What's The Difference Between Program Manager and Project Manager? - Financesonline.com (2023)

What’s the difference between program manager and project manager?

The difference between program manager and project manager is in their role and responsibility. Program managers take on a strategic role, responsible for planning and development goals, while project managers are tactical, tasked to execute the plan within a timeframe and set of milestones. It can be said that program managers are architects who develop the blueprint, while project managers are engineers who execute the blueprint to reality. Essentially, projects are shorter than programs, and program managers receive a higher salary given their bigger role.

There is much to be clarified when it comes to the difference between program manager and project manager. This should not be the case because, though the two roles are similar as both essentially involve management, they are still glaringly different at the end of the day.


They go by different names because the nature of their jobs is different. To make it simple, we begin with core concepts: a project is different from a program. The difference basically lies in two diverging points: timeline and scope. We’ll delve into details below, including roles and responsibilities, as well as how project management tools lend to both fields efficiency.

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Program Manager vs. Project Manager

  1. Programs vs. Projects
  2. Roles
  3. Responsibilities
  4. Why Project Management Software is Important to Both Roles

Managers get companies moving. They serve as the bridge between businesses and their employees — businesses and their goals. In a classic business scenario, the board of directors comes up with management decisions with specific growth trajectories. The execution of it all falls on the shoulders of managers. Managers are ground commanders. They get the ball rolling and make things happen. This concept is fully understood by Alibaba, China’s tech giant. As reported by Alizila.com, Alibaba recently rolled out hundreds of project managers to help key brands accelerate their profits, including its venture into futuristic hotels. Alibaba understands that project managers are essential in increasing a company’s efficiency.

A full understanding of the difference between program manager and project manager is essential to fully realize your company’s potential. Through it, productivity is really seen and movement can really be monitored. Conversely, failure to distinguish the two can lead to a case of mistaken project priorities, a sure way to miss your goals.

When there is a full understanding of how crucial the roles of program managers and project managers are, it would be easy for a business to predict if a project or program is going to succeed together with the time that it’s going to take and the additional workforce that it’s going to require. For example, project managers should focus on creating project risk assessment, while program managers should focus on SWOT analysis. Project leaders should have an organic knowledge of project management methodologies, while program managers must understand the broader management principles.

All these can be seen clearly if there is a full understanding of basic and integral concepts. It helps if a company has a project management software. Through it, productivity can be easily tracked, orchestrated, and boosted. Currently, the most recommended project management software by businesses is Wrike.

You can easily sign up for Wrike free trial here and get to know the features firsthand at no cost and without commitment.

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Try out Wrike with their free trial

Programs vs. Projects

When it comes to timelines, projects are deemed shorter than programs. A project can be finished in a month or in a year while a program involves an ongoing progression towards a goal with no specific timeline being that it’s organic and dependent on the company’s growth. A project always has an end date and a definite time-controlled target. A program doesn’t necessarily have such.

Scope-wise, a project, although integrated, is singular and separate compared to a program that involves the entire company and the direction that it wishes to aggressively pursue as a business entity. A program involves the entire company while project zones in on just a special aspect of the business model.

In the case of a bakeshop, a program manager is busy figuring out the business plan of the bakery while a project manager is spearheading the release of new cupcakes. It’s that simple.


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What they do will further clarify the difference between program manager and project manager. Program managers take on bigger roles. Given the scope of their job, they receive higher pay. Project managers are the specialized extension of program managers. They’re the right hand of program managers that deals with details. Nonetheless, both require leadership skills and would do well to read some of the best project management books to prepare them for steering the ship in the right direction.

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Program managers calibrate the growth of the business in multi-sectoral levels. They serve as team leaders to project managers from different departments and ventures. Program managers are planners. They take on the role of a leader from the inception, execution, completion, and post-completion of a company’s growth track milestone. They oversee the holistic big picture of matters.

On the other hand, project managers take on the role of a leader when it comes to the particular tasks assigned to them and their team. Project managers do the dirty work. They prepare the budget, the schedule, and special needs of individual ventures. They are the ones that lead the team that do the actual work. They report to program managers. It bears noting that the career path of a project manager may lead him or her one day towards a program manager’s role. You can say that program managers prepare the menu for the whole week while project managers do the cooking.


Program managers are architects. They’re the ones responsible for coming up with plans, trajectories, boosted business models, and overall development goals. They oversee the status of every project and monitor if it’s compatible and in line with the company’s growth trajectory, mission, and vision. They evaluate results, matters, and incidents as placed in the bigger picture. They’re mainly responsible for securing that all the things that need to be done and that they are done in the desired and planned manner. They secure that the business is running at the desired pace. Reports and researches are handled by program managers.

