salaries in the job posting. Where a salary was not provided, the role was assessed by our machine learning algorithm, taking into account the attributes for that role in comparison to similar roles where a salary was provided.
We selected the top eight leading certifications in terms of overall demand for further analysis:
- PMP – Project Management Professional
- CAPM – Certified Associate in Project Management
- PRINCE2 – PRojects IN Controlled Environments
- CISSP – Certified Information Systems Security Professional
- ITIL – Information Technology Infrastructure Library
- CSM – Certified ScrumMaster
- PMI-ACP – Agile Certified Practitioner
- PgMP – Program Management Professional
For accurate comparison across locations, all salary assessments were converted to USD prior to further analysis.
The Standard – PMP
Our findings quickly confirmed the status of the PMI Project Management Professional certification as the current standard in project management certifications. We found more than 12% of all project management job postings worldwide listed the PMP as a requirement. This was more than four times the next most popular certifications of CAPM and PRINCE2.
PMP has long been regarded as a gatekeeping certificate, and due to their lengthy experience requirements and auditing process – rubber-stamping the experience of those who attain it. Accordingly, we found an average salary increase upon attaining the PMP of 16% worldwide (somewhat less than PMI’s stated increase of 23% from their salary surveys).
Due to the consistent salary increase across the project management field, we recommend all eligible project managers attain their PMP as a baseline certification. See our guide on the minimalist path to getting your PMP.
Going forward, we will compare project management certifications’ earning power in comparison to both the PMP and No Certifications across locations, sectors, and experience.
Our recommendation is simple. If a certification provides a stronger salary benefit than the PMP across the areas relevant to you, obtain that certification. As you’ll see below, the right certifications in the right place, industry, and position can net you a salary increase well in excess of 20%.
When comparing across countries, we note the following standout performers:
- PgMP – provided stronger salary benefits than PMP in most countries, with the exception of the United Kingdom. As the PMP is effectively a prerequisite for PgMP, this is encouraging to see.
- Agile and Technology-based certifications such as CSM, PMI-ACP, and CISSP provided strong benefits in select countries. In the United States, these three certifications were associated with salary increases of 22-29%. In comparison to the above, ITIL Foundations performed quite poorly in most cases
- CAPM was a particularly poor performer in our dataset across most locations. This may be due to the characterization of the certification as an entry-level/junior cert. As we’ll see below, the CAPM can help obtain junior roles.
When comparing across sectors we noted the following standouts:
- CISSP – across selected sectors (such as government and financial sectors) performed extremely well while offering no benefit at all in industries where this qualification would be generally irrelevant (such as construction).
- The high performance of PRINCE2 in government and typically public sector adjacent roles (utility, telecommunications, energy) should be noted. PRINCE2 originated in the United Kingdom’s government, and since that time has gained an obsessive reputation within the governments of the commonwealth countries. If you’re planning a PM life in public service, this is the certification for you.
Position: PM Certifications Salary Graph When comparing across position descriptions, we noted large variations in the effectiveness of certifications, depending on the seniority of the role:
- All Levels – PMP conferred a consistent salary benefit across all levels in line with the 16% average increase.
- Junior Roles – Project Coordinator and Junior Project Manager: CAPM and ITIL did show some benefit.
- Mid Level Roles – Tech orientated certifications showed a benefit above and beyond the PMP. This may reflect higher overall salaries within these industries.
- Senior Roles – Program Manager and Portfolio Manager – PgMP stood out here as a stepping stone for Program Managers to more senior roles. This is to be expected due to the extensive experience requirements (four years Program Management + a PMP + a four-year degree) for the certification.
We tested an additional 13 certifications against our database but found insufficient demand to draw any further conclusions on their value (other than: there's no demand for these). Certifications excluded were:
- CompTIA Project+
- IPMA Level A/B/C/D – International Project Management Association
- IAPM – International Association of Project Managers
- LSSGB – Lean Six Sigma Green Belt
- LSSBB – Lean Six Sigma Black Belt
- A-CSM – Advanced Certified ScrumMaster
- CSP – Certified Scrum Professional
- PMI-SP – PMI Project Scheduling Professional
- PMI-RMP – Risk Management Professional
- PfMP – Portfolio Management Professional
We generally found the more niche/advanced certifications (PfMP, PMI-SP, PMI-RMP, A-CSM, etc), even if the base offerings by these certification organizations did confer a benefit.
We have stratified the data in these charts to be as relevant as possible to as many readers as possible. For information specific to your individual attributes, check out our PM Projections Premium service.
It should be noted that about 40% of the database consisted of job postings in the United States. Therefore when analyzing across Position Description and Sector, this analysis may be overly US-centric.
This analysis was conducted on job postings mid-COVID-19 pandemic. There is some indication in our data that Project Management salaries have been in decline during this period. The overall state of the PM job market will be the focus of a future discussion.
We found PMP remains a solid baseline for all project managers. Everyone should consider undertaking this certification. In addition:
- Niche and advanced certifications should be undertaken only after conducting research into their relevance to your location, industry, and seniority level (with the exception that those with a PMP can safely work towards their PgMP).
- The right agile and tech certifications (CSM, CISSP, PMI-ACP) really can provide huge salary benefits ranging from 20-30%, but you need to be in the right industry to take advantage of them. Undertaking these certifications may assist in helping you move to higher-paying sectors.
- PRINCE2 remains the king of government service.
- Certifications with heavy experience requirements (PMP, PgMP, CISSP) generally performed very well, suggesting a level of exclusivity and a ‘rubber stamp’ function to these certifications. When you’ve got the experience, get these certifications.