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Program manager - role, skills, and responsibilities

ยท 15 min read
Goutham Jagannatha

Program managers are the master conductors of organizational success. They orchestrate complex initiatives, bringing together teams, resources, and strategies to achieve strategic objectives. ๐ŸŒŸ๐Ÿš€

In this blog post, we'll delve into the world of program management and uncover the role, skills, and responsibilities of program managers. Whether you're aspiring to become a program manager or simply curious about this critical position, join us as we unravel the multifaceted role of program managers and explore how they drive impactful outcomes. ๐Ÿ’ก๐Ÿ”ง

Let's dive in and discover what it takes to be a successful program manager! ๐Ÿ’ช๐ŸŽฏ

Program manager responsibilitiesโ€‹

Key responsibilities of a program manager may include:

  1. Program planning: Defining program goals, objectives, and scope, and developing a high-level roadmap and schedule.
  2. Stakeholder management: Identifying and engaging key stakeholders, ensuring their involvement throughout the program, and managing their expectations.
  3. Resource management: Allocating and managing resources such as budget, personnel, and infrastructure to support the program's needs.
  4. Risk management: Identifying potential risks and developing mitigation strategies to minimize their impact on the program's success.
  5. Communication and reporting: Facilitating effective communication among project teams, stakeholders, and senior management. Providing regular updates and reports on program status, progress, and key metrics.
  6. Issue resolution: Identifying and resolving issues that arise during program execution, ensuring that project teams have the necessary support and resources to overcome challenges.
  7. Quality management: Establishing quality standards, ensuring compliance, and implementing quality control processes to deliver high-quality outcomes.
  8. Program evaluation: Conducting post-program assessments to evaluate performance, identify lessons learned, and drive continuous improvement.

What skills should a program manager have?โ€‹

A program manager should possess a combination of technical, managerial, and interpersonal skills to effectively carry out their responsibilities. Here are some key skills that are often valued in a program manager:

  1. Leadership: Program managers need strong leadership skills to guide and inspire their teams, provide clear direction, and foster a positive work culture. They should be able to motivate team members, resolve conflicts, and make difficult decisions when necessary.
  2. Strategic Thinking: Program managers must have a strategic mindset and the ability to align the program's objectives with the organization's overall goals. They should be able to think critically, anticipate future challenges and opportunities, and develop effective strategies to achieve program success.
  3. Communication: Excellent communication skills are essential for program managers. They need to effectively convey information, expectations, and priorities to various stakeholders, including senior executives, team members, and external partners. Active listening skills are also crucial to understand and address the needs of stakeholders.
  4. Project Management: A solid foundation in project management principles, methodologies, and tools is necessary for program managers. They should understand project lifecycles, planning, scheduling, budgeting, risk management, and other key project management concepts. This knowledge enables them to effectively coordinate and oversee multiple projects within the program.
  5. Stakeholder Management: Program managers work with a wide range of stakeholders, including executives, clients, project teams, and external vendors. They need strong stakeholder management skills to identify and engage stakeholders, build relationships, manage expectations, and address concerns.
  6. Financial Management: Program managers are often responsible for managing program budgets, tracking expenses, and ensuring financial accountability. They should have a good understanding of financial management principles and be capable of making informed decisions to optimize resource allocation.
  7. Risk Management: Identifying and managing risks is a critical aspect of program management. Program managers should be able to assess potential risks, develop risk mitigation strategies, and effectively manage issues that arise during program execution.
  8. Adaptability and Resilience: Programs can be complex and dynamic, requiring program managers to adapt to changing circumstances and navigate through challenges. They need to be flexible, resilient, and able to make quick decisions in a rapidly evolving environment.
  9. Analytical Skills: Program managers should possess strong analytical skills to gather and analyze data, track program performance, identify trends, and make data-driven decisions. They should be comfortable working with metrics and using data to drive program improvements.
  10. Collaboration and Team Building: Program managers must foster collaboration and teamwork among project teams and stakeholders. They should be skilled in building cohesive teams, promoting knowledge sharing, and fostering a collaborative environment that encourages innovation and productivity.

What level of technical knowledge is required for a program manager?โ€‹

While it can be beneficial for a program manager to have a technical background, it is not always a strict requirement. The level of technical expertise needed for a program manager depends on the nature of the program being managed and the organization's specific requirements.

In some cases, especially when managing complex technical programs or projects, having a solid understanding of the technologies involved can be advantageous. It allows the program manager to better comprehend the technical aspects, facilitate effective communication with technical team members, and make informed decisions regarding technical challenges and risks.

However, the primary focus of a program manager is typically on strategic planning, coordination, and overseeing the overall program's success rather than being directly involved in technical tasks. Their role is to ensure the alignment of the program with business objectives, manage resources, mitigate risks, and communicate with stakeholders.

Regardless of technical proficiency, a program manager should have the ability to grasp technical concepts, ask relevant questions, and facilitate effective communication between technical and non-technical stakeholders. They should also have the skills to translate technical information into meaningful insights for decision-making.

