Program Manager vs Project Manager - Comparison of Roles and Careers

By Imran Syed

Last updated on Mar 18 2022

Program Manager vs Project Manager - Comparison of Roles and Careers

Program Manager vs Project Manager: Know the Difference and How to Become Either one


The concept of program management and project management is used very often. Both program and project management are different concepts, and each idea carries weight on its own. However, in real-world situations role of project manager vs program manager is used interchangeably. It has created confusion in everyone's mind. However, it is important not to approach this in the lieu of, a product manager or project manager which is better. It is better to approach this with a want of better understanding for both terms. This article will help you understand the difference between project manager and program manager.

Let us look at both concepts to understand the intricacies of the Program Manager vs Project Manager debate.


Understanding the role of the Project Manager


The role of a project manager is often limited to small-scale or short-term projects. These projects often contribute to long-term organizational goals. It is always concise and carries a specific start and end date. In most cases, the projects are also completed within the defined timelines without any deviations.


Given below are a few critical roles of a project manager –

The general duties of the project manager do not change. Some key responsibilities of the project manager are given below.


Develop the project plan

Every project needs to have a definite project plan. A project manager must have a clear insight into the project scope. It is also recommended to identify various stakeholders who can contribute to project success. To achieve the desired outcome, it is mandatory to analyze project concepts, timelines, team readiness and identify key resources who can work on your project.


Creating and leading team from the front

As a project manager, it is your primary responsibility to lead the team. Make sure the unit is aware of project deliverables along with timelines. Gain their confidence. Invest time and energy in mentoring your team member, imparting training and awareness, and healthy working relationships between every team member. It will eventually drive project success.


Keeping a close tab on challenges

A project manager is always tied against timelines. Also indeed, project managers are often misunderstood for being bossy. However, the best project manager in the industry needs to break this phenomenon. Make sure that you are constantly monitoring your project progress. If you foresee any delays in project completion, it is best to communicate the same to other stakeholders. It will also keep your leadership team informed about delays and doesn't come as a last-minute surprise.


Take time to solve any creeping issues.

Challenges and issues are inevitable. There can be many challenges or showstoppers coming your way. However, as a project manager, you need to keep track of these challenging situations and gear up to solve these issues. Also, a project manager has to be flexible in mind to make changes in project timelines, if any. It will allow for an effective project management solution.


Budget management

Budget plays a fundamental role in achieving project success. Budget allocation happens during stage one of every project. A project manager must ensure that the project does not deviate from the budget cycle at any point. A good project manager needs to ensure effective budget utilization and provide savings back to the organization through optimization.


Keep stakeholders engaged

Other than your project team, there are multiple stakeholders involved in a project to take it to completion. It may include procurement, legal, human resources, and other external agencies. Keeping these stakeholders informed and satisfied with project progress at every stage is essential. A grumpy or non-cooperative stakeholder can pull down the entire project effort.


Take time to evaluate project success and areas of improvement.

It is an important step and the last part of a project plan. It is essential to close the project as per timelines and enjoy its success. But what is more critical is to evaluate how the task is performed. What were the success factor and areas of improvement? This evaluation will help you to take corrective actions in the upcoming projects. It is a step in increasing your project knowledge and capabilities as a project manager.


What are the skills required for a project manager?

  • To be an effective project manager, you need to have certain specific traits. Let us understand the key skills required to become a successful project manager.
  • Accountability
  • Delegation
  • Ability to communicate clearly
  • Forecasting any challenges and deviations
  • Budget management
  • Problem-solving and strategic thinking
  • Teaching, mentoring, and delegation of project activities

Become a project manager through certification

Experience and traits help in becoming a successful project manager. But another key step here will be to undertake a professional certification. A project management professional certification can open new areas of employment opportunities. It is estimated that there will be approximately 2.5 million project managers globally. Project management is an aspiring career choice for problem-solving and strategic thinking professionals.

Now that we have understood project management let us take a deep dive into the roles of the program manager. Understanding the fundamental difference between project and program managers is also essential.


What is a program manager?

