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Why Are Project Managers a Dime a Dozen?

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We all know about project managers, those superheros of our industry who somehow manage to save us time and time again, or, even better, keep us from needing to be saved. Project managers are a lot like the Lone Ranger - that masked hero of old western movies in the U.S., who always manages to save the day, but only asks for a polite “thank you” before heading back to saving the old West. The recent GILT Industry 2003 Salary Survey report indicates that project managers may be making do with little more than that a polite “thank you” - they are among the lowest paid professionals in our industry.

Arle Lommel Conventional wisdom and anecdotal evidence in the GILT industry holds that graduates of localization education programs never work as localizers but are immediately put into project management positions that pay more than translation positions. Based on this we were rather surprised to see that project managers are among the lowest paid professionals in the GILT industry. According to our findings, project managers make only 69% of the average for all GILT jobs, not a particularly reassuring prospect for those viewing project manager positions as upwardly mobile career tracks. Although group project managers were somewhat better paid, they too were among the lowest-paid professionals in the industry. Because this result was so surprising we felt that some explanation was in order.

First off, the results were consistent for every region of the world where we were able to draw conclusions. With over 1100 combined salary figures for project managers and group project managers (out of approximately 6000 total reported salaries), the results for project managers certainly meet any standard for statistical certainty, so we must conclude that they represent what is really going on in the industry. The rankings of the various positions were very consistent in all regions, a further indication that the rankings were correct. Although they might vary by a position or two, there were no instances in which a job was highly valued in one region but not in another.

The worldwide rankings of jobs is provided below, from highest-paid to lowest-paid, along with the pay each position receives as a percentage of the average of all jobs. (All figures are corrected for regional variation in salaries.)

  1. Software Localizer Team Leader (138%)
  2. Terminologist (133%)
  3. Translator Team Leader (123%)
  4. Translator (120%)
  5. Vendor Manager (119%)
  6. Software Engineer Team Leader (108%)
  7. Software Engineer (107%)
  8. Software Localizer (97%)
  9. Software Quality Tester (91%)
  10. Software Quality Tester Team Leader (91%)
  11. DTP Team Leader (89%)
  12. Program Manager (81%)
  13. Group Project Manager (80%)
  14. DTP Specialist (78%)
  15. Productions/Operations Manager (76%)
  16. Project Manager (69%)

This certainly raises the question as to why project managers are valued so little in our industry when they are the ones who make sure work actually happens and they bear so much responsibility.

There are two possible answers that I see. The first is that the survey considered team leaders separately from project managers, even though they have similar jobs and might share the same title in many organizations. Team leaders with specific linguistic skills generally are paid quite well, on par or above what members of their teams are paid. In many organizations these individuals might be called project managers but still receive high salaries. Thus the rankings for project managers might reflect project managers that are “low-level” project managers, versus the team leaders that are paid better.

The second possible answer is closely related to the first. Those jobs that receive the highest pay are ones with GILT- and/or language-specific skills or skills that require substantial academic or formal training. Jobs that are ranked low in the survey results, such as DTP Specialist or Project Manager, generally do not require GILT- or language-specific skills, and can be learned on the job, greatly increasing the number of potential candidates and lowering the salaries these professionals can command. (Although the survey did not attempt to ascertain price differentials between general DTP specialists and DTP specialists with additional linguistic skill, such as Asian language DTP specialists, one would expect, based on this observation, that DTP specialists with additional skills should be paid substantially better than their counterparts without additional skills.)

Taken as a whole, the GILT Industry Salary Survey report indicates that the road to upward mobility in the GILT industry isn’t what many of us have long assumed it to be. Moving to management (at least lower-level management) brings additional stress without financial reward. The only real ways to increase salary are to (a) have a linguistic skill that is in short supply, or (b) develop skills that are scarce and require formal education or training. For more information on academic programs that turn out individuals with the skills most in demand in this industry, please visit the LEIT (LISA Education Initiative Taskforce) website. It turns out that education may be even more important than we knew.


Reprinted by permission from the Globalization Insider,
9 September 2003, Volume XII, Issue 3.6.

Copyright the Localization Industry Standards Association
(Globalization Insider: www.localization.org, LISA:
and S.M.P. Marketing Sarl (SMP) 2004

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