Roles and responsibilities of program manager

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Developed by Nikoleta Kolitsopoulou-Maridaki

Video 1: Introduction to the definition of Program Manager

Roles and responsibilities of program manager are very complex and for that reason, it is difficult to define them. They can vary from simple managing multiple projects to managing multiple projects with operational responsibilities and to being accountable for profit or cost targets based on business strategy. Moreover, a program manager has the main supervision of the scope and status of several projects at once which all together consist the program in order to ensure that the program goals are achieved. This accumulation of responsibilities of a diversity of projects and operations means that the program manager should be able to balance business targets and operational performance. Their decisions are both tactical and strategical in nature. The program manager must establish an environment that allows the project managers to complete their projects successfully. In more detail, the main leadership duty is to bring more clarity to the team. Occasionally, the Project Management Office (PMO) may not have sufficient insight regarding design, requirements, risks, issues and their solution. In that case, a program manager may be well placed to accept calculated risk and then to clarify it in their own terms or to seek out such data from the project managers. In large and/or complex programs, a specific role of manager may be required for this specific task. However, the program manager needs this data in order to be confident that the overall program goals are achievable. [1]


Big Idea

Origin of Program Manager

Program manager is first and foremost a leader, who delivers a business strategy that requires multiple coordinated projects. Furthermore, they can be considered as a “super” project manager. Their roles focus mainly on operational activities, because they are responsible for planning and supervising the successful completion of the program. Last but not least, the program manager should have previously multi-annual experience of being project manager for large and complex projects. [2]

Roles and responsibilities

The major roles and responsibilities of a program manager are listed below. [2] [3] [4] [5] [6]


Initially, program managers are responsible for planning and scheduling the overall program from different perspectives and supervising the progress of it by creating a road-map, the daily Program Management throughout the whole program life cycle. In addition, they should be able to manage the main program documents (e.g., the Project Initiation Document - PID), that means to edit, version and store all management relevant artifacts. To fit all these responsibilities together, there are a lot of program management tools (Tools) that can be used for assigning tasks, adding comments, organizing dashboards and approvals.

Management and Assurance

Program managers have to focus also on the assessment and assurance of the proper functioning, the productivity, the quality and the progress of the program by continuously monitoring and validating it. For that reason, they should coordinate the separate projects and their inter-dependencies and interfaces. To manage this, they have to evaluate in a regular basis the performance of each project that is contained in the program and then to do reviews and reports on it. Specifically, they are responsible for review and then approve the different project plans. Before that, they have to ensure that the project plans are to the appropriate level of quality, on time, within budget and that they meet the requirements of the program scope, plan and governance arrangements.

Alignment and Infrastructure

Program managers should also focus on the internal and external consistency of the program with the infrastructure planning and its interfaces with other programs. It is important because a program consists of several activities which take place at multiple levels and have different goals. Thus, the program manager has to clarify the vision and the goals of the program and then to align the separate projects objectives with the business/organizational strategy, in some cases with the aid of the business change manager. Apart from that, program managers are responsible for provision of infrastructure that a program needs for its proper function. This includes the program office technology, and other factors in the work environment that contribute to the development and the completion of the program.


One of the most decisive roles of program managers is the creation and confirmation of the separate projects that consist the program with the project managers. They have to define the responsibilities and delegate the tasks to project managers. In addition, they should track, manage and provide oversight to team activities and their performance throughout the entire program duration. They should be able to assist at any time the project managers if necessary.

Improvement and Integration

Another crucial role of program managers is to define the program governance (controls). Particularly, they are responsible for identifying, assessing and managing risks, issues, delays and deviations from required standards. Finally, they should be able to make decisions (decision-making) and to resolve performance problems, so they can complete the program by improving and optimizing its performance.


Managing and utilizing resources across the program is also one of the responsibilities of program managers. They are accountable for executive budget and for financial management that means implementation of specific fiscal practices and controls. In more detail they have to track the costs of the program and manage its budget by monitoring expenditure and costs of the program during its progress.


