Home Tech The Program Manager vs. The Project Manager

The Program Manager vs. The Project Manager


When the names- ‘Program Manager’ and ‘Project Manager’ sound so similar, you would assume their roles would be similar as well. Right?  

The truth is, while these roles share similar responsibilities, they are quite different. If you are considering these roles for your career or if you’re simply curious to understand how these verticals work hand in hand, it is important to know how they are related.

Program Manager vs. Project Manager: Key Differences

In a movie set, the director is the person who calls out “Action” and ensures the storyline is captured through perfect shots to make the movie look good overall, but the film crew are the ones who carry out the remaining tasks like lighting, camera work and editing. Similarly, the project manager looks at the company plan from a big-picture perspective and plans how to implement the overall vision. On the other hand, the project manager takes on issues and focuses on executing specific activities that move the project forward. Finally, the coordinated efforts of the project manager and the project manager come together to create a successful project. 

This table will help you to get a quick view of the key differences between the roles. 

Basis For Comparison Program Manager Project Manager
Definition The Program manager works on a collection of projects (called a program) and is required to strategically align all the projects that fall under this program with the company goals and vision. They are responsible for the success of all related initiatives within this program. The Project Manager has a limited focus and works on one project which might have limited deliverables.
Primary focus Context Content
Tasks Strategic in nature Technical in nature
Term Period Long Term Short Term

Program Manager vs. Project Manager: Roles and Responsibilities

The success of a project depends on the skills of competent project and program managers. Through cooperation and collaboration, both types of managers support the organizational goals. 

Responsibilities of Project Managers

Project managers begin with creating a “road map” or a “blueprint” of a project. They direct specific sections or projects in a program. This blueprint will include all the details of the project including the team members involved, and the timeline by when the project needs to be closed, among other details. A well-organized blueprint coordinates the various skill sets of the team so they can multitask efficiently. 

Project Managers ensure to provide the right resources needed to finish the tasks and make sure the team sticks to the set program guidelines. They also look into and track schedules, risks, budgets, use of resources and help resolve any hurdles the teams face to avoid delays. 

Organized project managers deliver high-quality, cost-effective products that help in the growth of the organization.

Responsibilities Of Program Managers

Program managers are the people who measure and define how their program objectives will help their organization. After defining the goals and outlining the vision, they come up with strategies to aid the success of the projects that fall within this program. This will include identifying and overseeing the work of the project managers and ensuring the necessary steps are being followed. 

A major responsibility of a program manager is to envision the requirements and the support required for the long-term growth of the business. They create blueprints and plans that define the budgets, schedules, tentative dependencies and possible roadblocks. But, instead of creating a blueprint on a project level, they create it on the organizational level taking into account the multiple projects that, together, comprise the program. Even though program managers don’t oversee each project, they are responsible for its success as well as for building the company’s brand.

Responsibilities Of Program Managers Responsibilities Of Project Managers
Focus on long-term goals of the organization Focus on short-term goals of the organization
Create strategies to help with the success of multiple projects Create strategies to help with optimizing the team and running a project smoothly
Have a direct say on the monetary decisions of programs Have a limited say in the monetary performance and the organization’s balance sheet

Despite having varied daily responsibilities, both managers need to work hand-in-hand and collaborate closely in order to be efficient. Listed below are some tools for both managers to benefit from using similar techniques.

Dashboards are crucial to understanding the status and the progression of the project. They provide an overview of the entire project and its details at a glance, as well as help with accountability.

Templatizing work could minimize the time to do the initial tasks by a great deal. As many projects have similar requirements, reinventing the cycle every single time is a counter-productive activity that can be done away with. By building on the template that was previously used, teams can adopt the successes from the previous projects.

Every project will involve multiple assets, spreadsheets, emails and communication. Keeping track of all these things could get daunting. It will be helpful for the team as well as the program and project managers if communication is maintained in a single, easily accessible thread.

Program Manager vs. Project Manager Skills

Both program managers and project managers require certain key skills to excel in their role.

Skills Of a Program Manager:

To lead large-scale initiatives and achieve business success, program managers need to have certain skills.

To optimize resource allocation across several projects that may be running in parallel, program managers need to have exceptional skills in identifying and allocating resources. They should have backup plans in place for every contingency and should also be able to plan for mitigating possible risks if any should arise.

Huge amounts of data are created over the lifecycle of a program. A program manager should know how to collate this data and analyze it to make informed financial, statistical and operational decisions.

Program managers need to know their way around the most appropriate tools and techniques to support the program over its entire life cycle, including.

It is crucial for a program manager to have good negotiation skills and the ability to make the stakeholders see the value of their vision. They need to be able to sell their ideas and get the program up and running.

Program managers must be able to break down the goals and mark achievement of milestones that can track the progress of work.

A program manager needs to spell out the flow required and define the processes to close the program or the project successfully.

Skills Of a Project Manager:

To be a successful project manager and have a smooth-functioning team, project managers need to have these skills. 

A project manager is, first and foremost, a good leader who must be able to put project plans into action. This skill will allow a project manager to analyze the team and understand their strengths and weaknesses, so they can be assigned tasks accordingly. A good leader motivates and inspires the team to perform better than their best.  

Communication skills are key to building a collaborative team where everyone is on the same page and supports each other toward achieving common goals. This will create a safe environment to address problems and keep the project progress on track. 

  • Risk Management and Planning Skills 

Risk management and contingency planning are necessary to keep projects moving ahead, despite having challenges and hurdles. This will help project managers avoid last-minute scrambles and potential problems that can derail the project.  

Without multi-layered planning, project managers cannot have a successful project. Projects demand detailed planning, and it is crucial for managers to be extremely organized. They need to plan timelines, track progress, allocate budgets, document metrics, coordinate with the team members, and program managers. 

Skills of a Program Manager Skills of a Project Manager
Resource Management Leadership Skills
Work with various tools and techniques Communication Skills
Negotiation Risk Management and Planning Skills
Goal Mapping Organizational Skills
Process Planning and Analytical Skills

Program Manager vs. Project Manager Job Outlook and Salary

Program Manager vs. Project Manager Job Outlook and Salary

Project Managers and Program managers typically earn anything between $50,000 to $100,000. The higher end of the range, of course, comes to those managers with additional qualifications and certifications.

What Role Is Right for Your Team?

Although the project management and program management domains differ significantly, both roles are essential to providing a seamless experience for customers.  

Regardless of what type of project or program you are executing, the end goal should be to successfully deliver the products and services within time, within budget and to the highest quality possible. With the right knowledge, tools and strategies, this is achievable.   

If you’re looking to start a career as a project or program manager, you must consider where your skills lie, and adopt the right planning strategies to steer your teams to success. To accelerate your career in either of these fields, check out our courses here.