Earning a job as a program manager can lead to an exciting and lucrative career. It's a highly complex and challenging role, however, and before applying for open positions, it's important to develop the skills that can help you achieve success in this field. Keep reading to find out exactly what a program manager does and what skills you can work on to become one.
What is a program manager?
A program manager is a professional who oversees and coordinates multiple projects within an organization. They're technically the project managers of project managers, as the role involves overseeing all individual projects and coordinating them for the benefit of their company. The definition of a program, in the context of a business organization, is a group of interconnected projects that are essential for supporting one of the respective organization's business initiatives. This can refer to launching a new product or service, opening a new store, or updating the company-wide marketing strategy.
Some specific program management tasks are:
- Creating specific procedures and reporting strategies to help supervise multiple projects
- Managing a program's available budget
- Choosing how to allocate the program's budget to ensure operational efficiency
- Defining and managing the various ways that multiple projects are interconnected
- Managing all major risks associated with the program and defining mitigation procedures
- Recruiting and appointing program staff members
- Supervising all aspects of the projects within a program to make sure project managers meet their operational goals
Relevant program manager skills
Given the complexity of the role, program managers require a distinct set of skills to help them perform successfully. Listing these skills on your resume and discussing them with the hiring manager during the interview can help you get a job as a program manager. Signing up to get email alerts about open program manager jobs can help you find a role that meets your career goals. Some vital skills for the role are:
Because the fundamental role of a program manager is to oversee multiple projects, being able to see the big picture is an essential skill for success in the role. Not all programs are clearly beneficial for the company and the program manager must be able to place the program they work on into a larger context and assess its short- and long-term importance. Besides being able to identify a program's strategic importance, a successful program manager also has to find ways in which to showcase its importance to the company's stakeholders.
Being able to think strategically is definitely important as a program manager, but you can only do this if you break every part of a program into smaller components and analyze how they contribute to the bigger picture. This requires strong analytical skills, especially in today's data-driven business environment. Programs tend to generate large amounts of data and, as a program manager, you must be able to gather it, sort it, and extract the conclusions that are relevant for your program's success.
As overseers, program managers usually delegate tasks to various other staff members. They also maintain communication with other interested parties, like stakeholders and customers, as they have to report their progress and constantly provide reassurance that the program is on track. Being able to effectively and persuasively communicate with everyone involved in a program is a crucial skill for a program manager's success. You must also be able to do it in multiple settings and situations and in a variety of ways, both verbally and in writing.
As a leader, the program manager must be able to use their communication skills to persuade and inspire others to follow them and to believe in their strategic vision. They must be able to quickly build positive relationships with everyone involved in a program's execution, effectively delegate tasks in a way that makes sense to anyone involved, and motivate all team members to perform to the best of their abilities. Modern program managers must also be able to display leadership skills in virtual environments and to team members of different cultural backgrounds.
There are many moving pieces involved in undergoing and completing a major program. The program manager has to successfully navigate through all of them and constantly work to obtain favorable outcomes from different people and institutions with the power to help or negatively affect the program's success. Whether this means working your way through your organization's internal politics to get stakeholders to prioritize your program, getting better prices from suppliers, or negotiating staff salaries to stay within the allocated budget, the ability to influence people through negotiation on behalf of the program is an essential trait for program managers.
Although previously mentioned skills like communication, leadership, and communication are all important for healthy relationships with the program's stakeholders, successfully managing those relationships throughout the program's execution is a skill on its own. Stakeholders, whether they're members of the management team, customers, investors, or any other kind, usually have their own personal goals and interests in relation to the program you're working on. Being successful as a program manager typically requires the diplomatic ability to understand everyone's needs and goals and to manage their expectations regarding the program.
As with any other management role, a successful project manager has to achieve their goals by maximizing the use of the resources they have at their disposal. All resources involved in a program, like money, people, prime materials, equipment, and time, are finite and must be strategically managed at every step of the program completion process. This requires the ability to understand the different costs involved in any task related to the program and allocate resources accordingly while creating plans to mitigate any risk that may increase the need for resources.
Given the many individuals typically involved in a program, conflicts of various kinds are almost inevitable. As a program manager, you're likely to encounter situations in which strong-willed team members disagree on different aspects of their work, which can delay the program and require additional resources. Having conflict resolution skills as a program manager is basically the ability to assess the nature of a conflict and find a resolution that all parties involved in that conflict consider fair and balanced.
Program and project management tools and techniques
Finally, aside from all the soft skills listed above, a successful project manager must also possess specific knowledge regarding the instruments they have at their disposal for completing a program. Although some of these methods are specific to different domains, their purposes are usually similar. Some important aspects of the role that program managers must master through a variety of tools and techniques are:
- Identifying relevant program milestones and implementing them
- Mapping each task completion process, including the tasks and resources required to complete it and its deadline
- Planning and conducting meetings with everyone else involved in the program
- Implementing change management procedures
- Using specific metrics to control task execution quality
- Studying the root cause of various issues and challenges
- Collaborating with team members on new ideas regarding how to complete various aspects of the program
- Scheduling both their activity and that of every other staff member
Program managers can potentially improve their skills and techniques by earning specific certifications. Although the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification is mostly designed for project managers, it can also help program managers learn more about all the complexities associated with running one or multiple projects. Those who wish to pursue a certification program specifically created for program managers can choose the Program Management Professional (PMgP) certification instead.
Program managers play a vital strategic role within an organization, and although it's a very challenging job, you're likely to enjoy the end product of your work. Find professional experiences that help you work on the skills mentioned above and you can become a strong candidate for any program manager role.
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