Traits of an Effective Program Manager

6 min read

What makes a good program manager? This job is not just about managing several projects simultaneously. The program manager is a strategic position that requires leadership skills and a long-term vision that drives the program/initiative/department forward. An effective program manager must be able to cope with the contradictory nature of his work.

Such contradictions include: 

  • Make changes and maintain stability. Program managers should be able to eliminate tensions, restore order and bring the project back on track. At the same time, they must be innovators and develop new, better ways of working. Innovation breaks the routine and causes unique problems to be solved.
  • See the perspective while working. The program manager must see the perspective and how the project fits into the company’s strategy. There are times when the program manager must come to grips with the project and technology. If he doesn’t worry about the details, then who will? 
  • Encourage individuals but focus on the team. They must exercise caution and treat the entire team fairly, and at the same time show an individual attitude to each. 
  • To give / not give orders. Program managers must intervene, resolve deadlocks, solve technical problems, and insist on different methods. At the same time, they should understand when they should be passive observers and let others make decisions. 
  • Flexibility but toughness. Program managers should be able to adapt and respond to events and project plans. At the same time, they must take everything into their own  

Managing these and other contradictions requires a subtle approach and balance. For example, the program manager spends most of the time engaging others in work, moving step by step, and trying to reach a consensus. But it happens when a program manager must act as an autocrat and make decisions unilaterally. 

Martin F. Markin, executive director of planning and management at Merck, Sharp, and Dohme Research Laboratories (MSDRL), oversaw the work of 114 program managers and project coordinators.

In addition to the formal job description, he compiled a list of special abilities that a program manager should possess: 

  1. Effective communication skills. One of the qualities of a good manager is being an excellent communicator to connect with people at all levels. However, we are not only talking about being able to give coherent presentations. These skills are essential to program managers’ effectiveness. They include communicating effectively with all types of media, communicating priorities and constraints to stakeholders, and communicating using all means. The program manager must clearly explain the goals and each project’s and team member’s tasks, responsibilities, expectations, and feedback.
  1. Strong leadership skills. Effective program management means having strong leadership qualities such as motivating the team and driving them to maximum performance to achieve their goals. Our clients all agree that program managers with the right skills are hard to find. Their programs are getting more complicated. And, because of the virtual nature of work, program managers must work across cultures. To ensure overall success, program managers must have the ability to build relationships and delegate and empower their team members.
  1. Planning and Resource ManagementAn effective program manager needs to have decision-making skills. Without a high-level plan that identifies what is required and when it should be done (and at what cost), it’s virtually impossible to identify, assign, and allocate resources effectively. A program manager must have a “game plan.” This is a strategic view that every program requires. However, program managers also need to be able to think strategically. Program managers must create a range of plans (risk-cost-contingency, contingency) and then match, assess, and manage resources to implement those plans.

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  1. Technical expert. Software development and other related projects are essential in accomplishing the program management goals; an effective program manager needs to have the sound technical knowledge to understand the issues related to the technical aspect. Programs generate large amounts of financial, statistical, and metric data. The program manager must be able quickly and efficiently to gather and integrate information, distill and synthesize requirements, and summarize program conclusions. While one doesn’t need to have the same analytical skills as Warren Buffet, program managers responsible for major initiatives must be highly competent in this area. Today, executives seek professionals who can make fact-based decisions rather than those who “shoot from their hip.” 
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  1. Inspires a shared vision. A visionary person can lead his people in the right direction and quickly adapt to the changes that come in the way. They are good at empowering people to experience the vision on their own. The program manager may not agree with everyone, but they will all believe it is. The program manager must be able to sell the program to all stakeholders. These critical tasks require the program manager to be skilled in both conceptual selling and influence.
Build visual portfolio roadmaps, plan and track key dates,  milestones, and release dates for projects and portfolios – all in easy to use, visual way.