Meanwhile, project managers are engineers. They receive the blueprint from program managers and take on the task of executing it. They manage the manner, speed, and details everything needed in order to execute their specialized task. They decide on how to do it and where to do it dealing primarily with arranging details and preparing all the intricacies for a smooth-flowing execution. If the program manager orders for the building of a new department as expansion is necessary, the project manager steps in and do the actual work of hiring new employees, buying new computers, preparing budget needs and all the tiny intimate details that need not be done and decided upon by program managers because project managers are already present and working in their stead. Naturally, program managers are held accountable at a larger scale while project managers can only be held accountable for their specialized individual tasks.

Why Project Management Software is Important to Both Roles

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Whether it’s a project or program, a good project management software lets you see the big picture while allowing you to drill down to details (image courtesy of Wrike’s Gantt dashboard).

With all the minuscule details and tasks that businesses deal with on an ever-expanding volume on a daily basis, things can get easily overwhelming and confusing. Monitoring gets tricky and point persons get interchanged. Efficiency is easily hampered if an organization does not have a fluid and clear business model. This is where an understanding of the basics of project management software proves essential and supremely beneficial. Knowing that program managers and project managers work hand in hand, productivity can be elevated if all tasks, activities and team members are easily monitored and this is possible with a good project management software.

Program managers and project managers will have an easier time coordinating if they have a hub that clearly shows how productive they are. Through a good project management software, it will be very easy to pinpoint problem areas. In one look, troubles can be avoided as a clear-cut delineation of accountability is present. With it, a program manager can easily evaluate which projects are lagging and which project managers are causing delays. Everything will literally be presented in a big picture; the flow and speed of productivity will be easily recorded and monitored.

Furthermore, with project management software, the activities, files and tasks of all team members will be in one hub. Everyone will have a view of how the project is going: who is handling the project, who is responsible for a specific task, the deadline for specific tasks — everything will be shown and monitored. If a person is failing to deliver the amount of work required, such a person will be very easy to point out as all team members and the tasks required of them are recorded and monitored.

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A good project management software is easy to use and customizable and adapts to a variety of methodologies, for instance, creating Gantt charts, laying out kanban boards or managing a Scrum process. Plenty of tools are offered in the market at different price points as businesses are now aware that solid business organization boosts growth. A recommended software that is used by many is Wrike. Wrike, just like most project management program, is cloud-based. According to reviews, users prefer it because of its fully-customizable simple interface. Users especially appreciated its 3-pane UI where you can see the big picture and drill down to details in one dashboard. Of course, you have other top project management solutions in the market, so make sure to compare them bearing in mind ease-of-use, scalability and pricing. Opt for a product with integrated file-sharing tools and sound cloud storage packages.

Program managers and project managers differ when it comes to their roles and responsibilities. Understanding the flow of work between them is key in truly improving your business productivity. Don’t turn a blind eye on the chance to fully maximize and utilize this managerial dynamic. Just always remember that program managers take the lead while project managers handle the execution. Whether you’re handling a program or project, why not sign up for Wrike free trial here to start you off the right foot?


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By Stephanie Seymour

Stephanie Seymour is a senior business analyst and one of the crucial members of the FinancesOnline research team. She is a leading expert in the field of business intelligence and data science. She specializes in visual data discovery, cloud-based BI solutions, and big data analytics. She’s fascinated by how companies dealing with big data are increasingly embracing cloud business intelligence. In her software reviews, she always focuses on the aspects that let users share analytics and enhance findings with context.

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What is difference between program manager and project manager? ›

Program managers take the long view of a company initiative, planning how to implement an overarching vision. Project managers, by contrast, take the short view, focusing on carrying out specific activities that drive a program forward.

What is higher a project manager or program manager? ›

Program managers tend to have more managerial duties than project managers, as they can oversee multiple projects. This can lead to more responsibilities and higher salaries for program managers.

Is a program manager more senior than a project manager? ›

Project manager and program manager are both high-level positions that offer personal and financial rewards. However, a program manager is typically a more senior role than a project manager.

What are the 3 concepts of a program manager? ›

The job of program manager requires a special kind of person.
In particular, the program manager will need the following three qualities to be successful.
  • Leadership. ...
  • Organization. ...
  • Communication.
18 May 2022

Who makes more money program manager or project manager? ›

What is the salary of project managers and program managers? The average salary for both project managers and program managers is about $75,000 to $90,000. Because program managers often have more experience than project managers, the compensation may be higher.

What is the difference between project and program? ›

A project represents a single, focused endeavour. A program is a collection of projects – together all the projects form a connected package of work. The different projects complement each other to assist the program in achieving its overall objectives.

What is the next level after program manager? ›

Once you have reached a senior project management role there are several options for further career progression: Management consultant. Programme manager. Portfolio manager.