A program manager is responsible for tracking and monitoring multiple projects running simultaneously. It is the fundamental difference between project and program managers. A project manager is not responsible for directly providing oversight on each project. In turn, these program managers act as a bridge between the project manager and the organization’s leadership team.

Key responsibilities of a program manager

  • A good program manager is expected to carry the following skillsets – 
  • Develop programs and activities duly mapped to organization goals
  • Identify and develop new programs enabling to achieve organizational strategy and mission
  • Create SMART and long term goals that are relevant and sustainable
  • Identify cost-effective solutions and manage allocated budgets through optimization and rationalization
  • Ensure there is an effective key performance evaluation strategy in place to monitor and review project progress
  • Develop business proposals and action plans to ensure continuous service delivery
  • Undertake resource planning by identifying key resources within the team and effective utilization of talent and work pool
  • Working to ensure that there is no compromise on project quality, customer satisfaction, project safety, etc.
  • Undertaking effective communication with all relevant stakeholders, including leadership group
  • Timely reporting of project progress, including key risks and challenges

Listed below are three skills expected from every program manager 


Leadership skills

It is the fundamental skill required by any program management professional. Success and failure are determined by the quality of leadership skills that you build. A good leader is not about being bossy and getting the work accomplished. Instead, a good leader should be patient, understand the project team, take feedback, and solve any problem deviating from project success. A quality leader should be ready to take risks and not act impulsively.


Organizing skills

A program manager is expected to interact with multiple stakeholders in a go. Also, there will be many other activities that you need to handle. Organizing is a vital skill to ensure that you have your hands on every project activity. It is a critical skill that can come in handy while working under stress. Not always, you might get the leverage of completing projects as per agreed timelines. Specific projects may advance depending on other circumstances. In such cases, practical organization skills can help you gain complete control over projects and not miss any important task at hand.


Communication skills

Unlike a project manager, a program manager is expected to keep communication channels open with many stakeholders. It is important to possess strong verbal and oral communication skills. Every leader expects their program manager to communicate concisely and crisply. Communication and networking skills also come in handy when you identify any project challenge. As a program manager, you are expected to have complete control over multiple projects assigned to you. Any deviation, risks, and challenges identified in your project need effective communication until your chain of command.


How to become a better program manager?

Every program manager needs to upgrade themself continuously. It is important to understand changing market trends. Leveraging these trends into your organization can benefit the project and the organization.

Invest in good software that allows you to manage multiple projects better. These project management tools enable easy tracking, developing metrics, updating data in real-time. It will also allow room to identify and communicate any project delays that will impact the organization at large.


What is the dissimilarity between project and program manager?

Program manager versus project manager has different roles to play. Simultaneously, a Project manager is responsible only for one single project. The Program Manager vs Project Manager question is raised again at this juncture. On the other hand, a program manager is responsible for multiple projects under his domain. Program managers are mostly aligned to developing a strategy for project success. Project managers, on the other hand, take these projects to closure.

Program vs project manager

A program manager is responsible for providing oversight on multiple projects at hand. Program managers develop the strategy for completing a task and works as a bridge between project managers and the leadership team. This gives us a better perspective to look at Program Manager vs Project Manager from.

A program manager's responsibility is to ensure that every project under his radar is aligned to overall organization goals. In a nutshell, the following is the key activity of a good program manager.

  • Work with project managers to develop project scope, strategy for execution, and budget analysis.
  • Establish continuous connections with the leadership team to provide updates and bring new strategies to the table, if any 
  • Enable communication between multiple stakeholders within the organization

On the other hand, project managers drive individual projects to closure. The PM is accountable to ensure that every project under his radar is completed as per scheduled timelines within the allocated budget.

Key activities of project managers include

  • Assembling a project team including resource planning
  • Acquire appropriate budget for project execution
  • Maintain a professional relationship with project team members, leading by example

Their work structure can break down the difference between project and program managers. Let us look at three essential aspects that make them different.

Program managers oversee projects. On the other hand, project managers are responsible for managing individual projects assigned to them.

Program managers are occupied with developing strategies or driving managerial aspects of a project. It also leverages them to gain better salaries and perks than project managers.

