What Is a Program Manager? (A Complete Guide)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 22 January 2023

Published 20 July 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A program manager is a trained professional who oversees all aspects of a company's internal and external projects. These professionals design, supervise and coordinate different programs to ensure they meet the company's objectives. If you possess excellent communication skills and are able to manage teams of people, becoming a program manager could be the right career for you. In this article, we discuss what a program manager is, the qualifications they need and what skills are beneficial in this role.

What is a program manager?

A program manager is a professional who ensures that the project teams in a company are cohesively working towards one goal. These professionals oversee several projects, and each team member involved. Many businesses implement projects as part of a larger initiative or program to achieve results that may elevate the company's profile or profitability. The program manager often provides strategic advice to various project members.

The program manager can supervise the entire undertaking of multiple projects at once. Each smaller project is implemented to work towards one final goal. This is what the program manager is there to achieve.

Related reading: What Is a Project Manager?

Program manager responsibilities

The program manager is responsible for supervising the entire team working on a project. Their duties vary depending on the type of industry and program being implemented. Some key responsibilities to expect are:

  • Examining and managing the progress of the program

  • Managing the team and effectively delegating tasks

  • Creating a time plan with achievable targets

  • Making sure everyone is on track and milestones are being met

  • Managing the program's budget and resources across each project

  • Providing status reports to the various stakeholders and sponsors involved in the program

  • Liaising with your team and managing any issues that arise

Related reading: Management Skills: Definition and Examples

How to become a program manager

Program managers tend to have strong educational backgrounds in commerce. They also typically have strong managerial and leadership experience. To become a program manager, you need a proven track record of success. Most program managers earn the position after performing successfully from a project management role. Here is a guide on how to become a program manager:

1. Obtain a bachelor's degree

To become a program manager, you need a formal university degree. A Bachelor of Business Management or Economics can be ideal. You can direct your degree choice to focus on a particular field such as engineering or computer science if you know which industry you'd like to work in. A bachelor's degree typically takes three to four years to complete when studying full-time.

2. Undertake a postgraduate degree

Once you have completed your bachelor's degree (undergraduate) you may want to complete a postgraduate degree such as a master's. A Masters of Business Administration (MBA) or something similar is sufficient. Postgraduate studies such as an MBA can increase your employability and set you apart from other candidates. A postgraduate course can help you develop your management and leadership skills in preparation for a role in program management. Most master's degrees take between one and a half to two years to complete when studying full-time.

3. Project management certification

Next, you can obtain a certificate in project management from a registered educational body such as the Project Management Professional (PMP). The PMP exam covers the hard and soft skills needed to manage a team. Plus, it includes information about different business environments. You can usually complete project management certifications online from home.

4. Gain work experience

Before you can become a program manager, you can gain extensive work experience. Working in a range of businesses and industries can give you valuable experience that can help you perform successfully in a program manager role. You may begin your career as a project manager and earn promotions to become a program manager. The more experience you have, the better your chances of employment.

What skills does a program manager need?

Program management roles demand a high level of skills, as these professionals often manage large-scale programs. Successful program managers are clear communicators with refined critical thinking and problem-solving abilities. They're level-headed individuals with strong managerial and leadership qualities. The following skills are necessary for successful program managers:

Written and verbal communication

As a leader, program managers can demonstrate clear communication to both their team and stakeholders. They can delegate and explain tasks to each project manager. They may also need to provide written updates to their stakeholders and sponsors. With clear communication, program managers can ensure team members understand expectations and help teams make project deadlines.

Related reading: The Main Components of The Communication Process

Team leadership

Program managers are often in charge of large teams of staff. They practise effective leadership skills to keep their team motivated and ensure the timely completion of work. It is important for a program manager to be a leader to demonstrate a good work ethic to their staff. They can create realistic goals and deadlines, make tough decisions and resolve conflicts.

Related reading: 10 Common Leadership Styles

Interpersonal sensitivity

Sensitivity is an emotional and social soft skill. It involves reading other people's abilities, traits and emotional states from non-verbal cues. Interpersonal sensitivity can help program managers to make correct judgements and delegate tasks. It also helps program managers effectively resolve and mitigate workplace conflicts.

Related reading: Personal Skills (Definitions and Examples)

Problem-solving

Program managers can use problem-solving skills to address setbacks and improve future outcomes on projects. For example, a program manager can speak with project managers to address underperformance and find solutions to prevent future challenges. Being able to think critically to solve the problem and offer an alternative idea is a valuable skill in this role.

Related reading: Problem-Solving Skills: Definitions and Examples

Organisational skills

Program managers can use organisation skills to remain productive in their roles and manage intricate projects. They can also use organisation skills as they record information, make budgets and create reports. Effectively organising this information can help a program manager ensure the program remains on track.

Related reading: Top Organisation Skills for Your Resume and Workplace

Salary

Program managers make a national average annual salary of $120,988. Salaries differ from industry to industry. Program management roles in government jobs are the most highly paid. Program managers can expect to receive different salaries per state:

  • Hobart, TAS:$150,631

  • Brisbane, QLD: $145,467

  • Sydney, NSW: $135,628

  • Melbourne, VIC: $125,172

  • Perth, WA:$121,151

  • Darwin, NT:$116,013

  • Adelaide, SA:$110,182

  • Canberra, ACT:$101,802

Working conditions

Program managers have a predicted stable future growth. They are expected to have a high level of skills and training, with proven results. Program managers typically work standard working hours, with occasional overtime during busy periods. It is unlikely for program managers to work on the weekends.

Frequently asked questions

Here is a list of the most commonly asked questions regarding program management:

What is a program manager responsible for?

A program manager is responsible for the entirety of a business's individual projects. They are responsible for each project manager and their teams. They can make sure the projects are running smoothly to ensure the program is on schedule. They are also responsible for the program's budget, and they can provide stakeholders with regular progress reports.

What is a program manager vs. a project manager?

A project manager is responsible for a single project whereas a program manager oversees a group of projects. Program managers have smaller teams and are more hands-on. A program manager has a larger team and is more concerned with the bigger picture or end goal.

Relevant: What Does a Project Controller Do? (And How to Become One)

What skills do you need to be a program manager?

A program manager is a professional in a leadership role. Therefore, they need excellent communication and management skills. They can also practise teamwork to set a good example for their staff. Problem-solving is also important. A successful program manager can anticipate challenges and find solutions to help teams complete projects.

How long does it take to become a program manager?

The length of time it takes to become a program manager depends on the level of education and experience you have or intend to obtain. A bachelor's degree takes a minimum of three years. A master's degree takes a minimum of one and a half years. So, the minimum amount of formal studying required is four years. Plus, you can take time to study for and gain a formal certificate in project management. After this, you can gain work experience, which you may do for several years. At a minimum, it takes five years to become a program manager.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed. Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at the time of writing.

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