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How To Become A Program Manager

Shelby Welty's profile image

By: Shelby Welty

March 31, 2021

The Program Manager career path prepares students for a management-level role in an organization's IT department. Students on this path will learn how to lead, coordinate, integrate, and be accountable for the success of an organizational program while maintaining alignment with the company's priorities or enterprise. The program manager career path will help students develop a core technical program leadership skill set, technical skills that apply to leading an IT team, and adopt the essential communication and leadership skills required for the role.

What is a Program Manager?

A program manager in the IT industry is the supervisor who oversees the team of IT professionals who are working on various projects. Program managers are different from project managers in that their responsibilities have a broader scope. Essentially, program managers are in charge of a range of initiatives that work to achieve an organizational goal, while project managers work on a specific initiative. An IT program manager must have technical knowledge and skills but must focus on business management and leadership skills.

What Does a Program Manager Do?

The role and responsibilities of an IT program manager are often complex and somewhat specific to the organization and its operations. However, there are some duties that most program manager positions have in common. Some of these tasks are:

  • Developing and maintaining strategic plans.
  • Developing processes to track and measure compliance, risk, and assurance efforts.
  • Performing needs analysis to identify ways to improve business process solutions.
  • Providing cybersecurity and supply chain risk management leadership for developing a Continuity of Operations Plan.
  • Managing and resolving compliance issues related to regulations, procedures, policies, laws, and standards.
  • Conducting or reviewing internal audits of IT projects and programs.
  • Leading and overseeing staffing, budget, and contracting of the IT department.
  • Developing supply chain, network, system, cybersecurity, and performance requirements.
  • Participating in an acquisition process when needed.
  • Writing and publishing supply chain risk management and security documents.
  • Coordinating and managing customer service provided by gathering feedback from customers to foster continual improvement.

This is not an exhaustive list; many additional responsibilities may apply to a specific organization's unique needs.

How Much Does a Program Manager Make?

The average annual salary for IT program managers in the US is $113,376, with a range of salaries of $73,000 to $164,000. A specific program manager's salary depends on the organization and the individual's work experience and education.

What Qualities Are Needed to Become a Good Program Manager?

Successful IT program managers have multiple interdisciplinary skills that include, but are not limited to the following:

Solid technical ability – Program managers must have a solid understanding and aptitude for the organization's technical capabilities. This is necessary because program managers have to oversee various technical projects and their teams. This ensures that program managers can effectively lead even the most highly technical members of the team.

Planning and strategic thinking – Program management is extremely strategic by nature, focusing on the big picture (i.e., long-term initiatives aligned with organizational goals). Program managers have to be able to develop programs that achieve part of the company's bigger strategy. Thus, strategic thinking and high-level planning are foundational for this role.

Risk management skills – A strong skill set in risk management is also required to become a successful IT program manager. Because program managers have to focus on an organization's strategic, long-term goals, they must identify, measure, and mitigate risks related to their program approach. They have to make appropriate, informed decisions about utilizing best their organization's personnel, time, and resources to accomplish goals.

Project and personnel management skills – IT program managers have to collaborate with various project managers across the organization at any given time. Each project has a team of personnel that has to buy into the project to work effectively. The program manager's role requires interpersonal skills to get that buy-in, make strategic decisions, and earn the teams' trust.

Comprehensive understanding of organizational goals – Of course, the program manager must thoroughly understand the overall goals and objectives, large and small, that an organization has. Otherwise, the program manager won't be able to make decisions that positively impact the organization.

Communication skills – This role is a management position, so it should be no surprise that the program manager must have excellent communication skills. The program manager not only has to communicate with project managers and teams but also with stakeholders. Planning, strategies, progress, and any issues that come up have to be communicated so that all personnel involved are on the same page. Leadership ability – IT program managers have to have very strong leadership abilities. They have many employees and stakeholders who rely on them to guide them by executing technical programs successfully.

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