Program manager careerโ€‹

A career as a program manager can be rewarding and provide opportunities for professional growth. Program management roles are found across various industries, including technology, finance, healthcare, construction, government, and more. Here are a few career paths that program managers may pursue:

  1. Project/Program Manager: Program managers often start their careers as project managers, overseeing individual projects within a program. This role allows them to gain practical experience in managing project scope, resources, and timelines. As they gain more experience and demonstrate their ability to handle larger-scale initiatives, they can progress to program management roles.
  2. Program Management Office (PMO) Manager: In organizations with a dedicated PMO, program managers can take on leadership roles within the PMO. They are responsible for establishing and implementing project management methodologies, developing best practices, providing guidance to project managers, and ensuring program management consistency across the organization.
  3. Director/Head of Program Management: With extensive experience and proven success in program management, professionals can advance to director or head-level positions. In these roles, they oversee multiple programs within an organization, set strategic direction, manage program portfolios, and collaborate closely with senior executives to align programs with business objectives.
  4. Consultant/Advisor: Experienced program managers may choose to work as consultants or advisors, either independently or as part of consulting firms. They provide expertise and guidance to organizations in managing complex programs, optimizing processes, and achieving successful program outcomes.
  5. Program Management Executive: At the highest levels of an organization, program managers can aspire to executive positions such as Chief Program Officer or Chief Strategy Officer. In these roles, they are responsible for defining and executing the organization's program management strategy, driving strategic initiatives, and overseeing all programs and projects to ensure alignment with the organization's goals.

It's important to note that the career path and advancement opportunities for program managers can vary depending on factors such as industry, organization size, and individual experience.

Program manager vs Project manager vs Product managerโ€‹

Program Manager, Project Manager, and Product Manager are distinct roles within an organization, each with its specific focus and responsibilities.

Difference in rolesโ€‹

Here's a table comparing the key responsibilities and focuses of program managers, project managers, and product managers:

RoleProgram ManagerProject ManagerProduct Manager
FocusOverall program success, strategic alignmentIndividual project execution and deliveryProduct strategy, lifecycle management
ScopeManages a set of interrelated projects/initiativesManages a specific projectManages a product or product line
PlanningHigh-level program planning and coordinationDetailed project planning and schedulingProduct vision, roadmap, and feature planning
Resource ManagementAllocates and manages resources across projectsManages resources specific to the projectAligns resources for product development
Stakeholder ManagementEngages and manages stakeholders across projectsCollaborates with stakeholders on the projectGathers customer feedback, collaborates with stakeholders
Risk ManagementIdentifies and mitigates program-level risksIdentifies and manages project risksIdentifies and addresses product-related risks
CommunicationCommunicates with program stakeholders and sponsorsCommunicates project status and updatesCollaborates with cross-functional teams, communicates product strategy
DeliveryEnsures projects within the program are integratedEnsures project delivery within constraintsDrives product development and delivery
MetricsTracks program-level metrics and performanceMonitors project metrics and progressMeasures product success and performance
StrategyAligns program objectives with organizational strategySupports organizational strategy through projectsShapes product strategy and vision

Please note that this table provides a general comparison, and the specific responsibilities and focus of these roles can vary between organizations and industries.

Example: Roles in mobile app developmentโ€‹

Imagine a software company developing a new mobile app for project management.

Program Manager: The program manager is responsible for overseeing the entire program related to the mobile app development. They define the program's strategic objectives, coordinate the efforts of multiple teams involved in various aspects (development, design, quality assurance), and ensure alignment with the company's goals. The program manager oversees resource allocation, manages interdependencies between projects, monitors risks, and ensures effective communication with stakeholders.

Project Manager: The project manager is assigned to lead one specific project within the program, such as the development of the mobile app's user interface. They define project scope, create a detailed project plan, coordinate tasks, allocate resources, and monitor project progress. The project manager collaborates closely with the development team, ensures adherence to timelines and quality standards, and manages project risks and issues.

Product Manager: The product manager is responsible for the overall strategy and direction of the mobile app. They conduct market research to understand user needs and competitive landscape. They define the app's features, prioritize functionality based on user feedback and market trends, and work closely with the development and design teams to ensure successful implementation. The product manager owns the product roadmap, conducts user testing, and collaborates with marketing and sales teams to drive adoption and success.

In this scenario, the program manager ensures the successful execution of the program as a whole, the project manager focuses on the specific project within the program, and the product manager takes charge of the mobile app's strategic direction and customer value.

By collaborating and aligning their efforts, the program manager, project manager, and product manager work together to ensure the successful delivery of the mobile app, meeting customer needs and achieving business objectives.

How does reporting happen between these 3 rolesโ€‹

Reporting between the program manager, project manager, and product manager in a software company typically involves regular communication and sharing of relevant information to ensure alignment and progress tracking. Here's how reporting may occur between these roles:

Program Manager: The program manager is responsible for providing updates and reports to key stakeholders, such as senior management, executives, or clients. They compile information from project managers and product managers to create a comprehensive view of the program's status, progress, risks, and dependencies. Program managers may use reports, presentations, or dashboards to communicate program-level metrics, milestones, and strategic alignment. They ensure that stakeholders have visibility into the overall program's performance and any potential issues that require attention.

