How to Become a Translation Project Manager
The internet is full of misattributed quotes.
Here are two examples:
- “For every minute spent in organizing, an hour is earned.” – Benjamin Franklin
- “Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip.” – Winston Churchill
The quotes may not be real, but the sentiment behind each one is.
Translation project managers can confirm this…
Without great organizational and interpersonal skills, they would be a lot less effective at their jobs. And without their job, the translation industry would be a lot less efficient.
Let’s explore this crucial industry position and how to become one.
What is a translation project manager?
A translation project manager is someone who plans, guides and oversees a translation project or – as is more often the case – multiple translation projects at the same time.
They act as an interface between the client, translators, proofreaders, desktop publishing (DTP) teams and others involved in each project.
They have two primary objectives to carry out well:
- Translation workflows
- Translation quality assurance process
There are some freelancers working in this role, but many work directly for a language service provider (LSP) in a full or part-time capacity.
Do translation project managers work on interpretation projects?
Simultaneous and consecutive interpretation projects are quite different to regular translation ones. In fact, they are also quite different from one another.
But they are still language services that many LSPs offer, so managing them is often part of an LSP project manager’s work.
Managing interpretation projects involves negotiating and liaising with interpreters, clients and equipment suppliers.
What does a translation project manager do?
Each LSP has its own translation processes. But generally speaking, a translation project manager’s work can be divided into the following categories.
1. Pre-assessment of translation projects
A fast and accurate assessment of projects’ timeframe and costs is arguably the most important part of a translation project manager’s job.
Many LSPs use in-house translators when they can. They rely on freelancers when they don’t have the internal resources for a particular project.
Either way, translators need to be selected based on their expertise and experience. But their availability may vary depending on their work schedule.
So, an ability to accurately assess delivery dates requires experience and knowledge of the translation process, the individuals involved in it and their schedules.
Calculating the costs of projects for clients, especially new ones, is also important. It involves ensuring that costs stay within budget as projects progress.
This is especially common in smaller LSPs, where there might not be a dedicated sales team to manage this.
Existing customers likely already know and agree to set rates (many will have accounts on which projects can be listed and then tallied up at the end of each month).
For new clients, a certain amount of negotiation may be required. Experienced LSP clients might request discounts based on volume, and clients unfamiliar with translation might have specific budgets in mind to work with.
2. Managing translation workflow
Each LSP, or even department within an LSP, may have its own workflow and quality assurance process. And different clients may require different adaptations to this system.
Project management of both of these aspects requires smooth cooperation between multiple players, including translators, proofreaders and clients.
Translators and proofreaders need to operate with the same instructions (including vocabularies and general client comments) and translation software.
The larger the project, the more complex its workflow, and the more likely it is a translation project manager will have to improvise and adapt to various obstacles and setbacks.
3. Customer service
Customer service is an essential component of translation project management.
No matter what the quality and efficiency of a translation is, clients’ perception of the service matters. This applies whether they are a fellow LSP or a direct client.
In other words, a translation project manager should be good at managing expectations and being responsive to clients. This can mean something different for each client.
Their insights might even be able to inform sales and marketing strategy.
In many cases, good customer service may significantly impact customer loyalty and retention rates.
Translation project manager requirements
Translation project managers vary in their skills, strengths, experience, etc.
However, it is possible to generalise a bit about what factors can contribute to a successful translation project management career.
1. Desired traits
‘Finding the right person for the right role’ is a mantra for many recruiters. But what does this mean for a translation project manager role?
Below are three traits that are useful for it.
1.1 Being Organised
The ability to plan and oversee multiple projects with multiple different participants is not easy.
It takes good planning and organisational abilities. This includes being good at problem-solving and working well under pressure.
Time management is also essential, as each project will have its own deadline. And within each project, there will likely be multiple other deadlines.
1.2 Being a Leader
Another misattributed but insightful Churchill quote reads:
“The difference between mere management and leadership is communication.”
Being able to formulate a plan or a strategy is one thing, but being able to implement it is another.
Communication skills, decisiveness, and the ability to raise morale are all hugely useful components of being a good leader.
