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

19th Feb, 2024
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    Program Manager vs Project Manager: What's the Difference?

    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. You can enroll in one of our Project Management courses, like Project Manager PMP certification training, at KnowledgeHut.

    Who is the Program Manager?  

    A program manager is an expert who handles all the strategic planning and takes the initiative to bring positive changes. They oversee various projects under a program and align them to ensure successful deliveries. The responsibilities of a program manager include: 

    • Designing a program and monitoring it closely until the projects under it get delivered. 
    • Arranging the hiring of experts in the teams handling the projects. 
    • Keeping a close eye on the project budget and ensuring that the teams deliver quality at the best price. 

    The roles and responsibilities of a program manager are not limited to this. They also manage third-party collaborations and communicate things to and from the stakeholders.  

    Who is a Project Manager?  

    A project manager is a professional who plans and executes projects keeping the budget and time constraints in mind. Whether you are launching a new product or running a marketing campaign, a project manager is the person who ensures everything happens smoothly. The responsibilities of a project manager are: 

    • Defining the scope of a project based on the user requirements or targets to be achieved. 
    • Planning the total budget for a project and ensuring the teams stick to it religiously. 
    • Communicating with the stakeholders. 
    • Leading the quality assurance as no substandard product would help bring a good reputation. 

    Apart from this, the project manager assesses the risks well in advance and makes a troubleshooting plan to eliminate the fallout. Furthermore, they also work towards managing the project resources well.  

    Program Manager vs Project Manager: Key Differences (Comparison Table)

    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 is 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. 

    ParametersProject Manager

    Program Manager

    DefinitionThe 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 focusContext Content
    TasksStrategic in nature

    Technical in nature

    Term periodLong termShort period
    PurposeTo facilitate project delivery

    To support long term growth.

    Key RoleEnsuring timely project delivery

    To deliver all the company goals

    MetricsROI for the single project they are working on.

    ROI for the entire program and every project under it.

    ExecutionFrame agendas for meetings and schedule them. Implement processes that make way for improvement.

    Developing strategies to bring about positive changes in the work environment.

    AccountabilityMake valuable contributions to project planning and create first drafts of important documents.

    Curate the project schedule and generate documents and analysis reports.

    AlignmentContribute to the change management practices.

    Build a stronger relationship with the stakeholders and executives and communicate the proceedings to them.

    Program Manager vs Project Manager: Detailed Differences 

    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, and 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 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 ManagersResponsibilities Of Project Managers
    Focus on long-term goals of the organizationFocus on short-term goals of the organization
    Create strategies to help with the success of multiple projectsCreate strategies to help with optimizing the team and running a project smoothly
    Have a direct say on the monetary decisions of programsHave 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.

    1. DashboardsDashboards 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.
    2. TemplatesTemplatizing 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.
    3. CollaborationEvery 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.

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    Program Manager vs Project Manager: Requirements  

    A program manager should have at least five years of experience working in top management. Furthermore, these professionals should be good at leadership, time management, and other skills like critical thinking and resource management.  

    A project manager should have experience in developing web technologies. Furthermore, they should be excellent at time management in order to meet challenging deadlines.  

    Program Manager vs Project Manager: Skills

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

    Skills of a Program Manager:

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

    • Resource Management: 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.
    • Analytical Skills: 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.
    • Tools And Techniques: Program managers need to know their way around the most appropriate tools and techniques to support the program over its entire life cycle, including.
    • Negotiation: 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.
    • Goal Mapping: Program managers must be able to break down the goals and mark achievement of milestones that can track the progress of work.
    • Process Planning: 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. 

    • Leadership 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: 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.  
    • Organizational Skills: 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, and coordinate with the team members and program managers. 

    Skills of a Program ManagerSkills of a Project Manager
    Resource ManagementLeadership Skills
    Work with various tools and techniquesCommunication Skills
    NegotiationRisk Management and Planning Skills
    Goal MappingOrganizational Skills
    Process Planning and Analytical Skills

    Program Manager vs Project Manager: How to Become   

    To become a program manager, one has to earn a degree in business and management-related domains. Moving on, they have to start as project managers to get hands-on industry knowledge. Once you are proficient at handling individual projects, you are ready to start your career as a program manager.  

    To become a project manager, you can start by completing a bachelor’s degree in business management. It is better to choose a specialization to begin exploring the career options in that particular field. You may have to start as a Jr. project manager. However, once you complete a renowned certification or gain relevant experience, you get appointed as a senior project manager. 

    Program Manager vs Project Manager: Jobs   

    Every organization requires someone to handle the projects well and ensure efficient deliveries. That is why the demand for an excellent project manager is high. As per a report by PMI, around 2.3 million people are still required to fill the project manager positions.  

    The program manager position is not as high in demand as the project manager. However, the demand for program managers is higher than in many other professional job roles.   

    Program Manager vs Project Manager: Certifications   

    Certifications are a medium to achieve professional success and get more efficient at work. Every professional who wants to excel and grab better opportunities to ladder up opts for certification programs. Moreover, even organizations hire professionals who have done these certifications as they are more efficient.  

    List of certifications for the project managers  

    • PgMP Certification Training Course 
    • E-Counsel Certified Project Management 
    • IAPM Certified Project Manager (CPM) 
    • Master Project Manager (MPM) 

    List of certifications for the program managers 

    As a program manager must start by working as a project manager, all the certifications listed above are relevant to them. Additionally, they can go for Program Management Professionals certifications to learn to manage multiple projects simultaneously. 

    Program Manager vs Project Manager: Job Outlook and Salary

    The average salary of a program manager is a promising amount and higher than many IT professionals. The table below gives the average salary value of the program managers in different countries where their demand is high.   


    Similar to program managers, the career options for project managers are also promising. You can expect to get excellent salaries and enjoy a promising career. The table below shows the average salary of project managers in different countries.  


    How are they Similar?  

    The project manager and program managers are similar as they have the common role of managing the projects! In fact, project managers become program managers after gaining relevant experience. Moreover, the program managers can also work as project managers if they only oversee an individual project. So, the difference in their job roles is all because of the number of projects they are handling at a certain point. Based on that, their duties and roles change.   

    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 weekend Project Management courses.

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    Kevin D.Davis

    Blog Author

    Kevin D. Davis is a seasoned and results-driven Program/Project Management Professional with a Master's Certificate in Advanced Project Management. With expertise in leading multi-million dollar projects, strategic planning, and sales operations, Kevin excels in maximizing solutions and building business cases. He possesses a deep understanding of methodologies such as PMBOK, Lean Six Sigma, and TQM to achieve business/technology alignment. With over 100 instructional training sessions and extensive experience as a PMP Exam Prep Instructor at KnowledgeHut, Kevin has a proven track record in project management training and consulting. His expertise has helped in driving successful project outcomes and fostering organizational growth.

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