Clinical trials are research studies involving people that help determine what medicines, devices, vaccines and diagnoses are safe and effective. They evaluate methods for detecting cancer in people, for example, or whether COVID-19 vaccinations help prevent the disease.
Performed accurately and efficiently, clinical trials are a key tool in achieving better patient outcomes. Clinical project managers play a critical role in ensuring that these trials are timely, evaluate accurate data and produce precise results. That’s important considering the cost of clinical trials was estimated to be $44.3 billion globally in 2020, according to Grand View Research.
Little surprise, then, that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts employment growth for medical and health services managers to be much faster than the average for all occupations between 2019 and 2029.
An education grounded in the complexities of clinical research, such as a Master’s in Clinical Research Management, can place clinical project managers at an advantage for their important work in advancing health care.
The Role of the Clinical Project Manager
After being shown to be effective in a lab, promising methods of diagnosis, vaccination and treatment move to tests of how people respond to them. These clinical trials follow phases to reveal more information about safety and efficacy in different groups of people.
Clinical project managers collaborate with the other clinical trial team members to oversee work within the various phases. Each phase involves progressively larger groups of people and evaluating outcomes, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) must approve each phase.
Tasks a Clinical Project Manager Leads
From selecting participants to reporting results, clinical project managers lead many facets of the clinical trial process. They oversee activities such as:
- Establishing a plan or protocol, determining which tests to perform and how frequently to administer them to meet scientific standards and government regulations
- Gathering resources, ensuring that staff and equipment are available to perform required tasks
- Selecting and enrolling subjects, determining how many people will participate and criteria for involvement
- Working with data, establishing what to evaluate and how to measure it as well as recording the data
- Avoiding bias, preventing situations such as assigning certain patients to certain groups based on a desired outcome
- Maintaining safety standards, protecting those involved in the trial
- Monitoring the trial’s budget, confirming that the work is staying within approved parameters
- Remaining on schedule, ensuring the timely completion of each phase
- Communicating with trial partners, working with outside parties, such as the FDA or physicians
Clinical Project Manager Skills
Clinical project managers rely on various hard and soft skills to manage the many considerations of clinical trials. From communicating with diverse groups to accommodating regulatory concerns, the many facets of medical testing require those managing it to have competencies such as:
- Emotional intelligence, to facilitate working with diverse groups of staff members and trial participants
- Adaptability, to stay up to date with new tools in healthcare technology and data analytics and pivot to new procedures that incorporate artificial intelligence and other advances
- Communication skills, to keep staff and patients in the trial abreast of procedures
- Attention to detail, to help ensure data accuracy and policy compliance
- Analytical skills, to determine the meaning of trial outcomes
- Leadership skills, to establish and lead procedures that align with best practices
Key Areas of Knowledge for Clinical Project Managers
Clinical project management calls for expertise in subjects that facilitate ethical practices and effective research. Key knowledge for clinical project managers includes the following:
- Ethical research design, to ensure that the potential benefits of clinical trials don’t outweigh the safety of participants
- Risk management, to prepare for and respond to real and potential risks that could compromise the trial
- Data analysis, to interpret data in a way that promotes understanding and wise use of the information
Clinical Project Manager Salary and Job Outlook
Roles as clinical project managers typically command higher-than-average salaries, and job growth projections are also strong. An aging population that’s staying active later in life is contributing to the demand for health care advancements.
Clinical Project Manager Salary
According to February 2021 data from PayScale, the median annual salary for clinical project managers was around $92,000. Many factors can affect the salary, including job location, education level and experience. Reported salaries ranged from $61,000 for the lowest 10% of earners to more than $133,000 for the highest 10% of earners. The salary data showed that experienced clinical project managers earned around $125,500, for example.
The BLS reported a median annual salary of $104,280 for all medical and health services managers in May 2020. That salary outpaced the median annual salary for all occupations, which was $41,950.
Clinical Project Manager Job Outlook
Clinical project managers are in demand because of their importance in ensuring the safety of treatments and devices that can enhance the well-being of populations — and doing so cost-effectively. In fact, clinical research management positions may not be keeping pace with the demand for clinical trials.
The BLS projects jobs for medical and health services managers to grow by 32% between 2019 and 2029. This field also includes professions such as facility administrator and health information manager. The estimated growth for this field is much faster than average; the BLS projects jobs for all occupations to grow by 4% during the forecast period.
A 2020 report from the Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP) found that clinical research positions had increased by 9.3% over the previous three years. However, the demand for clinical trial activities grew by 12.2% during that period.
Be a Leader in Health Care Innovation
If you’re ready to master the skills that promote safe, effective innovations in health care delivery, explore Wake Forest University's Master’s in Clinical Research Management program.
The curriculum focuses on topics such as:
- Drug and medical device development
- Clinical trial conduct and monitoring
- Quality assurance
- Statistical analysis
- Business, ethical and legal aspects of clinical research
You can tailor the program to your interests, choosing between two different tracks. The Strategic Leadership/Communications track is for students who want to enhance their managerial skills as well as their understanding of the clinical research process. The Operations track emphasizes technical skills and strategies. Both tracks feature the convenience and flexibility of online learning.
Discover how Wake Forest’s online Master’s in Clinical Research Management can help you achieve your career goals.
Association of Clinical Research Professionals, Special Report: An Assessment of the Adequacy of the Clinical Research Workforce
CenterWatch, Demand for Experienced Clinical Trial Professionals Outpacing Supply, ACRP Says
Forbes, “4 Project Management Trends On the Horizon…Are You Ready?”
Grand View Research, Clinical Trials Market Size, Share & Trends Analysis Report by Phase (Phase I, Phase II, Phase III, Phase IV), by Study Design (Interventional, Observational, Expanded Access), by Indication, by Region and Segment Forecasts, 2021-2028
IMARC Research, “6 Qualities of an Exceptional Trial Project Manager”
National Cancer Institute, Randomization and Bias in Cancer Clinical Trials
National Cancer Institute, What Are Clinical Trials?
National Center for Biotechnology Information, “Conducting Clinical Trials — Costs, Impacts, and the Value of Clinical Trials Networks: A Scoping Review”
National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute, Clinical Trials
National Institutes of Health, COVID-19 Clinical Trials
National Institutes of Health, Patient Recruitment
PayScale, Average Clinical Project Manager Salary
ProjectManager.com, “The Risk Management Process in Project Management”
Society of Clinical Research Associates, “Project Management: Introduction to Tools and Templates”
SpineUniverse, “How Clinical Trials Are Conducted”
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Medical and Health Services Managers
U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Basics About Clinical Trials
ZipRecruiter, What Is a Clinical Project Manager and How to Become One