1.3 Being a People Person
Translation project management could equally be labelled ‘people project management’.
Each party involved in a project has their own personality, motivations, reaction to feedback, etc. Managing these requires a certain amount of what psychologists call ’emotional intelligence’ (i.e., or being a people person).
Fostering team bonding and even conflict resolution may be needed at times. Furthermore, doing these with different cultural expectations in mind might be needed.
2. Skills needed
Being able to translate and proofread are two of the most useful skills a project manager can have.
Aside from this, general computer literacy is needed. This includes being able to work with Microsoft Office tools (Word, Excel, PowerPoint), internet explorer and email.
Familiarity with at least one computer-assisted translation (CAT) tool is also necessary. The use of CAT tools varies in agencies. But knowing how to use one will help users adapt quickly to using others.
3. Certification needed
Many advertised translation roles specify higher education and translation-specific requirements. However, this does not mean they are essential for all roles all of the time.
As with certification requirements for translation roles, those needed for a project manager role can also be flexible. It depends on the company’s (or recruiters’) preferences, which in turn may be influenced by current demand in the market.
So, the following two categories of certification should be mentioned with the caveat that they may help but not necessarily be essential.
The types of higher education degrees that are most helpful for translation project managers to have are, in approximate order:
- Translation Studies
- Languages or language-related (i.e., French Literature, Chinese Studies, etc.)
- General humanities (English Literature, History, Philosophy, etc.)
(Of course, if English is not the candidates’ native language, then a degree in English Literature, for example, would be more useful).
Translation qualifications are usually helpful but not essential additions to a translation project manager’s CV.
There are a number of additional non-degree language-based qualifications available. These include the certificate in translation (CertTrans) and diploma in translation (DipTrans) from the Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIOL) in the UK, and ATA translation certification in the US.
There are also specific professional training and software courses that can contribute to bolstering project management skills. These include PMP, Prince2 and Scrum Master qualifications.
4. Experience requirements
If someone hasn’t directly worked as a translation project manager, they can still gain experience useful for the role.
All translation industry experience is helpful. However, working as an assistant to a translation project manager (or at least assisting in some aspects of translation projects) is the most valuable and qualifying experience.
Many LSPs enable the opportunity for gradual exposure to the role (see below, ‘1. Become a project manager within an LSP’).
How do you become a project manager?
Below is an outline of the main routes to starting a translation project management career.
1. Become a project manager within an LSP
One of the most common and simplest ways to become a translation project manager is to do so within an LSP. This can initially be in a translator role.
Working within an LSP offers an opportunity to gain direct knowledge of the role that freelance translators might not develop.
It provides first-hand exposure to the kind of tasks and practices involved, not to mention the informal water cooler discussions where a lot can be learned.
2. Become a freelance translation project manager
As their careers progress, freelance translators come into contact with different LSPs and companies. This sometimes gives them opportunities to help with translations other than their own.
Using their knowledge and network, some freelance translators manage translation projects remotely. They will likely start small, learn more, and then expand the size of the projects they manage.
3. Create your own LSP and work as a translation project manager in it
This route can come directly out of the first or second route listed above.
Working as a translation project manager within an LSP can prepare employees with the right background and practice to create their own LSP…
Similarly, by gradually managing translation projects as a freelancer, someone can effectively learn the same skillset.
What are translation project managers’ salaries?
In general, there is a lot of variability in the translation industry’s profitability.
According to Glassdoor, the average translation project manager salary is $60,734 per year in the US and £41,529 per year in the UK.
The role of a translation project manager is essential to the translation industry.
It requires good organisational and leadership skills.
There are many different traits and qualifications that can help somebody qualify for the role. The latter include an educational background in languages or humanities and translation certification.
Experience working in translation, either as a freelancer or in an LSP is essential. So too is picking up knowledge on CAT tools, the quality assurance process, and everything else involved in a translation project.
Translation project managers have the option of creating a career for themselves within or without an LSP. Or even creating their own LSP.
If you are interested in translation-based jobs, check out our listings.