Program managers and project managers work together to support the goals of their organizations, but these two roles differ in some crucial ways. The career outlook is bright for program and project managers, with an increased demand for these professionals in fields as varied as software development, IT, healthcare, and more.
If you’re interested in exploring program or project management opportunities, knowing the differences between these in-demand positions can help you choose the right path to success. In this blog, we’ll detail the differences and similarities of a program manager vs. project manager role, share some respective salary outlooks, the skills required, and how you can upskill through an online project management course.
What Is Program Management?
Organizations in industries of all kinds can initiate programs—groups of related projects to produce outcomes that further long-term strategic initiatives. Program management ensures that all projects within a program are running smoothly to meet the organization’s objectives. Effective program management includes planning and designing the program in consultation with organization decision-makers, monitoring progress, and ensuring that project managers and teams have the necessary resources to complete their assigned deliverables. Programs can be a permanent part of the organizational landscape or have a specific endpoint.
What Is Project Management?
In a program, projects operate within a limited scope and aim to provide a clearly defined deliverable in a specified time frame. Like programs, projects can be short- or long-term and coordinated with other projects within the same program. Project management ensures that project teams have the resources and support to produce the artifacts and other deliverables that contribute to the program’s objectives and the organization’s larger goals.
Program Manager vs. Project Manager: What’s the Difference?
Program managers and project managers work together to serve their organization’s larger strategic initiatives, and both need considerable industry knowledge and familiarity with general management practices. But the scope of their duties and responsibilities can vary considerably, depending on factors such as industry and organizational goals.
Program managers are responsible for coordinating and supporting multiple projects to serve a single organizational goal. They work with the company’s executives and other decision-makers to plan a project’s parameters and objectives and create a framework for providing needed resources to every project within the program. To do that, the program manager works with sectors and teams across the organization to create a budget and gather the resources and tools each project manager needs.
Program managers work closely with project managers to keep programs on track and resolve any issues that impede their progress. Although program managers don’t work directly on individual projects, they need knowledge to deliver appropriate support and resources.
Project managers handle the day-to-day running of individual projects. They work with program managers and other entities within the company to ensure their teams have the resources and guidance they need to complete the project’s tasks. Since projects have a clearly defined outcome and endpoint, project managers are responsible for ensuring that the team stays on track to complete the project within its stated time frame. Project managers work on one project at a time but can move from project to project within a program or to a different program requiring similar skills. Like program managers, they have industry knowledge and a skill set that supports both leadership and the ability to troubleshoot technical issues that arise.
Program Manager vs. Project Manager: Which Should You Choose?
Both program management and project management are rewarding and challenging careers that offer plenty of opportunities to leverage industry expertise and lead in supporting organizational goals. Choosing which path to pursue depends on factors such as your career goals and preferred working style.
Program managers work closely with senior management and other stakeholders to define ways to advance the company’s larger goals. They need to be comfortable managing several projects at once, including providing logistical support, developing relationships with project managers and teams, and resolving issues that prevent programs from meeting their deadlines and deliverables. A program manager’s role is typically stable and open-ended, even though the projects they manage can change frequently.
Project managers work on a single project at a time and are responsible for providing everything their team needs to reach the project’s stated goal. They work with program managers, other project teams, and other entities supporting the project. Although project managers can stay within an organization, their roles and responsibilities can shift as one project ends and a new one begins. That means project managers must be flexible and adaptable, ready to meet the challenges of any new projects they’re assigned.
What Qualifications Are Required to Become a Program Manager?
Program managers typically complete a Bachelor of Arts in fields such as marketing, business administration and communications or a technology-related field such as computer sciences. Because program managers take on a strategic role that requires advancing the company’s agenda, they may also need an MBA or other advanced degree in business or leadership. If you’ve earned a degree in a different field or are working in another capacity, such as project management, you can obtain a certification in program management from various online and in-person programs.
What Qualifications Are Required to Become a Project Manager?
Project managers typically require experience in their industry and a bachelor’s degree in a field such as business administration, information technology, or management. An advanced degree such as an MBA or a Master of Science in information technology management or computer sciences fields can help a project manager earn more and move up to roles such as program manager. If you have a degree in an unrelated field or are already taking on the responsibilities of a project manager, a certificate in project management can target the needed skills to succeed in the role.
Program Manager vs. Project Manager: What Skills Do They Need?
Program managers and project managers need many of the same skills and qualifications. Both positions require some industry experience or knowledge, especially for positions in technology or manufacturing fields, as well as general management and communication skills. But each role requires specific skill sets that reflect specific job responsibilities.
Because they work with a variety of stakeholders and senior-level management, program managers also need “soft” skills such as:
- Organizational and analytical skills
- Conflict resolution and negotiation
- “Big picture” thinking
- Collaboration and team building
Project managers must also be adept at organization, collaboration, and leadership. Their job is to provide the project team with the resources and support it needs to execute the project’s goal. To do that, they need skills such as:
- Scheduling and budgeting skills
- Knowledge of task tracking and collaboration tools
- Knowledge of common process management methodologies
- Team building skills
- Outstanding communication skills
Program Manager vs. Project Manager Salary and Job Growth
Both program and project managers are in high demand in fields as diverse as engineering, computing, and finance, with an estimated job growth averaging 8 percent through 2031. During that period, program managers can expect to make an average salary of $138,000 per year, or significantly more for those with specialized expertise and advanced degrees.
Project managers typically earn around $95,000 annually, with experienced individuals in certain industries earning as much as $150,000 annually. Project management often leads to higher-paying program management careers.
Program and Project Manager Certifications
Program and project manager certification programs provide training in the specific skills needed to succeed in these in-demand positions. Whether you’re just starting out or have been managing projects in your organization for a while, certification demonstrates a commitment to professional standards and a confirmation of expertise that can advance your career. Learn the essentials with our Project Management Bootcamp and get certified in six months.
What is the salary of project managers vs. program managers?
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, program managers earn an average of $138,000 annually, and project managers typically earn around $98,000.
What industries need project managers and program managers?
Program and project managers are in demand across virtually all industries. This includes finance, healthcare, manufacturing, and education, as well as technology-related fields such as IT, cloud computing, and software development.
What are the skills required to become project managers vs. program managers?
Project and program managers need excellent communication, organizational, and leadership skills. Project managers, who work with upper management and other stakeholders, also need outstanding negotiation, conflict resolution, and strategic thinking skills. Project managers need team management skills such as scheduling, budgeting, and task tracking.
What’s the difference between a program manager vs. project manager?
A program manager operates strategically to coordinate and oversee multiple projects that advance an organization’s major goals. A project manager is responsible for ensuring that a single project within a program is completed successfully.