What Is a Program Manager?

A program manager oversees the management of a specific program, generally in the credit card or information technology business. In the credit card or corporate card area, a program manager oversees the issuance and cancelation of cards, liaises with various departments, and monitors and reports on key performance metrics. In information technology, a program manager oversees groups of related projects that are managed by individual project managers.

Key Takeaways

  • A program manager is an individual that oversees the management of a specific program, most often in the credit card or information technology sectors.
  • In the credit card world, a program manager oversees the issuance and cancelation of cards, liaises with various departments, and monitors and reports on key performance metrics.
  • In information technology, a program manager oversees groups of related projects that are managed by individual project managers.
  • A program manager and a project manager differ slightly in the information technology sector. A program manager is judged on a cumulative basis for all the projects within their program; not just the cost and scope of a project as applied to a project manager.
  • The Project Management Institute offers a number of recognized certifications in the areas of program manager and project management, such as the Project Management Professional (PMP) credential.

Understanding a Program Manager

The program manager role is a leadership one that requires a combination of skills. The card program manager's diverse job functions include identification of business opportunities, vendor negotiations, risk mitigation to minimize credit losses, and compliance. It also involves establishing policies and procedures and cardholder support services.

In the information technology realm, there are some key distinctions between program management and project management. While a project manager's performance is based on the time, cost, and scope of a project, a program manager is judged on a cumulative basis for all the projects within their program.

Most often, a program manager is responsible for the outcome of a particular initiative as it applies to the entire company. As such, program managers oversee project managers and manage the overall strategy for a particular initiative. Initiatives can include the implementation of a new inventory system, the launch of a new product, and expansion achieved through the opening of new stores.

This requires the program manager to consider other factors apart from the near-term project deliverables that are the focus of the project manager, such as the long-term effectiveness of the program, its impact on corporate targets, etc.

Certifications

Project Management Institute, a not-for-profit professional membership association for project and program management, offers a number of recognized certifications in these areas. The Project Management Professional (PMP) credential is a globally recognized credential that demonstrates a program manager's competency to oversee multiple, related projects and allocate resources to achieve strategic business goals.

To be eligible for the PMP certification, one needs a four-year degree, 36 months of experience leading projects, and 35 hours of training; or one needs a high school diploma or two-year degree, 60 months of experience leading projects, and 35 hours of training.

Responsibilities of a Program Manager

According to the Project Management Institute, the following are the key responsibilities of a program manager:

  • Daily program management throughout the program lifecycle
  • Define the program governance
  • Plan the overall program and monitor the progress
  • Manage the program’s budget
  • Manage risks and issues and take corrective measurements
  • Coordinate the projects and their interdependencies
  • Manage and utilize resources across projects
  • Manage stakeholders’ communication
  • Align deliverables to the program’s outcome
  • Manage the main program documents

How to Become a Program Manager

The starting point to becoming a program manager is having a bachelor's degree in business administration, computer science, communications, or marketing. Depending on the industry you would like to join, further credentials, such as a master's program or certificates may need to be completed. Management and leadership courses are beneficial to becoming a program manager

The average salary for a program manager is $87,415. The salary ranges between $53,000 and $132,000, depending on the region, specific job, and industry. Regardless, being a program manager is a well-paying career. In addition to a base salary, a program manager job comes with bonuses and possible profit-sharing plans depending on the company one works at.