Another role of a program manager is to manage the stakeholder's communication, to communicate with the executive sponsors and the program's steering committee and finally to conduct periodic status updates.


Finally, the coaching and developing of the employees either the existing ones or new ones could be a key role of program managers. They should be able to lead project managers and employees through high-level sessions either communicating knowledge about program and schedule development or motivating them.

During complex and large programs, sometimes it is required, other type of managers to be hired who will contribute to the completion of the program manager work. They take over some of the program manager responsibilities that are listed above, for instance Risk Management, Communication Management or Benefits Realisation Management (BRM).



In order a program manager to accomplish all the roles and responsibilities should have some skills and behaviors. A lot of surveys have be carried out to find out which should be the required behaviors of a successful Program Manager and they resulted that although knowledge about business is significant, there is more importance on program management skills. The most crucial of them are the following four policies: [2] [4] [7]

1. First of all a program manager has to see the organization strategically and for that are needed:

  • Strategic/Critical thinking - plan and foresee future implications, thinking broadly, understanding the long term impacts of decisions and the meaningful goals
  • The capability to clarify team dynamics and communicate the organizational culture
  • Effective leadership and management skills - how to set priorities and motivate the team managers, to instigate constructive changes and simultaneously helping the team members to adapt to them through positive feedback and coaching
  • The ability to find innovative ways either for solving or forecasting problems

2. Another skill is to understand how to lead the organization toward the future:

  • Analyzing cases effectively and making sound decisions
  • Setting and achieving short and long term goals
  • Driving results from two perspectives - delivering results personally by following commitments and requirements of a program and achieving business objectives through others by holding people accountable

3. Working harmoniously with others is a very important feature that the manager needs to have:

  • Communication and collaboration skills - expressing ideas clearly while taking into account the views of others and supporting cross-functional efforts and model collaborative policies to set the example for the team
  • The ability to create relationship amongst the members of the program teams which are based on trust and respect, maintaining confidence and keeping commitments

4. Knowledge about specific fields:

  • Good knowledge of finance - understand the way that a firm invests its funds and secure that these investments make a good profit for the company
  • Good handling of project and program management methodology - understand and leverage formal project management techniques to ensure timely completion and proper control of initiatives
  • The ability to develop a sound business case


The roles and the responsibilities of a program manager can be performed using a wide set of tools. These techniques can be used to develop ideas and thinking in a program management environment. There are plenty of them and depending on the type of program are differed. On the Table below, the most important tools and techniques that can be used by program managers related to the roles and responsibilities that are referred above, are presented. [6] [8]

Tools Related roles Analysis Illustration
Dashboard Planning The dashboard shows the status of the multiple projects such as the progress of the tasks. If the dashboard is online and part of a cloud-based system, then it works even better, because in that case the managers can update their statuses either they are in the office or not and any time they want, these changes are instantly updated to the dashboard. Kl.jpg
Gantt Chart Management and Assurance Gantt chart is a tool for planning the schedule and creating a visual timeline of the multiple tasks that are contained in the program. Each task can be added manually or easily imported with a spreadsheet. If Gantt chart is online then it’s even easier to use it because avoid to deal with the difficulties of updating it. Moreover, the Gantt chart can be incorporated to the dashboard, thus it makes simpler to oversee the performances across all the separate projects. When team members update their tasks those changes are show up automatically on the Gantt chart. This provides a better overview of the program performance. Km.jpg
SWOT analysis diagram Align internal and external consistency of the program The SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis is useful for specifying the threats and possibilities facing a program. It is a quick and readily understood method. The outcomes of internal business and external environmental analysis can be come of by analyzing of the program's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

A similar type of analysis is known as PEST (Political, Economic, Social and Technological factors).

