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How to Become a Program Manager

As a program manager, your responsibilities will include organizing interconnected projects, coordinating different objectives for all projects, leading other staff members, controlling deadlines, controlling and managing budgets for the different activities, addressing risks/problems that may come along, developing new programs, and helping to prepare the program reports for the program directors. 

To be a program manager, most employers require someone who has a bachelor’s degree in management or some other related field. It’s strongly encouraged that you have a PMP certification, as well as prior experience as either a program manager or manager in a similar industry. To be a successful program manager, you must have strong leadership skills because the majority of your time will be spent managing a team of people and helping scope out strategies.

Sample job description

A program manager oversees and coordinates all projects being developed in a company, making sure each project stays on schedule and stays aligned with company objectives. The main focus of a program manager’s work is to increase efficiency, develop longer term goals, and develop budgets for the company’s various programs and projects. Ultimately, the program manager is in charge of ensuring that projects will help the company meet longer term strategic goals. [Your Company Name] is hiring a highly-strategic program manager with at least five years of experience. Considered candidates will have excellent communication and leadership skills, as well as conflict resolution and organization skills.

Typical duties and responsibilities

  • Formulate, organize and monitor interconnected projects
  • Coordinate objectives across all projects
  • Lead and evaluate project managers and other staff
  • Develop and control deadlines, budgets and activities
  • Apply change, risk and resource management
  • Assume responsibility for the program’s people and vendors
  • Assess program performance and aim to maximize ROI
  • Resolve projects’ higher scope issues
  • Prepare reports for program directors

Education and experience

A bachelor’s degree in management or a related field is required for this position.

Project Management Professional (PMP) certification is strongly preferred.

Required skills and qualifications

  • Thorough understanding of project/program management techniques and methods
  • Excellent knowledge of performance evaluation and change management principles
  • Outstanding leadership and organizational skills
  • Strong knowledge of Microsoft Office Suite
  • Excellent problem-solving skills
  • Excellent interpersonal skills

Preferred qualifications

  • Excellent written, presentation, and verbal communication skills
  • Develops appropriate communication strategy based on both the needs of the program and stakeholders
  • Proven ability to proactively collaborate and build relationships, take initiative, and creatively problem-solve
  • Ability to balance multiple priorities simultaneously and adapt to the changing needs of the business while meeting deadlines
  • Ability to work weekends and/or off-hours as necessary to meet client’s needs

Typical work environment

Program managers work in almost all industries, and the work environment will depend on the industry. The majority of program managers work in the business sector, spending their time indoors in an office setting. Program managers in construction will regularly visit construction sites to make sure the work is being done efficiently and that everything is going according to schedule. Program managers work full time, but may have to work evenings and weekends to meet tight deadlines. 

Typical hours

The typical work hours in an office setting for a program manager are usually from 9 AM to 5 PM. However, some IT program managers might have to work more than 40 hours per week to create solutions for specific issues when they arise.

Available certifications

Program managers are typically senior-level employees with at least a bachelor’s degree in addition to several years of experience managing projects in their specified field. Earning a certification can help you make the leap from project manager to program manager and give you an edge over competition. 

  • Program Management Professional (PgMP). This certification requires candidates to have a proven track-record in both project management and program management before applying to take the exam. The test is 170 questions long. Once certified, you’ll need to complete 60 professional development units every three years to keep up your certification. Although the exam is tough, this certification gives you extra credibility that will help you advance your career. 
  • Certified Lean Six Sigma Green Belt™ (ICGB™). This certification offered by the IASSC is recognized internationally and proves your knowledge of advanced Lean Six Sigma Methodology to coordinate teams and improve performance. The three-hour exam is 100 questions long and requires a score of 70% or higher to pass.

Career path

Program managers don’t always start from a technical or IT background. In fact, companies say they’ve hired program managers with degrees unrelated to the technology world, such as english or history. The key for most program managers is an understanding of the life cycle of a major project, experience as a project manager handling complex projects, leadership skills, management training, and knowledge of different project management techniques.

Many industry leaders say a program manager must have business acumen and a complete sense of the organization’s goals. Program managers often work with stakeholders from many disciplines, both technical and non-technical, so an ability to work with people from different backgrounds is also essential.

Program managers often begin as project managers, where they learn skills like resource management, planning the work of a project, and keeping a team motivated. Companies also find it helpful for program managers to have their Project Management Professional (PMP) certification, which gives them a knowledge of multiple project management methods.

US, Bureau of Labor Statistics’ job outlook

SOC Code: 15-1299

2020 Employment442,200
Projected Employment in 2030479,700
Projected 2020-2030 Percentage Shift 8% increase
Projected 2020-2030 Numeric Shift37,500 increase

According to the industry website The Digital Project Manager, program managers should stay on top of the evolution of automation and artificial intelligence (AI) in the years to come. Many companies are looking at automating various IT processes, especially when it comes to storing data.

Industry insiders also stress that becoming even more flexible as a program manager will continue to be of paramount importance in the coming years. Technology has always been ever-changing, but currently it’s changing even more quickly. Companies are working to be more flexible and nimble when it comes to adopting new technologies.

Change management is another trend program managers will see in the coming years. Whether it’s getting larger, becoming more automated, getting leaner, or adopting more cloud-based solutions, industry thought leaders say IT program managers will need to become proactive about managing change within their organizations. Program managers will need to look for processes that can be improved and visualize how to streamline those processes.