Project Manager: The project manager reports to the program manager, providing updates on the specific project they are leading. They communicate project status, deliverables, risks, and issues through regular status meetings, progress reports, or project management tools. Project managers may highlight key milestones achieved, tasks completed, and any challenges or delays encountered. They also provide input to the program manager on resource utilization, dependencies, and potential impacts on the overall program.

Product Manager: The product manager collaborates with both the program manager and project manager to provide updates on the product's development and strategic direction. They may report on market research findings, customer feedback, and product roadmap progress. Product managers share insights on feature prioritization, user adoption, and competitive landscape. They communicate updates on product milestones, releases, and any significant changes to the program or project managers that may affect timelines or requirements.

Regular meetings, such as program steering committees, project status meetings, or product reviews, provide opportunities for the program manager, project manager, and product manager to discuss progress, align priorities, address issues, and make strategic decisions. Effective reporting and communication channels ensure transparency, facilitate collaboration, and enable informed decision-making across all three roles.

It's important to note that the specific reporting structure and frequency may vary depending on the organization, project complexity, and stakeholder requirements.

What are the top companies for a career in program management?โ€‹

In the technology industry, several companies are known for their excellence in program management. Here are some top companies that are recognized for their program management practices in the technology sector:

  1. Microsoft: Microsoft has a strong program management culture and is known for its expertise in managing complex software development projects, product launches, and digital transformation initiatives.
  2. IBM: IBM offers program management services and has a long history of successfully managing large-scale technology projects and IT implementations for clients across various industries.
  3. Google: Google is known for its innovative approach to program management, especially in areas such as software development, cloud computing, and artificial intelligence.
  4. Amazon: As a leader in e-commerce and cloud computing (Amazon Web Services), Amazon employs robust program management practices to drive projects and initiatives across its business lines.
  5. Apple: Apple is recognized for its meticulous program management in product development and launches, hardware and software integration, and managing complex supply chains.
  6. Intel: Intel, a prominent semiconductor company, excels in program management for chip development, research and development projects, and technology innovation initiatives.
  7. Cisco Systems: Cisco is known for its program management expertise in network infrastructure, cybersecurity, and telecommunications projects, ensuring successful deployments and customer satisfaction.
  8. Oracle: Oracle offers program management services in various areas, including enterprise software implementations, database management, and cloud solutions.
  9. Salesforce: Salesforce, a leading customer relationship management (CRM) platform, employs strong program management practices in software development, product launches, and platform enhancements.
  10. Adobe: Adobe is recognized for its program management excellence in creative software development, digital marketing solutions, and customer experience management initiatives.

It's important to note that program management practices and reputations may vary within different divisions or business units of these companies. Additionally, the technology industry is dynamic, and the landscape can change over time as new companies emerge and industry dynamics evolve.

Top 3 certifications for aspiring program managersโ€‹

The top three popular certifications for program management are:

Project Management Institute Program Management Professional (PgMP): The PgMP certification from the Project Management Institute (PMI) is widely recognized and respected in the field of program management. It validates advanced knowledge, skills, and experience in overseeing multiple projects and aligning them with organizational objectives. PgMP focuses on strategic program management, benefits realization, stakeholder engagement, and governance.

Axelos Managing Successful Programmes (MSP): MSP is a highly regarded certification framework for program management. It provides a structured approach to managing programs, emphasizing the identification of benefits, stakeholder engagement, risk management, and governance. MSP is recognized globally and offers practical guidance for managing complex programs effectively.

Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) Program Consultant (SPC): The SAFe SPC certification is gaining popularity as organizations increasingly adopt Agile methodologies at a larger scale. It equips program managers with the knowledge and skills to implement the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) and effectively manage Agile programs. SPC certification focuses on scaling Agile practices, fostering collaboration, and ensuring value delivery.


program management is a critical discipline that enables organizations to achieve their strategic objectives by effectively managing multiple interrelated projects and initiatives. Program managers play a pivotal role in overseeing the entire program, aligning it with organizational goals, and driving successful outcomes.

A successful program manager possesses a unique blend of leadership, strategic thinking, communication, and stakeholder management skills. They excel in managing complexity, navigating uncertainties, and fostering collaboration across diverse teams and stakeholders.

Program management is prevalent across various industries, including technology, finance, healthcare, and construction, among others. It helps organizations achieve operational excellence, drive innovation, and adapt to changing market dynamics.

To excel in program management, professionals can pursue certifications such as PgMP, MSP, or SAFe SPC, which validate their expertise and enhance their credibility in the field.

As businesses continue to tackle complex challenges and pursue ambitious initiatives, the role of program management becomes increasingly crucial. By effectively orchestrating programs, program managers contribute to the overall success and growth of organizations, ensuring that projects align with strategic objectives and deliver value to stakeholders.

Overall, program management serves as a vital discipline for achieving organizational success, delivering impactful outcomes, and driving sustainable growth in today's dynamic business landscape.