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The Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Program Manager

The natural sequel to being a successful and efficient project manager is a promotion to the role of a program manager. While the two roles are often confused as the same in layman terms, it surely isn’t. The scope of responsibilities for a project manager and that of a program manager may overlap but the latter also extends wider and farther. While it is the obvious step up from project management, it is also a difficult one as opportunities tend to shrink down as you rise higher on the ladder of responsibilities. If you are at the point in your career where expertise and seniority play a huge role in bagging an even more prestigious designation, then you must be prepared with everything that is to know about how to become a program manager.

In this article, we will discuss in detail the extra responsibilities that a program manager has to shoulder, the qualities that are most desired when looking for someone for that role, and how you can give your best to the job once you bag it.

What is Program Management?

As mentioned earlier, a program manager’s responsibilities vary from that of a project manager who is responsible for managing individual projects. To understand the definition of the role of a program manager, we must unpack what ‘program’ means. After all, to know how to become a program manager, it is indispensable to have a clear knowledge of what a program is.

A program is generally focused on the coordination of multiple related projects at one point in time. It requires managing the delivery of project results, risk management, budget control to achieve maximum program success, sharing resources, and of course, managing the team in the sub-projects. Programs are seen as a more strategic, long-term, managerial approach to the growth and evolution of the concerned organisation.

How to Become a Program Manager

A project manager who has seen many projects to its successful end is one who is the most qualified for the role of a program manager. This is because he/she/they will be able to understand and fit into the additional roles of program management most seamlessly. You can always rely on an upgraded education to bag the role of a program manager with an esteemed organisation, but what you learn on the job will be your foundation for your sustained growth in the field. As a program manager, you will be expected to fulfil the following roles, duties, and responsibilities:

Take a Bird’s Eye View

It falls on the shoulder of the program manager to continuously zoom in and out to magnify into important details as well as look at the program in a broader context. A successful program manager should be able to achieve benefits and control what a project manager cannot from managing projects individually.

Have a Compelling Vision

You should have a clear and compelling vision to be able to drive your team/teams towards success. Your vision will also allow you to secure sustained support from your boss and the people above you in the hierarchy.

Be a Leader and a Mentor

You should be able to inspire free-flowing communication with your leadership skills and develop a strong organisation with your management skills. It is when you have a team that trusts you that you will be able to manage situations laden with risks. Remember that beyond being a program manager, you must also prove yourself to be a worthy mentor and a leader to your team.

Being an efficient and smart leader also means showing your leadership ability by pioneering new techniques and practices in your projects. Then, disseminate them broadly across the organization. This will go to show the indispensability of your leadership in the organization and what you can bring to the table in terms of efficiency as well as effectiveness.

Upgrade Your Education

A highly illustrious resume for program management roles should have both the work experience as well as a great education. If you want to know how to become a program manager, it is wise to start by acquiring a Project Management Professional (PMP®) Certification. You can also pursue a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) or Masters in Project Management (MPM) degree. Training courses in program management are also available and prove to be highly beneficial. If you are already a program manager, then consider getting the Program Management Professional (PgMP®) credential, specially designed for those with a lot of experience in the field.

Act Your Role

While this applies to promotions in general, it is particularly true in the case of experienced project managers. If you wish to become a program manager, then you should start keeping the company strategy in mind and adding program management roles in your projects. For example, let your junior project manager run sub-projects, just how a program manager would. This will bring the management of your organisation to take note of your contributions when promotions are in the cards. If you feel you aren’t being rewarded for your efforts in your present organisation, then you can promote yourself when trying for program management roles in other organisations.

Concentrate on Long-Term Goals

Your career as a project manager and the successes you have brought to the organisation is telling of your ability to become a program manager. Given the magnitude of the responsibility, companies seek only the best from the lot for the program management role. If you are someone who has recently started their career in project management, it is imperative to have your eyes on the goal and deliver accordingly if you wish to assume the role of a program manager. Since program managers look at things on a much larger and wider aspect, it is not possible to channel your time into details. This means you should be good at delegating and getting your team to do the job of micro-managing sub-projects so that you can concentrate on the success of a program on a strategic level.


If you are an experienced project manager ready to take the next step and wondering how to become a program manager, then you should be mentally prepared for the shift in responsibilities that will come your way. And this shift also extends to the way you delegate your team, manage your time across sub-projects, plan strategically, steer meetings for the senior stakeholders, review issues and deal with the team within time, and turn short-term pitfalls into long-term lessons. In the project management role, you will need to be both a leader as well as a manager, championing doing the right things as well as doing things right.