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What Are Program Management Skills?

Blog: Good eLearning

Program managers play a vital role in helping businesses achieve strategic goals. They are responsible for visualizing, planning, implementing, and managing organizational change, and will ultimately take responsibility for the program’s success – or lack thereof!

It is certainly a high-level role and one that covers a wide range of responsibilities. As well as defining a program’s ultimate goals, they must also establish short-term project targets, key deliverables, performance metrics, and so on. They must also work according to a strategic perspective, analyzing lower-level progress as part of a single, overarching plan. Communication is also crucial, not only with project teams but also stakeholders and executives.

Needless to say, program managers must have a variety of skills to perform their roles effectively. Luckily, with a clear understanding of what the job requires, it can be simple to find ways to build experience and qualify for program management roles. 

In this article, we explore what it takes to become a program manager and how you can get started today!

What is a program manager?

A common mistake many people make is assuming that program management is just project management on a grander scale. While this is true to a certain extent, it is important to realize just how expansive a program manager’s skill set needs to be.

For one, a program manager is responsible for an entire campaign, not just individual projects. This requires an understanding of business and organizational leadership, as well as familiarity with market conditions and other relevant developments.

They also play several roles over the course of a program. These include mediator, negotiator, and, most importantly, leader. They will also be responsible for managing and sustaining the program environment itself, encouraging a healthy working atmosphere to drive collaboration and boost morale.

Naturally, an understanding of the organization itself is paramount. They must be familiar with the capabilities of the business and the priorities of its stakeholders. Crucially, they must also be capable of adapting when necessary, responding to changing environmental factors, client requirements, and other triggers to ensure programs can be completed or closed as optimally as possible.

In short, a program manager wears many hats! A lot of skills are required to make sure programs achieve strategic deliverables and optimized ROIs. Indeed, an experienced and qualified program manager will find no shortage of opportunities, especially with the sheer number of transferable skills they have to offer.

So, how does a candidate get to this point? How can you gain the necessary knowledge, experience, and skills to succeed as a program manager?

What skills does a program manager need?

Leadership – Leadership in program management is about a lot more than just giving orders. Program managers must help project team members understand the purpose and value of their roles while also encouraging morale-boosting workplace culture. Most importantly, they must also demonstrate confidence in the objectives, direction, and performance of a program. A manager must cover all the bases and can’t be afraid to ask questions to get things done. Of course, all great program managers are also happy to take constructive feedback on board.

Communication – Communication is essential for program managers, not just regarding stakeholders and executives but also team leaders, staff, and even customers and suppliers. A program manager should be proficient with presenting ideas and progress to different audiences, as well as communication methods such as digital messaging, virtual meetings, and so on. This helps drive clarity and collaboration over the course of a program. 

Technology management – IT and digital technology have become integral to strategic change in business. A program manager should have a clear idea of what technology will be required to achieve success in their program. This could require digital or IT transformation, hiring outside service providers, or other means, depending on the situation. A program manager should know how technology enhances organization, communication, data analysis, feedback generation, and other key functions.

Resource management – Successful programs optimize resource allocation and usage, not only to give teams what they need but also to help maximize program ROIs. A program manager should be familiar with the resources required for a specific program, such as equipment, services, professional capabilities, and so on. They should also be adept at budgeting and controlling expenditures against realized benefits. This requires sticking to the parameters defined at the beginning of a program and may even involve bringing programs to a close when necessary.

Negotiation – This serves a number of purposes in program management. It can be applied to conflict resolution within teams, discussing resources with stakeholders, dealing with third-party providers, and so on. It is also linked to value negotiation, such as in deals relating to the results of a program. Negotiation can have a major impact on a program’s ROIs, so building this skill is essential. 

Stakeholder management – A program manager needs to be capable of gaining support from various stakeholders, as well as keeping them updated throughout a program. This requires an understanding of different priorities and viewpoints within a business. They must also be able to break down and simplify program elements to convey their importance to stakeholders of different backgrounds. 

Goals and Governance – Program managers must be capable of breaking programs down into achievable goals with clearly defined deliverables, deadlines, roles, and performance metrics. This also means establishing a timeline at the start of a program and achieving support from stakeholders and executive staff, as well as clarifying the importance of individual projects to managers. Of course, individual goals can evolve over time, but they must always remain aligned with the organization’s goals. This prevents wasted time and expenditure and ensures that the program’s end results benefit the business as much as possible.

Conflict resolution – At times, a program manager may need to step in to handle disputes. These could be between team members within a project, between stakeholders regarding a program’s direction, or even between the business and its suppliers. All of this effectively boils down to relationship management, an essential skill for achieving objectives and maintaining a constructive program environment.

Risk management – Programs and even individual projects inevitably encounter risks and roadblocks. It is important to have the experience and foresight to predict, prepare for, and respond to risks to keep everything on track. This should also factor into planning. For example, a program manager may work with an enterprise architect to predict the risks and consequences of different courses of action. Program managers will also take steps to mitigate risks in areas such as negotiation and resource management.

Analysis – Achieving the best possible results in a program requires managers to keep an eye on progress, not just in terms of completing tasks but also in specific performance metrics. This can include elements like expenditure, time to complete tasks, and so on. They should also be able to react accordingly and back up any amendments with clear performance data. Keeping this process consistent and encouraging communication and feedback can also make it easier for other managers and project teams to suggest their own improvements. 

Quality assurance – Quality assurance is a large part of analyzing a program’s progress and results. This often requires frequent or even automated testing and feedback, as well as regular review sessions. Agile program managers extend this process using iterative targets that allow products or services to begin generating value and feedback earlier on. This creates more consistent feedback, making it easier to guarantee the quality of the final results of a program.

Gaining program management skills

Potential program managers can develop their skills in a variety of ways. Many, such as communication and organization, are certainly just as important for project managers. Within an organization, a candidate can also volunteer for higher-level responsibilities and shadow program managers to gain insight over time.

Of course, this is not the only or even the most convenient way. Many candidates instead pursue program management training via an accredited course. Management frameworks such as Managing Successful Programmes (MSP) and Agile Programme Management (AgilePgM) are used across multiple industries, as they offer standardized yet flexible best practices for planning, implementing, and managing programs. Official certification can also verify a candidate’s knowledge and ability, making it easier to unlock responsibilities and career opportunities.

Good e-Learning is an award-winning online training provider offering fully accredited training across a number of program management frameworks. These include Managing Successful Programmes (MSP), Agile Programme Management (AgilePgM), and PRINCE2. We work with subject matter experts to deliver courses that combine exam preparation with practical expertise, equipping students with everything they need to thrive in program management roles.

Our courses come with a range of assets to help students achieve their goals. These include instructor-led videos, gamified quizzes, and free downloadable resources. Our world-class support team can respond to any questions on syllabus content and can even provide a free exam voucher for every candidate.

The Good e-Learning team also specializes in corporate training. Our award-winning LMS, the Learning Ecosystem, can accommodate any number of candidates and can also be customized with a client’s own branding. The LMS also offers dynamic reporting to immediately show the progress of a training program and guide our support team in proactively helping candidates.

Want to find out more? Visit the Good e-Learning website today!

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