Most people are familiar with the role of a Project Manager; however, many are unclear about the role of a Program Manager? Although both roles have a few similarities, they are not the same. For starters, projects and programs are not the same. A project is usually a temporary, specific, single task that delivers a tangible outcome. A program, on the other hand, consists of several related projects. The objective of a program is to drive organizational growth rather than deliver a single, tangible outcome. The person who manages a program is the Program Manager.

What is a Program Manager?

Fundamentally, the responsibilities of a Program Manager include articulating a program’s objectives and strategy. Additionally, a Program Manager assesses how a program would impact the organization. Overseeing lists of interconnected projects necessary to achieve the program’s overall goals would also fall under the job description.

One can think of a Program Manager as an architect. They do not do the physical installation of “walls” and “floors” but they create the overall design and blueprint required for the output to be successful. Essentially, Program Managers bring together various elements to ensure the final result is flawless. It is important to note that a Program Manager’s role is not limited to the completion of individual projects; their responsibility is to ensure the success of the overall program.

What does a Program Manager do?

The Project Management Institute calls a Program Manager a “Super Project Manager.” A Program Manager is responsible for the planning and governance of a program, ensuring a successful outcome. Knowledge about the business is helpful, but their program management skills are of more importance. Typically, Program Managers have several years of experience as Project Manager for many large or complex initiatives.

The responsibilities of a Program Manager include:

  • Day to day program management throughout the life cycle of a program
  • Define the governance of a program
  • Planning and monitoring the progress of the overall program
  • Managing the budget of the program
  • Managing issues and risks and taking corrective measures accordingly
  • Coordinate underlying related projects
  • Manage and optimally utilize resources across multiple projects
  • Manage communication with stakeholders
  • Work with the Business Change Manager to align the deliverables to the outcome of a program
  • Manage program documentation

What to look for in a Program Manager?

A Program Manager thinks strategically to align new programs with the goals and business strategy of an organization. Therefore, they need coordination and delegation skills. Since they work with different stakeholders, certain qualities are essential in an efficient Program Manager. These qualities include:

Leadership skills

Programs are getting increasingly complex. Sometimes, a Program Manager may need to coordinate projects across the globe, which means they will need to work across cultures. Leadership skills are extremely important in this field of work. They must be able to delegate, build relationships, and empower team members. For the overall success of a program, they should also be able to efficiently collaborate with different functions in an organization.

Communication skills

A Program Manager might need to work with people from different countries and still be able to communicate their vision and/or plan. Communication skills are very important in a Program Manager’s arsenal. An effective Program Manager is one who communicates effectively with stakeholders and team members, ensuring that everyone understands the priorities and constraints of a program.

Analytical skills

Most programs generate massive amounts of data – financial, statistical, and more. A Program Manager should be able to quickly gather and integrate the information, analyzing it to synthesize the requirements. Strong analytical skills will help them effectively summarize program conclusions. Program Managers with a strong analytical bent of mind take fact-based decisions, which aids the successful completion of a program.

Stakeholder management skills

Program Managers work with various stakeholders and must understand the desires, needs, and requirements of each of them. Very often, they need to be pragmatic, yet diplomatic, to manage stakeholder expectations. Programs exist only because of stakeholders. Therefore, it is crucial that stakeholders are dealt with in the most professional manner.

Influencing and negotiation skills

To get what you need for a program, influencing and negotiation skills are handy. When your work requires you to collaborate with many teams and multiple people, being subtly influential can be helpful in bringing people around to your way of thinking without force or coercion. Negotiation skills are important in reaching an agreement or compromise and in settling differences.

Conflict management skills

There are numerous conflicts that arise during the life cycle of a program. Program Managers who confront conflict and address it straight on, accelerate decision-making. This increases the pace of the overall program. Conflict management does not try to resolve issues through force. Instead, it aims to resolve issues in a way that both team members and stakeholders feel motivated to move forward.


An effective and efficient Program Manager can formulate a vision of the “big picture” and is able to sell that vision to others. They are also adept at planning and resource management to ensure the desired outcome of a particular program.

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