Can a project manager become a program manager? ›

With so many overlapping attributes, it's no shock that many project managers work their way up through the ranks to become program managers later in their careers. Good program managers often have advanced training and experience, enabling them to be effective coaches for the project managers they ultimately lead.

What is the next level of program manager? ›

The next role is Principal program manager which gives you the opportunity to look at a complete function and have reported of 5-10 program managers depending on organization size.

What is a better title than a project manager? ›

Senior Level Positions

Program/Project Director: A senior position, a project director manages a project portfolio, and often is the head of the department.

What is another job title for program manager? ›

What are job titles that related to a Program Manager? Jobs that are very similar to a Program Manager include a Manager Program Management, Program Specialist, Technical Program Manager, Director Program Management and Program Coordinator.

What is a program manager's main responsibility? ›

A program manager's job description emphasized developing a program's objectives and strategy and assessing how it will impact their department, business, or organization. For each program, a program manager defines and oversees the projects needed to reach the targeted goals.

What are the 3 S's of project management? ›

Scope, schedule, cost.

What are the 4 phases of program management? ›

It provides project managers a structured way to create, execute, and finish a project. This project management process generally includes four phases: initiating, planning, executing, and closing. Some may also include a fifth “monitoring and controlling” phase between the executing and closing stages.

What is above a program manager? ›

The director of project management is often the highest-ranking employee in a company's project management operation. The director of program management oversees the company's big-picture planning, including all projects executed by the company.

Do program managers have direct reports? ›

Some Project and Program Managers may have line management responsibilities for project management staff but their direct reports may not necessarily work on the same program as they do. agree that program managers seldom have direct reports in the meaning of employee assignment to a manager.

What is the max salary of project manager? ›

Project Manager salary in India ranges between ₹ 4.8 Lakhs to ₹ 26.0 Lakhs with an average annual salary of ₹ 14.0 Lakhs.

Are program managers paid well? ›

Yes, program managers get paid well.

Program managers tend to make salaries between $80,000 and $125,000 per year. As with any role, a program manager's salary is dependent on factors such as location, company, experience, and education. Program managers have complex jobs, which is why their salary is often quite high.

Which comes first project or program? ›

Projects vary in duration, while a program is generally of longer duration, since the start of the program will be the start of its first project, and the end of the program will be the end of its last project. Projects focus on desired results or outputs, where programs focus on desired outcomes or benefits.

What is the relationship between program and project management? ›

While the project manager is managing multiple tasks within a project, the program manager is coordinating between related projects within a program, in order to determine which projects are working towards the same or similar goals, and which may be dependent upon others.

What is similarity between project and program? ›

There are of course some similarities between projects and programs, namely that they are both concerned with change, that is the creation of something new, and both require the use of a team to get things done.

Is program manager a high position? ›

A program manager is essentially a senior-level leader. In that capacity, they are responsible for a number of leadership tasks such as: Leading planning meetings.

Is being a program manager hard? ›

Just like any other job, it has its downsides. The reality is that it can be a difficult job, and you have to be the right person to do it and handle all project management challenges. Many PMs keep track of their projects, answer emails, and stay connected with their team after work or on holidays.

Is a program manager a stressful job? ›

It is confirmed scientifically that project management is the most stressful job out there. The success of the project depends on the stress levels of the manager. If we look at the Yerkes-Dodson curve we can notice the following. Little levels of stress are expected for optimal performance.

Do you need a PMP to be a program manager? ›

INDEED YES and IT IS POSSIBLE - you can be hired as a Project Manager (PM) even without a PMP certification.

What is the average age of a program manager? ›

The average age of an employed program manager is 46 years old.

What is the hardest thing a project manager does? ›

Top Five Most Challenging Things about Managing Projects
  • No. 5: Preventing scope creep. ...
  • No. 4: The meeting scheduling Hokey-Pokey. ...
  • No. 3: Trying to manage resources for which you have no authority. ...
  • No. 2: Making the team work late. ...
  • My No. 1 worst thing about managing projects: Delivering bad news.

Can you make six figures as a project manager? ›

A $100,000 a year project manager salary is not a far-fetched dream. It is totally achievable given the right factors, opportunities and preparation. Of course, it would take years to get to that income level and lots of hard work to prove you are worthy of such compensation.

Who does a project manager report to? ›

The Project manager usually reports to the project owner, and may communicate to the related program manager and the project's stakeholders.

What qualifications do you need to become program manager? ›

While you can take different paths to become a program manager, most employers typically expect you to have at least a bachelor's degree. You'll also need experience in project management and can seek certifications to strengthen your skills and increase your job prospects.

What is program manager in simple words? ›

Definition: A program manager is a strategic project-management professional whose job is to help oversee and coordinate the various projects, products, and other strategic initiatives across an organization.

