A program manager coordinates groups of initiatives and projects that have similar strategic objectives, collectively known as “programs.”
It’s definitely possible to have more than one initiative or project that is working towards a particular business objective. While each of these initiatives and projects may have its own project managers, they’ll be focused on fulfilling their own project’s objectives. It’s important to have a role that keeps everyone’s eyes on the proverbial prize.
That’s where the program manager comes in. In this article, we take a look at the role of the program manager, its responsibilities, and what you should look for in one, as well as how it differs from the project manager.
Table of contents
- What is a Program Manager?
- What are the Responsibilities of a Program Manager?
- What Do You Look for in a Program Manager?
- What is the Difference Between a Program Manager and a Project Manager?
- Program Managers: Catalysts for Your Strategic Success
What is a Program Manager?
A program manager is a management role. Their job is the coordination of “programs.” These are collections of projects that align with similar business goals and initiatives. The program manager ensures that the projects under their program are working in service of the program objectives.
What are the Responsibilities of a Program Manager?
Program managers have a wide array of responsibilities due to their strategic positioning in your company’s operations. We list down three of the most important ones here.
1. They Provide Strategic Direction Across Multiple Projects
Above all, the goal of the program manager is to ensure that all projects in a program are working towards the success of that program.
Individual project leads may have relatively short-term goals in mind, related to the success of their own deliverables. However, a program manager will have a broader perspective on the greater business objectives. They can help guide product managers and other project leaders in fulfilling strategic goals rather than just their own projects’ individual metrics of success. They may also reallocate resources to projects that are more important to fulfilling the program’s goals.
2. They Help Cross-Functional Teams Work Together Effectively
There can be many different types of projects under a program. For example, if you have a program that involves your company expanding to a new country, many potential projects await you. Just to name a few, you’ll need marketing initiatives to help spread awareness, localization teams for your products, and also sales initiatives adapted to the new market.
Each of these projects requires very different skill sets, as well as expertise across the board. However, a program manager can ensure that these projects are supporting each other to gain a foothold in the new region. The ability to make these cross-functional teams work smoothly together is a core competency of any good program manager.
3. They Design and Evaluate Your Company’s Programs
Senior management doesn’t just assign new programs to program managers. Their task also includes designing new programs as well. They employ their knowledge of how different teams and initiatives interact to create effective teams and projects that support program goals. They also establish measurable metrics and targets that illustrate program success.
What Do You Look for in a Program Manager?
The program manager is a very challenging role that benefits greatly from seniority and past experience. These are some of the most important traits that an effective program manager should have.
Managing a program involves working with multiple teams, varying deadlines, as well as many disparate objectives. A program manager must be skilled at organizing these teams and tasks to get anything done.
Past Project Management Experience
Programs are very large, high-level projects in themselves. Therefore, having past project management experience is very valuable if not mandatory for a program manager. Additionally, past experience as a project manager gives program managers “boots on the ground” experience. This can help them work with project managers more smoothly, as they’ll have an awareness of what a project manager needs and how best to manage them.
Communication and Collaboration Skills
Moreover, Program management is very much a people-oriented role. Program managers must be able to clearly communicate strategic objectives to their subordinate project leads. They’ll also work closely with project managers to ensure that their projects are aligned with the greater program goals and that their teams are collaborating well together. Program managers must therefore be great communicators and collaborators to make the most out of their teams.
As a senior role, program managers must be ready to lead multiple teams that work on their programs. They should be able to not only motivate their teams but also give them the support and guidance they need. They also need to identify strengths and weaknesses in their project teams and leverage them to ensure program success.
What is the Difference Between a Program Manager and a Project Manager?
In a nutshell, program managers have a much more strategic overview for a business plan, while project managers are more tactical.
Program managers are in charge of multiple individual projects, each of which is managed by a project manager in turn. They have very broad goals and measurements of success that are aligned with your company’s strategic objectives. These goals may change as your business goals do, and it’s up to your program managers to adapt each program accordingly.
In contrast, project managers work towards much shorter-term goals, often with fixed, fast-paced deadlines and concrete outcomes. They may also manage individual tasks and help their teams stay on track with them. A project manager’s main goal is to complete all of the project’s tasks to the highest standards of quality.
Program Managers: Catalysts for Your Strategic Success
Even the best project managers may struggle to align themselves with high-level goals if they’re focused on their individual success metrics and deadlines. Hiring program managers to provide the strategic direction that unifies your projects can be the key to scaling up your business initiatives.