Translation Project Management is one of the routes one can follow within the translation industry. How much is the average salary? Is it worth it? Is it better than being a freelance translator or interpreter? Let’s have a look!
Translation Project Managers may well be regarded as the ‘forgotten link’ of the translation industry.
Nobody seems to know exactly what role they play in the whole picture, or even that the role exists at all. However, being a PM is another legitimate way to enter – and grow within – the translation world.
That’s actually how I went about. I started as a project manager almost 2 years before I became a freelance translator-interpreter – as a matter of fact, even before I got my degree.
Indeed, I had already been working as a PM for some time when I finally went to university to study Translation and Interpreting… and I was appalled by the number of students who had no idea what a translation project manager even was.
So… what it is, exactly? And most importantly, what’s the average translation project manager salary in the UK? If you’re curious, just keep scrolling: all these questions will be answered in this post.
What’s a Translation Project Manager?
Most people just think about translators – and, to an extend, interpreters – when it comes to the translation industry. But they are not the only professionals involved in the vast and competitive world of language services.
Nowadays, a considerable percentage of this business is taken care of not by translators directly, but through translation agencies. That middle man or woman – the professional who works for the agency – is almost always a project manager (also simply known as ‘PM‘).
If you’re also not familiar with PMing as a job, you may find out more about the subject in the post below:
Continue Reading: How to Become a Translation Project Manager
I won’t dwell too much on what PMs do here, but to put it in 3 short sentences, a translation project manager is a professional responsible for:
- handling clients’ requests (i.e., translation projects)
- assigning content to freelance linguists for translation
- delivering the completed translation project back to the client
Note: A PM may also deal with interpreting, proofreading, transcription, subtitling, post editing, language consultation and several other types of linguistic services.
The job itself is way more complex than that, but this should give you a rough idea.
Project Management isn’t exactly a very ‘desired’ role by people who enter this industry. I haven’t met a single person who went to university because they specifically wanted to become a PM.
Nevertheless, it can be a very efficient way to actually set foot in the business and grow from there.
In my personal opinion, new graduates can gain a lot by choosing to work as PMs for a translation agency for a couple of years, before moving on to becoming freelance linguists.
I simply do not have enough words to describe the amount of things one can learn from that experience, and I mean things you won’t learn anywhere else – not if you jump straight to freelancing (and most definitely not while you’re at uni.)
Ultimately, I believe that being a PM, even if just for a while, will make you a better freelance translator or interpreter down the line, as it will teach you how things really work ‘on the the other side’.
Translation Project Manager Jobs
In the UK
Most PM jobs in the UK are concentrated in London, although there are also LSPs (language service providers) in other major cities (Birmingham, Manchester, etc.)
Some agencies may have some permanent remote positions, as these became more common after the 2020 pandemic. Others may have created such positions only temporarily, and plan to go back to a traditional office-based environment once normality returns.
Outside the UK
There are translation agencies all around the world, but the largest ones tend to be based in English-speaking countries (GB, US, Australia, Ireland, etc.)
You can check CSA Research’s annual top 100 LSPs in terms of revenue here (also a good way to take note of the industry’s biggest players, so that you can keep an eye out for job opportunities.)
Keep in mind that bigger isn’t always better: there are several excellent agencies out there that don’t feature the above list. Check your local market too (e.g., if you’re Italian, look for agencies in Italy that me be hiring.)
Translation Project Manager Salary
Now to the ‘juicy’ part: the salary. This is also where things may get a bit more complex. Like most jobs, your exact pay will always depend on the company you work for and your level of experience.
I’ll be focusing on UK salaries here. If you’re from the US, it’s very likely the numbers will be higher, as UK salaries tend to be considerably lower in comparison.
At the time of writing, these are the average numbers the above sources are giving us:
As you can see, there is some discrepancy across the board. However, from my experience and knowledge of the market, I would say all the above values are mostly correct: it just depends on your level of experience and the exact stage of your career.
Another factor that may affect pay is the company’s location. London-based agencies tend to pay more than the rest of the country, mainly due to the local high cost of living. Whether that will remain as it is, considering the rise of Work From Home post-2020, is anyone’s guess.
Generally speaking, I’d say a translation project manager’s salary will fall more or less under the following wage brackets:
Avg. Salary Bracket
Internship - £20,000
£20,000 - £25,000
£24,000 - £32,000
Note: Regardless of what sources you check, it’s important to note that the average salary figure is not always the best indicator of what workers normally get paid for that job. Overall, the median salary tends to be a much better representation of what the ordinary worker makes at a given position.
- As per usual, the above values are essentially based on my personal experience, so they are just an ‘educated guess’. Nevertheless, in addition to having worked as a PM for a number of years, I’ve also got friends and colleagues who still work as PMs as of today, so these numbers are mostly accurate to the best of my knowledge.
- These brackets obviously aren’t strict. Some companies do pay more than the highest value above (just not that many, probably.)
- For the inexperienced, please note that many agencies don’t offer any permanent job positions at all, but only internships. The transition from being an intern to an intermediate level PM role (often called ‘assistant PM’ or ‘junior PM’) also depends largely on the company’s own pay and career structures.
- The above brackets are not considering any position above that of a PM. Team leaders, department supervisors and coordinators and etc, may be able to reach higher levels of pay.
- Depending on the company, there may be some sort of performance bonuses (individual or collective) to boost one’s yearly pay. At the same time, the existence of a bonus scheme may mean a lower base salary in some cases… again, it depends!
Is Translation Project Management Worth it as a Career?
While project management is an excellent way to enter and grow within the translation industry, there are some important things you need to know about its potential as a long term career.
Here’s the first fact: project management is essentially a young people’s game. Virtually all PMs that I have met are in their 20s, and just a couple of them are in their early 30s.
This tells us 2 things:
- Most PMs start when they are new graduates, who typically are people in their 20s.
- Not many people stick to a PM career for longer than a few years. They almost invariably go freelance at some point or simply change their career direction (i.e., make transition to industries that have nothing to do with translation); others may advance their careers within a translation agency by taking roles unrelated to PMing.
In short: translation project management can be an excellent career for a number of years, but it doesn’t seem to be a popular choice for the long term.
There’s a number of factors that help explain this. First, as things stand, there’s only so far you can go as a PM.
The typical translation project manager salary is below the median employee earnings in the UK, and there really isn’t a realistic expectation it will ever surpass it.
So as workers get closer to their 30s, they’ll naturally start looking for other options that may allow them better life conditions and perhaps even start a family.
I can confirm from personal experience it’s a job in which you tend to ‘hit the ceiling’ after just a couple of years.
And secondly, one can’t ignore the fact that PMing is a highly stressful and demanding job, so there’s a point in which almost every PM decide to just start doing something more rewarding.
So, in conclusion, being a translation project manager has most of the same advantages and disadvantages every full time job has when compared to freelancing, and it’s likely to be a good course of action throughout the first stages of your career.
The turnover for translation project managers is relatively high, which tells us it’s a worthy career for a set period of time before you move on to something different. People vote with their feet, and that’s how it’s always going to be.
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