RACI diagram Governance The RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed) diagram is a tool through that the program manager can define the roles and responsibilities of each participant in the program activities regarding producing predetermined deliverables. RACI, an acronym which is composed by four participatory program's roles :
  1. responsible: those who undertake tasks or the resources
  2. accountable: those who get the credit for success or responsibility for failure or the activity manager
  3. consulted: those whose advice and opinion are asked
  4. informed: those who are notified in regular basis of progress

There is also an expanded version, the RACI-VS that can also be used, adding the following roles:

  1. verifies: those who check if the product fulfills the quality criteria that defined in the product description
  2. signs off: those who approve the verification decision and confirm the product delivery
Stakeholder matrix Stakeholders A stakeholder matrix serves for mapping stakeholders focus on their importance and level of power to the program. Stakeholders are the individuals or groups who will be influenced by the activities of the program. They could be senior managers whose business areas are directly or indirectly involved, the customers outside the organisation, the suppliers and partners. B.jpg
Cause and effect diagram Align internal and external consistency of the program The cause and effect diagram is also known as fish-bone diagram. It is diagram which illustrates the causes of various events and the impacts that they have on the examined program. Each diagram consists from several start points (A points) and one or more end points (B points). C.jpg
Risk map Assessing risks The risk map is a tool which can present the risk in terms of likelihood and impact in a simple way. The probability of a risk is categorized as low, medium or high. If the risk occurs, there are also a classification for its impact similar with the former one. In case that a risk has high probability of appearance combined with important impacts on the program, that means that the risk is crucial. D.jpg
Decision tree Decision-making The main aim of using a decision tree is because of its strongly effective structure through which different strategies and their possible outcomes can be investigated. For this reason, it is a particular useful tool for choosing choice between several courses of action and investment opprtunities, especially when resources are difficult to be found for it. Furthermore, it is a way to keep a balance between the risks and rewards of each possible way of action. Z.jpg
Radar chart Identifying risks A radar chart is also known as a spider chart. It is a useful tool to define the number of risks to that the different projects are exposed. The start point is to place the relevant data on a table that afterwards is converted into a chart. In more detail, a point close to the centre of a radar chart on any axis shows a low value and a point near the edge indicates a high one. Gk.jpg

Comparison with project manager

Figure 5: Comparison of behaviors between project and program manager. (click to zoom) [7]

Frequently, the processes of projects and programs are described as being similar in nature due to their close link, although they are different in detailed level. [3] For that reason, the differences of these two concepts are presented in this article. Program managers are often described as the higher organizational hierarchy level over project managers. They are specified as the combination between higher management and operational-level implementation of a company's tasks. [9] A program is as a set of projects managed together in order to achieve a higher-level common scope, that will be impossible if each of these projects acts alone. [9]

The main difference between a program manager and a project manager can be described by two actions: creation and compliance. The former one is responsible for creating the business environment culture and the project manager should comply with it. Furthermore, the project manager's responsibilities are based on the triptych of time, cost, and scope of the project. On the other hand, the program manager is judged not only on these three subjects but also on a level that is cumulative for all the projects and operations within the program. This summation of responsibilities for a variety of projects and operations means that the program manager should manage frequent trade-offs between business targets and project/operational performances. Moreover, program management decisions have basically strategic character. The strategy aspects must take into account multidimensional impacts beyond the short-term deliveries of the projects. In contrast to the program manager, the project manager should complete and deliver projects within the time schedule and based on the instructions set by the program manager. To sum up, the project manager should focus on deliveries and execution of the projects whereas the program manager is also responsible for the overall organization and efficacy of the program over the long-term. [10]


Figure 6: Managers in construction. (click to zoom) [11]

Big construction companies often undertake complicated projects, such the construction of metro. In this case, the program manager has the largest portfolio, which includes multiple projects on multiple sites and the program manager should be responsible for all these separate projects which in that case are the different metro stations. Program managers have the overarching control, budget and schedule of a program. If the owner is not an expert in facility design and construction, the program manager provides leadership in this field. They cooperate with the stakeholders, including the client, the superintendent, and district officials. Moreover, in this example, the program manager defines the project managers, each of them has to manage the work on one of the metro stations. They are responsible for pre-design, design process, construction, integration and delivery of the project. In recent years, the construction manager has been joined as a member to the project-process. They are the most appropriate to provide important knowledge during the design and construction phase.