What are 5 job responsibilities of a project manager? ›

Those responsibilities include:
  • Plan and Develop the Project Idea. Every project starts as an idea. ...
  • Create and Lead Your Dream Team. ...
  • Monitor Project Progress and Set Deadlines. ...
  • Solve Issues That Arise. ...
  • Manage the Money. ...
  • Ensure Stakeholder Satisfaction. ...
  • Evaluate Project Performance.
30 Jun 2021

What skills make a good program manager? ›

Nine Key Skills to Power up Your Program Management—A Closer Look
  • Big Picture Thinking and Selling the Vision. ...
  • Superior Analytical Skills. ...
  • Leadership and Teambuilding. ...
  • Communication. ...
  • Influencing and Negotiating. ...
  • Conflict Resolution. ...
  • Stakeholder Management. ...
  • Planning and Resource Management.

What are the top 3 responsibilities of a project manager? ›

In the broadest sense, project managers (PMs) are responsible for planning, organizing, and directing the completion of specific projects for an organization while ensuring these projects are on time, on budget, and within scope.

What are the 5 C's in project management? ›

The 5 Cs of managing projects, Complexity, Criticality, Compliance, Culture and Compassion, tell you how much and how often to do the things we do. There are five, they fit on your hand, and they go in order. The first three, complexity, criticality and compliance, are about the work, and that's where we begin.

What are the 7 C's of project management? ›

There are seven core elements that if considered will contribute to the organization's project decision-making process. The seven elements (7 C's) are: customers, competitors, capabilities, cost, channels, communication, and coordination.

What is the golden triangle of project management? ›

What is the golden triangle in project management? The golden triangle is another name for a project management triangle. It is a project management model that shows that three constraints—time, scope and cost—all must be balanced in project management in order to deliver a quality final deliverable.

What are the 5 steps in the program planning process? ›

Steps in Program Planning
  1. Analyze The Situation.
  2. Identify Your Organization's Needs, Problems, Purpose and Goals.
  3. State Program Objectives and Solutions.
  4. Take Stock of Your Resources and Select Methods.
  5. Plan the Details.
  6. Do It!
  7. Evaluate.

What is 4P in project management? ›

There are 4 critical components in software project planning which are known as the 4P's namely: Product. Process. People. Project.

What is an example of program management? ›

If Maggie is managing three related projects, such as designing a new mattress, testing the new mattress, and putting together a radio advertisement to introduce the new mattress, then she is fulfilling the role of program manager.

What is the role of a program manager? ›

What Is a Program Manager? Program managers oversee the fulfillment of larger organizational goals. They coordinate activities between multiple projects without directly managing them. Instead, they manage the main program, giving detailed attention to program strategy, project delegation, and program implementation.

Do you have to be a project manager to become a program manager? ›

While you can take different paths to become a program manager, most employers typically expect you to have at least a bachelor's degree. You'll also need experience in project management and can seek certifications to strengthen your skills and increase your job prospects.

What are the 5 roles of a project manager? ›

What Are the Responsibilities of a Project Manager?
  • Plan and Develop the Project Idea. Every project starts as an idea. ...
  • Create and Lead Your Dream Team. ...
  • Monitor Project Progress and Set Deadlines. ...
  • Solve Issues That Arise. ...
  • Manage the Money. ...
  • Ensure Stakeholder Satisfaction. ...
  • Evaluate Project Performance.
30 Jun 2021

Who is the boss of a program manager? ›

Director of program management

The company's project managers often report directly to the director of program management, who ensures that all projects remain on schedule and facilitates interaction between projects when necessary.

What should a program manager not do? ›

7 Things a Project Manager Should Never Do to Team-Members
  • Ordering around. ...
  • Fixing a deadline before confirming with the team members. ...
  • Imposing ideas on the team members. ...
  • Blaming the team members for failures. ...
  • All blabbering and no listening. ...
  • Wrong coaching methods. ...
  • An interaction that reeks of unavailability. ...
  • Conclusion.
14 Nov 2019

What's next after program manager? ›

Program Managers who move to another field often do so in such positions as a high-ranking business analyst, the program director who assigns tasks to the Program Managers, or they may head a particular department, such as accounting, marketing or human resources.

What is the next step for a program manager? ›

An aspiring project manager might build experience in an industry before stepping into this role, then go on to become a senior project manager, director, or even vice president or other executive.

What is 90% of a project manager's job? ›

90% of project management is about communicating with the team members, project sponsors, clients, and everyone involved in the project. Throughout the course of any project, they need to stay on top of the project budget as well.

What are the hard skills of a program manager? ›

8 hard skills a project manager should have
  • Negotiation.
  • Relevant technical skills.
  • Writing.
  • Organization.
  • Prioritization and goal setting.
  • Project planning.
  • Delegating.
  • Budget management.
25 Jan 2021

What are the 6 P's in project management? ›

They include process, people, proficiency, passion, patience and perfection.


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