The Program Manager Role

Our four part guide to the Attributes of the Effective Program Manager:

Part 1 of 4: The Program Manager’s Role
Part 2 of 4: Relationship Building
Part 3 of 4: Effective Questioning
Part 4 of 4: Decision Making

For clarity, we will define project management and program management as follows:
Project management is management of a group of activities or initiatives with a defined deliverable and a definite starting point and end point.
Program management is management of a group of projects and/or operations to achieve business targets, goals, or strategies and usually does not have a defined end point.

Unlike projects, programs may never end or may end only when the business’s needs or organizational strategy changes. Programs have a higher level of complexity than projects, involve more and higher-level stakeholders, use more resources, have more conflict, and require more coordination.

Part 1 of 4: The Program Manager’s Role

A program manager’s job is very demanding, to say the least. Typically, a program manager is subjected to all the complexities and stresses of a project manager and in addition is required to manage ongoing operations while meeting business goal targets for the month, quarter, or year. The program manager often has to strike a balance between the amount of resources spent on operations and the amount of resources spent on development and new projects.

A program manager needs to have an ingrained sense of organizational mission, must lead and have the presence of a leader, must have a vision and strategy for long-term organizational improvement, must be a relationship builder, and must have the experience and ability to assess people and situations beyond their appearance.

These attributes have to be combined with strong analytical skills, the ability to be tough-minded, and the know-how to find a myriad of paths and means to accomplish program objectives. Ultimately, a program manager must develop a culture of success while being a program champion.

As the main program champion, the program manager needs to garner resources and use his or her relationship capital to pave the way for the program to be successful. Relationship capital is the amount of influence a program manager can wield in the organization by establishing relationships of ever-increasing trust both internal and external to the organization. In the role of program champion, the program manager is always selling the program’s importance to the company’s stakeholders and team members. This selling involves an in-depth knowledge of the organization, including how the program fits into the organization and how the company establishes program goals, as well as the plans and initiatives required to meet those goals. Clear understanding of all these items is essential. The program manager, in the role of program champion, must constantly communicate the program, its purpose, and why it is valuable to the organization.

When promoted from technology professional to project manager, an individual often is ill prepared to utilize the variety of skills required to be successful at the project level. That is the case because the technical professional often lacks the interpersonal, communication, and organizational skills necessary to be a project manager. Equally significant and bringing more risk to the organization is the hurdle between project manager and program manager. This hurdle requires the project manager who has become the program manager to think with a business focus and manage both process and culture. Since a project has a defined end date whereas a program is usually continuous and includes ongoing operations, the challenges are greater and the stakes are higher.

Our series is about the attributes of effective program managers. Another attribute is the integration of technology to the program management process. WorkOtter helps make your program management effective by implementing and managing your program proccesses. Get a demo of WorkOtter and see how we can make your program management effective.

“The Handbook of Program Management: How to Facilitate Project Success with Optimal Program Management, Second Edition” by James T. Brown is a copyrighted work of McGraw-Hill and McGraw-Hill reserves all rights in and to the Content. ©2014 by McGraw-Hill Education. Purchase the book on Amazon.


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