Required Skills to be a Program Manager

So, you’ve successfully lead some bigger projects and are considering moving into program management as the next step in your career. Here is my advice: think before you leap. Being a program manager is very different to being a project manager. Here is a list of attributes which I think every good program manager needs to have:

Good communication skills

You need to be comfortable communicating at all levels of the organisation, and be able to adapt your communications and presentations according to the audience.

Ability to command respect

Often you will need to bring together different parts of the business with different agendas. Commanding respect will get them into the same room.

Conflict Resolution skills

Once you’ve got them in the same room then you’ll need good conflict resolution skills to bring them together. It’s your job to find the common ground that all parties can rally behind.

Good knowledge of project management principles

You need to know how to track and follow up on issues, manage risks, produce plans, and be comfortable with common project management terminology and stages.

Be comfortable in an uncertain environment

In a large program, you will never understand all of the detail. You need to be comfortable progressing the program without a full picture of everything that is happening. This is about letting go of the control you used to have as a project manager.

Benefit Focussed

Every day your mantra should be “my job is to deliver business benefit”. This should drive all the decisions you make or propose. For example, is it better to drop a particular stream from the program if it is running late, or do you delay the program? If you focus on what will deliver the business benefit, the answer should be clear.

A constant risk management mindset

De-risk, de-risk, de-risk. De-risk early. Did you think about your program risks today? No? You should have. Always consider what might go wrong, and mitigate accordingly. A common mistake I’ve seen time and time again early in a program’s lifecycle is for the program to take on too much. If you suspect you’re taking on too much at the start, then act, don’t wait for lots of work to be done to prove you had too much to do… de-scope or re-plan immediately.

Leadership Skills

As a program manager you are a manager of managers. It is your team who get the work done. It is always worth putting in significant effort at the start of the program to build one team who trust each other and want to work together to get the job done. If you’ve done your job and built a good team, then you won’t need to force a plan upon them, they will work together to resolve dependencies and make the plan work. This makes your job as program manager a lot easier.