Build visual portfolio roadmaps, plan and track key dates,  milestones, and release dates for projects and portfolios – all in easy to use, visual way

  1. Conflict Resolution. The program management office is bound to involve conflict. Conflicts will arise regarding personnel, program priorities, component project priorities, and stakeholder needs and issues. Program managers who face conflict head-on and don’t shy away from it will be rewarded. This will allow the program to accelerate decision-making, which will help it move forward. However, those who don’t address conflict or allow it to grow will be rewarded differently. This will lead to dissatisfaction that can be debilitating and ultimately cause alienation among the team. Program management is not about resolving problems by force of will, although sometimes this may be necessary. We must instead resolve issues so that stakeholders and team members are motivated and ready to move forward
  1. Good negotiator. One of the qualities needed for effective project management is the ability to negotiate. Negotiating and influencing are about getting the results you desire and need to implement the program plan. It is all about getting people to say “yes.” Influencing people’s behavior requires negotiation and compromises. This is an art that takes years of practice. Programs and projects are operated in a political environment. When conflict arises due to differences in opinion, program managers need sheer negotiating skills to settle the issue and maintain harmony in the team.
  1. Stakeholder ManagementIf program managers are not successful, it is easy to see the Hatfield and McCoy family feud as a group of demanding, cranky people who exist to make their lives miserable. Program managers should manage expectations, understand the needs and requirements of stakeholder groups, and work with them to achieve their goals. Programs exist because stakeholders are involved. The program manager and the team are without stakeholders. As long as you have to deal with stakeholders, it is vital to do this professionally.

Mastery of Project Tools and Methods

Every program manager should have a “tool bag” or “tool belt” of techniques and tools that they are proficient in that they can use for all aspects of the program’s life cycle, such as the following:

  • Planning for Milestones
  • Process mapping
  • Facilitating and planning meetings
  • Management of change
  • Control of statistical quality
  • Root cause analysis
  • Scenario analysis
  • Brainstorming
  • Scheduling tools

It is a good idea to have a team of familiar people with these tools if someone finds themselves managing a program. These people are indispensable to solving problems, analyzing data, and increasing productivity.

Gaining Proficiency

Assessing your current knowledge and skills is the first step to proficiency in any field. This can be done with many tools today. But don’t forget your strengths. We spend too much time focusing on our weaknesses when we should be focusing on our strengths.

Once you’ve established a baseline of your current situation, you can begin to formulate a personal improvement program. Although formal training is an integral part of such a plan, it’s more than just a “training plan.” You may also work as a deputy manager under the guidance of someone more experienced who can mentor and coach you. Experience is the best way to improve your skills, especially when working with professionals who have more experience than you.

You can also read trade magazines and journals in your field to increase your knowledge and general knowledge about the industry and practice of program management.

The one, which drives innovation, drives success 

Innovative program management is the key to success; at the same time, it is a very complex and comprehensive undertaking. So, the innovator, who seeks and develops ideas, enables the creation of new structures and processes so that innovation can happen.

He is also a promoter, especially in the field of culture, where he works to persuade and disseminate the necessary knowledge of innovation. It takes a wide range of functions and skills to develop a new product or service from the initial idea and position it successfully on the market.  

This also places a wide variety of demands on program managers. Technological solutions, without a doubt, can ease this job. However, there are so many that choosing the right one is the trick. For example, transferring the whole framework to a new, broader dimension, with complete visibility and unified terminology for all the teams, is a great innovation.

To do that, one would need a toolbox that unites all the data while still allowing a flexible way to control, track and manage day-to-day operations.

PPM Express is that kind of toolbox

PPM Express is a SaaS platform that enables an organization with a complete portfolio and project visibility by aggregating project-related information across groups, portfolios, and systems. It is also a lightweight portfolio management tool that suits the immediate needs of teams and business entities starting with 20 people, to the extent of large companies with hundreds to thousands of employees. 

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Traits of an Effective Program Manager
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