What Does a Program Manager Do? (With Definition and Roles)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published June 10, 2022

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.

Program managers serve as leaders in a business to develop meaningful initiatives and meet organizational goals. Their role is to increase the performance of an organization by coordinating activities, motivating team members, and providing clear instructions to project managers. Understanding the roles and responsibilities of a program manager can help you decide whether it's the right career path for you. In this article, we discuss what a program manager does, offer their average national salary, list the requirements to become one, provide their typical work environment, and include the steps to become one.

What does a program manager do?

Knowing the answer to “What does a program manager do?” can help you understand their role in managing a company's projects. These professionals oversee multiple projects by coordinating a team to benefit the success of a business. They develop project strategies, delegate tasks, and implement programs according to an organization's goals. Program managers monitor the schedule and budget of multiple individual projects. They typically work alongside project managers to ensure the organization reaches its long-term goals and completes projects according to set targets. While project managers oversee individual projects, program managers coordinate multiple related projects within a program.

The goal of a program manager is to improve a company's business performance while considering the organization's vision and mission. To maintain an organization's programs, it's important for these professionals to ensure the executive teams and board of directors set realistic goals and provide the recourses to achieve them. For these professionals, it's important to possess excellent communication, organization, and time management skills to perform their responsibilities. They coordinate with team members to ensure everyone receives an adequate role or task that meets their qualifications and preferences. Here are some other roles and duties of a program manager:

  • create and manage the budget of a program

  • define program controls, such as the procedure and reporting

  • monitor projects to ensure project managers meet targets

  • plan and monitor program execution

  • document program progress

  • identify potential problems or risks of a program

  • assign team members to projects according to available resources

  • manage interdependencies between projects

  • develop action plans

  • assist with the selection and appointment of new program team members

  • align deliverables with program goals

  • communicate and negotiate with stakeholders

  • work with project managers to assign tasks

  • develop strategies with the marketing team

  • answer questions from team members and project managers about programs

Related: Program Manager vs. Project Manager: What's the Difference?

Average salary of a program manager

The national average salary for a program manager is $71,554 per year. Wages can vary depending on their province, level of expertise, education, and employer. The three highest paying cities for a program manager position are Peterborough, Windsor, and Ottawa, all located in Ontario. Peterborough has the highest pay rate of $87,984 per year. These professionals can obtain higher salaries and better job positions according to their years of experience.

Related: How to Become a Human Resource Manager (With Salary Info)

Requirements to become a program manager

Here's a list of required education, qualifications, training, certifications, and skills to be a program manager:

Education

To become a program manager, many companies require at least a bachelor's degree, specifically in business administration, communications, computer science, or marketing. Some organizations may also require a master's degree with specifications in project management, finance, or business management. These education programs can allow you to specialize in a specific industry that may interest you, such as human resources, computer science, or information technology.

Related: 11 Jobs for MBA Graduates (With Duties and Job Search Tips)

Training

Many program managers start their careers as project managers because it's a natural progression to evolve from managing individual projects to overseeing multiple projects in a program. An organization's management can suggest training courses for aspiring program managers to develop their knowledge in the field. It's important to choose courses that reflect an industry that best suits your interests.

Certifications

Program managers can supplement their qualifications with relevant certifications, including:

  • Program Management Institute (PMI): PMI offers a professional certification for program managers called Program Management Professional (PgMP) certification. This certification acknowledges that candidates possess the technical skills to manage complex programs.

  • Project Management Association of Canada (PMAC): PMAC offers professional certification for program and project managers called Project Management Competence certification. This certification evaluates the knowledge and experience of these professionals in real situations.

Skills

Most companies prefer candidates with an extensive background in project management, but it's also common for program managers to just have a background in management. Project managers understand how to manage individual projects, which makes them better prepared to cope with the complexity of managing multiple concurrent projects. Here are some other skills that program managers require to complete their duties effectively:

  • leadership skills

  • knowledge of finance

  • organizational skills

  • interpersonal communication skills

  • strategic skills

  • conflict resolution skills

  • excellent computer literacy

  • ability to command respect

  • team-building skills

  • resource management skills

  • negotiation skills

  • cost control skills

  • technical writing skills

  • research skills

  • adaptability

  • listening skills

  • knowledge of policies

  • strategic planning skills

  • task management skills

Related: 10 Manager Responsibilities in a Functional Organization

Work environment for a program manager

The typical work environment of a program manager involves spending time in an office setting and visiting various project sites, stakeholders, and clients. Program managers usually work regular full-time hours from Monday to Friday, with occasional project site visits in the evenings or contingency planning on the weekends. Most program managers work in the business sector, but they can work in a variety of industries, including engineering, construction, health care, law, and technology.

The job is fast-paced, high-pressure, and involves change, as each program comprises multiple projects, disciplines, and team members. It's important for individuals who pursue this career to be able to cope well with stress and pressure.

Related: 11 Program Manager Interview Questions With Sample Answers

How to become a program manager

Becoming a program manager requires dedication and experience. Most program managers begin their careers as project managers to gain relevant skills. Here are steps you can follow if you're considering becoming a program manager for an organization:

1. Be consistent

It's important to showcase your relevant skills and qualifications to potential employers if you're working towards becoming a program manager in your current industry. You can demonstrate your dependability and highlight your leadership skills by consistently delivering projects within the expected scope, budget, and timeframe. You may consider other management positions to show your commitment to the job.

2. Upgrade your qualifications

It may be beneficial to upgrade your qualifications to increase your chance of receiving a promotion. Consider supplementing your qualifications with more education, such as a master's degree in business administration or project management. It's essential to gain program management experience before you can enroll for a Program Management Professional (PgMP) certification, but you can acquire a Project Management Professional (PMP) certification in the meantime.

3. Show your capabilities

The best way to receive a promotion to program manager is to show management that you possess the required skills for the job. By demonstrating your skills, you can acquire more responsibilities. If you can delegate tasks effectively, management can see that you know how to work with and manage teams.

4. Act as a program manager

If you're hoping to secure a program management position within your current industry, it may be easier to demonstrate your leadership abilities to employers in your workplace. If you're running large and complex projects with the help of junior project managers and project coordinators, treat the project as a program by structuring the work of your assistants as sub-projects. Show your program-focused ideas to other program managers to increase your chances of earning a position.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organizations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed. Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries‌ ‌may‌ ‌‌vary‌‌ ‌depending‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌hiring‌ ‌organization‌ ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌candidate's‌ ‌experience,‌ ‌academic‌ background‌, ‌and‌ ‌location.‌

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