Projects always have a definite start and end date. However, the same is not the case with the program. The difference between project and program is that program managers have a continuous role in the organization.

Program manager vs project manager – Salary

Program vs project managers has different roles to play. Considering the roles and responsibilities, both these professionals have other pay structures.

Program managers are often assigned multiple b responsibilities. They are always busy and have one project or another to monitor. It has also worked to gain a better salary package in the market. Many companies often provide program managers with better salary packages and other perks.  The Program Manager vs Project Manager question is generally answered with regards to the salary. But it is important to remember that being a quality professional who is skilled in either is likely to get higher pay compared to a mediocre professional in either.

On the other hand, project managers have only one project under their radar. Hence the salary is also a little less compared to program managers. With the advancement in technology and freelancing on the trend, companies also assign project managers on a hiring basis. This way, companies can focus their more significant time and energy on other critical aspects.


Program Manager vs Project Manager: Career growth

Program vs project manager is a high selling job in the current market. As per studies, there shall be a 10% increase in project managers in the next five years. In addition to office-based jobs, freelance projects and program managers will become trendsetters. The program manager vs project manager salary debate is, therefore, an ambiguous one. Both have scope for growth. It matters more as to what the professional is best suited for.


Product manager or project manager, which is better?

While both professionals have different roles and responsibilities, let us understand what makes it better.

Product managers have a more significant role in the organization. These professionals consistently work closely with the management team and make strategic decisions for the project.

On the other hand, a project manager executes assigned projects. The professional also wears the hat of pooling resources, proper budgeting, and developing effective communication between team members. With experience and skills, a project manager can also take on roles and responsibilities as a product or program manager.


Program Manager vs Project Manager: certification programs

Project management professional (PMP): This is a standard certification undertaken by most project managers in the industry. A project management institute offers it. The course carries in-depth details about managing projects from start to end. It also enables project managers to understand project life cycle, risk management, strategy and planning, and closure.


Certified associate in project management (CAPM): This course is designed for project managers who want to enter the project management industry. It is an entry-level course and easy as compared to PMP. This course is also run under the realm of PMI.


Certified Scrum Master: Certified scrum master or professional scrum master is another certification worth your money and time. Scrum master jobs are always in demand, and with advancements, in technology, this job is here to stay.


Program Management Professional (PgMP): This course also falls under the umbrella of PMI organization. It is challenging and extensive as compared to the project management course. Hence, it is important to submit applications only if you are 100% ready. You might need to invest reasonable time and energy in gaining your certification.


Frequently asked questions on project and program management


The program manager or project manager – who is senior?

The program manager provides oversight to multiple projects. Hence it is understood that the program manager holds a senior position compared to that of a project manager.

Does both these professional work together?

Yes, both the program manager and project manager need to work on the go. The project manager needs assistance from the program manager to understand the project plan budget, acquire project resources, and identify project stakeholders.

What are other teams that project managers interact with?

A project manager usually works with key stakeholders within the organization. It may include information technology, procurement, and marketing teams and will vary depending on the size and scale of the project and organization.



The Program Manager vs Project Manager debate was opened in this article to get a better understanding of both arenas of management. This article enables you to respond to the query “what is the difference between project and program?”.

The debate of program manager vs project manager was not opened with the intent of categorizing one as being better than them either. Being a quality professional in either would serve a better prospect of employment. Instead of going Program Manager vs Project Manager, which is better so as to choose one, it would serve one well to identify which they would be better suited for. Getting certified by a governing body like PMI would offer the best chance at proving competency of skill levels required of the profession.

Sprintzeal, one of the leading training providers for professionals looking to get certified, offers certifications in this regard which might be beneficial. Start your journey into corporate management today!


Courses to get you started-

PMP Certification Training Course

PRINCE2® 6th Edition Foundation Certification Training Course


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About the Author

Sprintzeal   Imran Syed

Having 15+ years of experience in facilitating professional training for clients - Onsite and Public, Imran Syed’s expertise include both creating content and conducting training for professionals aspiring to get certification in their respective fields. His works are focused on popular certifications like Six Sigma Green Belt, Six Sigma Black Belt, CAPM, PMP, PRINCE2 and more.

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