Know the Differences Between a Program Manager and a Project Manager and How to Become Either One

If you’re unsure about the distinction between these two titles, it’s probably because their fundamental differences are frequently overlooked. Companies will occasionally refer to these positions interchangeably, which can lead to misunderstandings about role responsibilities and expectations. Understanding the distinctions between the two is critical to landing your dream job.

Let us begin with an example. Perhaps, as a fervent Lean consultant, you’ve decided to organize a Lean strategies conference for start-up company executives. Coordination of speakers is one project that is part of this process. Another task could be to plan and order catering. In both cases, the project is constrained by a variety of factors, including a budget, time, and resources. Furthermore, both projects contribute to the overarching goal of developing a strong conference: the program.

While this example highlights the top-level differences between the two roles, we’ll go into more detail about the distinction between a program manager and a project manager to help you decide which is best for you.

What Exactly Is a Project Manager?

Individual projects that contribute to the overarching goals or programs are managed by project managers. These projects are frequently specific and short-term, with strict deadlines to keep the momentum going. While this position reports progress to the program manager, they are also in charge of their own team and are accountable for the successful completion of their assigned projects.

What Exactly Is a Program Manager?

Program managers, as opposed to projecting managers, are in charge of overseeing the entire program. In our conference example, the program manager would be in charge of ensuring that the conference as a whole is a success. This position necessitates a thorough understanding of the program’s goals and objectives, as well as how the completion of each project affects the company’s bottom line. Oversight of project managers is frequently a critical component of this role to ensure that each project is executed consistently and effectively.

A Project Manager’s Role

A project’s scope can range from as simple as planning a one-hour webinar to as complex as a 12-day Lean strategies training for several hundred employees at a Fortune 500 company. A project, regardless of its scope, is constrained by deadlines, resources, and budget. And, at any given time, a company may have dozens of projects running concurrently, each with its own set of short-term goals and constraints – all in service of the larger business goal.

Program and project managers are excellent leaders. Learn the key differences between a program manager and a project manager so you can choose the best one for you.

The job of a project manager is to oversee the operations of a single project, which entails five key roles:

Timeline and team management

Leadership Performance tracking and measurement Team organization Technology integration

Project managers may oversee multiple projects, depending on the company and the size of the individual projects, which necessitates fine-tuned skills and experience.

Meetings are scheduled, timelines are tracked, budgets are managed, and smaller tasks are delegated to one or more coordinators by project managers. This means that project managers must be capable of effective leadership and practical communication skills in order to effectively manage the needs of their team. As work progresses, project managers provide updates to the program manager, who is frequently used as a sounding board for continuous project improvement.

Salaries for project managers vs. project managers typically start around $50,000 but can reach $100,000 or more, especially if the project manager has additional qualifications and certifications.

A Program Manager’s Role

A program is made up of several projects, each of which adds value and progress toward a long-term goal or outcome. These projects frequently build on one another until the goal is met, allowing the company to set a new set of larger goals. This is the process by which organizations grow.

A program manager’s job is to oversee not only the operations of each project but also how each project’s completion contributes to the larger picture. Consider a program manager to be a pilot. It is their responsibility to make course corrections, strategize flight direction based on potential threats or obstacles, and keep the flight on track to arrive on time. Each project’s potential success or failure will have an impact on a company or business, and it is the program manager’s responsibility to assess and adjust for this impact.

Program managers, like project managers, schedule meetings, track timelines, manage budgets, and delegate tasks, but they do so from a higher level, frequently involving project managers in the process. It is their responsibility to form the appropriate teams, calculate ROI, and act as a liaison between the various project leaders in order to bring the overall program goals to fruition.

Salaries for program managers vs. project managers typically begin around $80,000 and can exceed $120,000. Program managers can advance to the higher end of the salary scale with advanced training and specialized certifications.

Which Character Do You Prefer?

Project and program management are both excellent roles for natural leaders. Indeed, the critical characteristics for both roles overlap significantly, making both positions equally appealing to similar candidates. Program and project managers both require gifted communicators who have mastered the art of concise and thoughtful idea narration. Though the details differ depending on the scope of the role, it is equally important in both roles to be detail-oriented and analytical in order to keep projects moving forward. People who fill both roles are often strategic, decisive, and on the lookout for new ways to advance the mission and goals of the project or program.

With so many overlapping characteristics, it’s no surprise that many project managers advance through the ranks to become program managers later in their careers. Good program managers frequently have advanced training and experience, which allows them to be effective coaches for the project managers they eventually lead.

Improve Your Project Management Competence

Knowing the key differences between a program manager and a project manager will assist you in determining which path is best for you. If you want to work in program management but don’t have the necessary experience or skills, consider starting your career in project management with SPOTO Learning Project Management Certification Training.

Sign up for our PMP® Plus Master’s Program if you want to advance your career in either of these fields while maintaining your PMP certification and earning 60 PDUs.

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