How they can coordinate together:

A big challenge of a construction program is that each manager has a distinct set of responsibilities and they should know exactly what are their roles on a project. That means that the program manager has to define these roles from the beginning of the program and make it clear for all the team members. The clearer is for each of them, even better result will come out. In that case, the responsibilities of a construction manager focus only on site-works, dealing directly with the contractor, project and program managers. The program manager works basically from an office and visits the different sites, if required. About the project manager, he has to be mainly at the construction site to supervise the activities and spend less time at the office to report to the program manager about the program progress.

The same philosophy applies to smaller and also larger construction programs involving multiple projects, such as airports.


Although it seems that a program manager contributes for a better development and performance of a program avoiding issues and problems during its process, there are ways in which the program may evolve wrongly. Some of the most common limitations are outlined below: [12]

  • Firstly, the role of a program manager could become too bureaucratic and have a lot of constrains on the program development. That means that the program manager has a more implementing role than assisting essentially the process of the program.
  • To clarify the responsibilities for each of the team members seems to be an easy job, especially if the program ranges on a small scale. However, in case that the program is more complex, it is necessary to define the roles, tasks and prioritize them, otherwise it may complicate its evolution. An extension of this limitation could be the wrong allocating of resources, which should distribute evenly according to the program needs in order the program to be accomplished properly.
  • Additionally, a program manager can not guarantee that the program will follow the original scope because of constant change. This limitation is one of the main reason why a lot of programs are completed either over their initial budget or with delays. For that reason, Program Management recognizes the formal participation of Change Management in the program.

See also

Related subjects


  1. .F.John Reh. November 26, 2017, ‘The Role and Responsibilities of a Manager’ [1]
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 .Zein Omar. January 1, 2010, ‘Roles, responsibilities and skills in program management’ / Project Management Institute [2]
  3. 3.0 3.1 .Blomquist Tomas, Müller Ralf. January 2004, ‘Program and portfolio managers’, ‘analysis of roles and responsibilities’ / Project Management Institute [3]
  4. 4.0 4.1 ‘An Roinn Airgeadais’, ‘Roles and responsibilities of the Programme Manager’ [4]
  5. .Michael F. Hanford. May 14, 2004,‘Program management: Different from project management’ [5]
  6. 6.0 6.1 .Jason Westland. May 30, 2017, ‘Best Program Management Tools for Managers’, ‘6 Tools That Help Manage Programs’ / Project Manager [6]
  7. 7.0 7.1 .Lynda Carter, Kristin Tull and Donna VanRooy. ‘Key Leadership Behaviors Necessary to Advance in Project Management’, ‘Project/Program Management Research’ [file:///C:/Users/nikol/Downloads/Key%20Leadership%20Behaviors%202013%20BW%20PRADCO.pdf]
  8. ‘An Roinn Airgeadais’, ‘Programme and project management tools and techniques’ [7]
  9. 9.0 9.1 .Pellegrinelli, S. 2002, ‘Shaping context: The role and challenge for programmes. International Journal of Project Management, ch.20, p.229-233’,
  10. .James T Brown. 2008, ‘The Handbook of Program Management: How to Facilitate Project Success with Optimal Program Management ’
  11. .Christopher Dunne. December 2, 2015, ‘Blog: Drive to Discover’, ‘Construction Management, Program Management and Project Management: What's the Difference?’ [8]
  12. .David Goulden. October 10, 2017, ‘The Advantages and Disadvantages of Project Portfolio Management’ [9]

Annotated Bibliography

  1. Roles, responsibilities and skills in program management: This paper taken from the PMI web page captures the meanings of program and project management. It aims to clarify the main roles, responsibilities and skills in program and project managers.
  2. Program management: Different from project management: The purpose of this article is to analyze the main aspects of program management. They are summarized to five categories: governance, management, financial management, infrastructure and planning. Each of these features is explained analytically in this article and simultaneously is compared with those of project management. It also points out for each of these aspects the effort and outcomes needed in order to achieve success.
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