I'm still confused with the title 'Program Manager' after I went through this site and searched over threads. Actually I haven't seen many 'Program Managers' in practice.

  1. Is it a regular role in PM?
  2. What's its definition and role?

9 Answers 9


I tend to go by the definition made by James T Brown, within The Handbook of Program Management:

A program manager is first and foremost a leader. In fact, the program manager's main leadership duty is to turn chaos into clarity for the team. Any leader who allows chaos to exist or just passes chaos down to the team without clarification is not exercising leadership. People need clear direction and circumstances that allow them to be successful. The program manager must establish such direction both within and outside the organization through a variety of means. Additionally, the program manager may have to accept calculated risk when he or she is unable to obtain clarity from the organization and then define clarity in his or her own terms. Accepting chaos, allowing chaos to exist, or passing down chaos all signal a lack of integrity and this does not create a culture conducive to successful projects.

The primary difference between a program manager and a project manager can be summed up in the words create and comply. The program manager is responsible for creating the business environment culture the project manager complies with to execute. The degree of the program manager's direct control of that culture can vary, but through direct authority or organizational influence he or she is responsible for establishing the framework in which the project manager operates.

The project manager is judged on the triple constraint of time, cost, and scope of the project. The program manager also is judged on these three elements but at a level that is cumulative for all the projects and operations within the program. This aggregation of responsibilities for a variety of projects and operations means the program manager must make frequent trade-offs between business targets and project/operational performance.

Program management decisions are both tactical and strategic in nature. The strategy aspects of these decisions must consider multidimensional impacts beyond the near-term delivery dates of the project. Conversely, the project manager is challenged to deliver projects within the boundaries and framework established by the program manager. Typically, the project manager is and should be more delivery and execution focused whereas the program manager has to also be concerned with the overall health and effectiveness of the program over the long term.

Brown, James T (2007-11-15). The Handbook of Program Management (Kindle Locations 149-166). McGraw-Hill. Kindle Edition.

  • +Jesse, so program managers do not necessarily know technical details, right? They basically build healthy environment for managed projects, they lead project managers to keep product delivery.
    – fifth
    Commented Jan 2, 2012 at 10:41
  • @fifth yes, that would be an accurate statement from how I see they Program Manager roll
    – Jesse
    Commented Jan 3, 2012 at 14:48

From the experience in my company (which seems to be aligned with the opinions here), a Program Manager is responsible for n Projects managed each by a Project Manager.

Become a Program Manager is the 'career path' for Project Managers (PM).

Some duties I'd list:

  • Responsible for all non-project-specific paperwork / bureaucratic duties
  • Responsible for coaching the PMs below him
  • Accountable for the overall performance of their projects, along with PMs
  • Support a project whenever the PM isn't available
  • Work as an escalation point from the PM

In a nutshell, I'd say the Program Manager main work is to support Project Manager(s).


It has been my experience that a Project Manager handles one project at a time from beginning to end.

On the other hand, the Program Manager handles multiple simultaneous projects from pre-sales to post sales.

For example, the Program Manager will work with the proposal team as content expert, trying to win the contract. He will be the main or sole author of the project plan, work break down structure, scope of work, etc.

Once the contract has been awarded, he will manage that project from beginning until the end, all while managing other projects at the same time.

Then he is part of the team that derives post sales projects for the customer, such as additions and expansions to the original project and manages the additional work.

For example: It may take one year to complete an initial cellular system. At the end of the year and the completion of the original project, there will inevitably be the 1 yr, 2yr & 5yr growth plans (projects), which are expansions to the original project/system/contract. He is instrumental winning this "additional business" as well as managing the implementation.

This is how I have seen the difference in the two terms.


Programme managers coordinate a functional (all projects needed to increase sales performance by 10%) or organisational (all projects within the finance division) group of projects. They have hierarchical power over the project managers whose projects fall within their programme and may require those projects to change their deliverables and timelines in accordance with the needs of the programme.

Where a project manager looks towards the goals of her sponsors and manages the resources of her project, the programme manager looks at the organisational context and manages the effect the that the projects will have on the organisation.


I know this is an old question and I'm just a newbie here, but this is a subject very close to my heart and expertise.

The best way I have found to explain the difference between projects and programmes (and their respective managers) is by example. I'll use the London Olympics as an example of a programme (and please bear with me as I know the example is not perfect)

The programme manager will work to deliver a successful program within some constraints (the year and approximate dates, the sports and countries, the IOC rules) but will also have a lot of flexibility to work with the sponsor and stakeholders the objectives. And this is a major difference, within an overall objective a programme can hide many smaller objectives (Olympic and Paralympic Games, increase tourism, regenerate London,...)

The programme manager will define what specific projects are needed and what is the best structure to ensure their overall and individual success. And the projects maybe varied in type, scope, objectives, resources, timing. Each of this project will be defined in terms of scope, time, resources, including a project manager.

Programme management as you can see from the example is effectively different from project management. They don't even have to be part of the same career path. I'd argue that an specialist construction project mgr may grow by growing the size of the buildings. The same as a software development project manager. On the other side I've managed a relatively small program (22 projects, 100 people in the team) that included components as different as office relocation, system development, branding and many others. I of course could not dream to manage some of those projects as I didn't have the subject matter expertise, but I could provide the framework and lead and manage the project managers to successful delivery.


We need to understand the difference between project and program first. Project is limited to few applications(max can be 10)with in a product or with in few products. Program is in general good number of applications across many products. You can see the difference of coordination and work for a program. Program manager is responsible to deliver these many involved products and works closely with many PM's on these products and ensure that these projects belongs to program is successful.


A Program is to deliver a number of components to a single outcome, a Project is one of those components.


A Project Manager is responsible for the delivery of a single component.

A portfolio Manager differs from a Program Manager in that a Portfolio Manager is responsible for the delivery of a number of Projects which have no direct correlation whereas the Projects within a Program have a single outcome.


As a Program/Project Management Consultant, I would recommend to rely on the current standards such as PMI's Standard for Program Management (3rd ed.) and/or OGC/AXELOS Managing Successful Programmes Manual (MSP 2011 4th ed.) for the appropriate definitions and roles.

For example, as PMI Std. for PgM, a Program Manager works within 5 Program Management Performance domains and interacts with each PM to provide support and guidance on their individual projects, but also is responsible for the relationship to each project to the overall program and organizational performance objectives. Leadership is the key skill for a Program Manager and he/she needs to employ strategic visioning and planning to align the program goals and benefits with the long-term goals of the organization.

Additionally, as per AXELOS' MSP Manual, The Programme Manager is responsible for leading and managing the setting up of the programme through to successful delivery of the new capabilities, realisation of benefits and establishing the required governance arrangements. He/she is also responsible for the set-up and day-to-day management and delivery of the programme on behalf of the SRO.

I would advise to through the standards and manuals, as they have already defined and listed down the details.


This was hard for me to understand at first too. Without having to echo what many have already said, my view of a Program Manager is someone who is responsible for an entire portfolio of work, which could consist of several projects and project managers.

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