A successful, growing, and ever-improving business requires a robust organizational structure that is constantly looking for ways to make processes more efficient in achieving the larger organizational goals. This effort involves changing and improving aspects in the supply chain such as warehousing, inventory control, production methods, and delivery times. Usually, these improvements involve many projects that are related and interdependent. One project may need to be started, completed or reach a certain stage before another one can begin. The endeavor requires a person who is charged with staying on top of the entire program, including knowing where each project is at any given time. This role is performed by the Program Manager.

A Program Manager is a high-level manager who has strong practical experience in project management gained through managing large and complex projects. The position titles of Program Manager and Project Manager may be used interchangeably at times, but there are significant differences between the two. Program management is a distinct discipline from project management. Projects are present in programs; however, there are roles within program management that are specific and require particular skills that differ from project management. Project management deals with outputs (i.e., products or deliverables), while program management deals with outcomes, which are a result of utilizing such outputs.

What Is a Program?

A program is the aggregate of numerous connected and related projects. While a project has a confined, relatively short-term goal, programs are responsible for all of their component projects. This results in programs having a long-term, strategic orientation that has a larger role in the wider organization. For example, a Program Manager may find him or herself working on new products or large capital projects like a new warehouse, or new capabilities such as ecommerce shipping of individual products rather than pallet loads of inventory. Program managers may also direct undertakings such as an acquisition or divestiture.

Similar Job Titles

  • Business Change Manager
  • Project Manager
  • Product Manager

Program Manager Position Overview

The Program Manager position coordinates programs that are cross-functional in nature such as a new product launch, or establishing new capabilities (for example, a warehouse management system or implementing automation). Program managers see the goals, risks, available resources, budgetary limits, and other important aspects of every major company initiative simultaneously. They coordinate efforts between different projects without managing any specific one. Instead, they lead the overall program with strong attention to strategy, implementation, and delegation.

A program manager develops multi-functional work plans for initiatives/programs and works with key leaders across functions in executing those plans. Program managers dissect activities into tasks, timeframes, and resources. They operate from the perspective of what needs to be accomplished and when. 

Because program managers deal with a higher level of organization, their skills can often apply to numerous different fields and departments. Day-to-day responsibilities for this role are substantial, but the scope of a program is large and requires a greater sense of strategic vision beyond the details of individual projects.

 Program managers must be aware of change management and communications, utilizing change management disciplines to ensure the entire effort works correctly. They handle the ongoing execution of the program by establishing patterns and routines to assess tasks and progress for the total program scope, all the while keeping projects on time and on budget. Program managers operate on a higher organizational level, having several project managers report to them, and are responsible for coordinating all the projects within their own area of responsibility.

A program manager’s chief responsibilities include:

  • Planning and monitoring the program’s progression
  • Controlling the program’s budget, comparing costs with realized profit and benefits
  • Upholding a stable communication with all stakeholders
  • Assessing the possible risks and threats to the program and its success.

Primary responsibilities of a Program Manager

Some of the main responsibilities of a Program Manager include:

  • Daily management throughout the program life cycle
  • Define the program’s governance
  • Plan the overall program
  • Identify key requirements needed from cross-functional teams and external vendors
  • Work closely with across teams to plan and develop scope, deliverables, required resources, work plan, budget and timing for new initiatives
  • Monitor the program’s progress
  • Manage program and project teams for optimal ROI and coordinate and delegate cross-project initiatives
  • Manage the program’s budget
  • Work with other program managers to identify risks and opportunities across multiple projects within the department
  • Analyze, evaluate, and overcome program risks
  • Produce program reports for management and stakeholders
  • Manage the risks and issues
  • Take corrective measurements
  • Coordinate the projects and their interdependencies
  • Manage and utilize resources across projects
  • Manage stakeholders’ communication
  • Align deliverables to the program’s outcome
  • Manage the main program documents

Required and Desired Skills

Soft Skills:

  • Leadership
  • Excellent written and oral communication skills
  • Problem solving
  • Teamwork
  • Ability to weigh and manage priorities
  • Time management
  • Skilled at synthesis and analysis
  • Strategic and analytical thinker
  • Conflict resolution
  • Motivation
  • Organization
  • Adaptability

Hard Skills:

Here are some hard skills that apply across the board to be an effective program manager:

  • Knowledge of Supply Chain Processes (Hardware and Software)
  • Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) and Project Performance Metrics
  • Budgeting and Scheduling
  • Planning tools such as Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), Program Evaluation Review Technique (PERT) and Gantt Charts and Critical Path Method (CPM) charts
  • Automated Systems for material and information movement
  • Continuous Improvement
  • 5S
  • Lean Manufacturing
  • Kaizen
  • Lean Six Sigma
  • Root Cause Analysis
  • Value Stream Mapping
  • Proficiency in commonly used and specialized software
  • Demonstrated ability to work in high paced and changing environments

Required/Desired Education and Qualifications

  • Bachelor’s degree in management, business, or related field; Master’s degree (MA or MSc) in business or related field preferred
  • Possible concentration in Supply Chain, Logistics, Operations, general Business Administration, Economics, Educational Management, Marketing Management, Project Management, Accounting, or a related field.
  • 5+ years’ previous experience in program management, project management, administration, or related field
  • Proven stakeholder management skills
  • Proficient computer skills, experience with Microsoft Office Suite; working knowledge of program/project management software (Basecamp, MS Project)
  • Knowledgeable in program management methodology and techniques; performance evaluation and change management principles
  • Experience with compiling and following strict budgets
  • Excellent verbal and written communication skills
  • Ability to multitask, prioritize, and manage time effectively

A Day in the Life of a Program Manager

A typical day for Program Managers may find themselves engaged in any or all of these activities:

  • Working with stakeholders (communicating, negotiating, problem-solving)
  • Setting the right expectations and coordinating with stakeholders
  • Planning and monitoring program execution
  • Assembling detailed plans where you can track progress of teams related to the program
  • Leading meetings with project managers to obtain status updates and any hurdles they are encountering
  • Identifying and addressing problems and risks
  • Creating and managing a budget
  • Managing resources across projects
  • Documenting the program
  • Aligning or realigning deliverables with program outcomes

Typical Working Conditions for a Program Manager

A Program Manager is in an office setting for most daily activities. 

Program Manager Salary Range and Benefits

Salaries for Program Managers in the U.S. can vary depending on the size and complexity of projects and the industry as well as education, certifications, the number of years you have spent in the profession, your experience, and additional skills. According to www.salary.com, a range of between $120,800 and $161,000 is typical for the U.S., with a median salary at approximately $140,300. Forbes reports an average salary for program managers between $75,000 to $90,000.

In addition to base salary and 401(k) plans, many companies offer potential equity awards based on factors such as experience, performance and location. 

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