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A Guide To Becoming The Best Program Manager


If we were to talk about PgMP then, if Vito Corleone, “The Godfather” from the infamous Godfather movies had been keen on getting a PgMP Certification, I’m sure he would classify as one of the Best Program Managers in the “business”.

He had the skills a Program Manager should have, as second nature, over his long career as a leader of the Corleone Crime Family.

Okay, maybe that’s a bit of a stretch of the imagination but you cannot deny that a truly great Program Manager gets things done. Some skills need to be honed and skills that need to become second nature if you want to excel in any aspect of your life and the road to becoming a great Program Manager is no different.

A guide for which skills to use and when to use them to help future and current Program Managers is what we’ve gotten in store for you, so grab your notepad as this guide is a sure-shot way to becoming ‘The Best Program Manager’ out there. See if you can draw parallels between these skills and the way Vito Corleone manages his crime family and let us know what you think!

1. Understanding People

Resource Management

Program Managers are responsible for the many projects that are ongoing in an organization, and a project is worked on by a team of people. Handling an overview of the work of a group of Project Managers requires a lot of strategic juggling and effective communication.

Resource management skills pertaining to the management of people and work are a must. Knowing the right mix of people who can get the job done on time is an acquired skill and is necessary even if it means temporarily assigning people to different projects or taking them off of them.

Dealing With Politics

The ongoing projects will have their own set of stakeholders and managing the expectations of people who are all at a senior level in their organizations can be a project on its own. Having an acquiescent mood won’t get you far but knowing when to compromise will help your project succeed in the long run. In its most basic form, office politics is simply about the differences between people at work the differences can be – differences in opinions, conflicts of interests, the difference in vision, these often manifest as office politics. It all goes down to human communications and relationships.

Know Your Audience

Effective Communication with the stakeholders may sound like an obvious skill to have but you’d be surprised to know just how many problems arise because a key member was left uninformed about certain decisions or because of just plain bad communication practices. Making an effort to understand the different communication styles is particularly helpful in making sure your message is received loud and clear.

Building Talent

In an organization, there is work you can do on your own and most of the time we want that to be the case, but not including people in the work process and not letting them grow as people and make their own mistakes and take responsibility for it will severely drag the performance of the team down which will reflect poorly on the organization. It is tough enough to grow as a person but a truly great Program Manager acknowledges that and ensures that everyone around him succeeds along with him in the goals they set for themselves and as a team.

While projects might get over in a year or so, programs can stretch on, seemingly indefinitely.

Program managers need to be on the lookout for their teams and more specifically against burnout. You can’t work with perfect dedication endlessly, so ensure your staff members get enough downtime. This should include times of less noise at work with fewer deliverables and adequate time away from the office for vacations.

2. Psychology of Self

Decision Making

In a program management role, decision-making is the Program Manager’s responsibility. Being Confident enough in yourself and in the resources you have to take decisive action when the time calls for it is a skill in itself. Knowing when not to delay and acting promptly when a problem arises can make or break projects.

Balancing the tightrope of too much information and very little information in the job description and making decisions when there are different points of view or vested interests is another hurdle.

A great Program Manager knows that the right decision is a fictional concept. You just take all points into consideration and rely on them to see your way through a bunch of possible options and ultimately a decision.

Situational Thinking

On any given day you’re going to be working through a bunch of tricky and time-sensitive problems, It’ll help your teams and the many projects you are working on when you are able to step back and change the way you approach a problem. It will lead to a new understanding of the situation and knowing which type of thinking to use in a particular situation will lead this new understanding to help the teams do a better and faster job.

Types of Situational Thinking:

  1. Implicative: “if this, then what” type of thinking will to a problem lead to you taking into account the implication of a certain action and helping you come up with an appropriate response.
  2. Analytical: This type of thinking involves being able to identify and define problems, extract key information from data, and come up with a solution the project teams can work with.
  3. Creative: Using this type of thinking style when trying to come up with possible solutions to a challenge will yield innovative responses that can land you in an even better position than you were in before.
  4. Strategic: Looking at the bigger picture when considering a possible solution to a problem is important as it can decide where you are headed.
  5. Tactical: Thinking about the actions to be taken and making a specific plan of action that is implemented.

Ability to not dwell on the little things

A PGMP-certified Program Manager will have a lot of things to deal with in his or her long career, it comes with the job. But there will come a time when you might feel the need to have control over every aspect of a certain project or project under your purview.

Being a helicopter boss might get things done in the short run, but over time your team will feel they have no power, and their motivation will wane, dragging down the overall performance. Learn to let it go and trust the capable people you have employed, this will empower them and feel more responsible for the project’s successes or failures.

3. Have an Edge over others


The ability to look at the information present and know what is going on and even read between the lines is a valuable skill a Program Manager should have. A Great Program Manager has this ability as second nature. It should be deeply ingrained into your personality. It’s a skill you are born with and one you can acquire with hard work and determination. The best way to acquire this skill is to practice it in your everyday life.

Anyone can read a spreadsheet full of numbers, and being able to make sense of those numbers and identify what may be hiding behind or within those numbers that will make you a better program manager. To do this effectively, put forth a thorough plan in place to track financial performance. This will make sure that all of the assumptions you will make about the numbers are correct and that you will achieve the desired outcome.

An almost instinctive understanding of terms such as revenue, margin, operating profit, and break-even analysis is paramount to being a great Program Manager.

Become the Catalyst

In an organization, the many challenges and projects that are in a state of constant motion can be seen as a chemical reaction, an irreversible phenomenon that can be speeded up with the help of a catalyst. In an organization, The Program Manager acts as a catalyst by ensuring that effective change occurs in the way the job is done or the way the projects are handled, that Manager will be seen as someone who has a vision for change and also as someone who can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Initiating and managing change successfully will depend on whether or not you have a vision for change. It sounds corny, but unless you are able to show people the ends to the means, you’ll probably never be able to help your organization fully embrace change.

According to a Harvard Business Review article, which focused on studies related to change management, they conclude that there are 4 key factors that are responsible for Change management, this study which was completed in 1994, and in the years since then, the Boston Consulting Group has used those four factors to forecast the outcomes, and guide the execution, of more than 1,000 change management initiatives worldwide. Not only has the correlation held, but no other factors (or combination of factors) have predicted outcomes as well. You can read the full article here.

The 4 key factors:

  1. Duration: the time between reviews is more critical for success than a project’s life span. As studies show that a long project that is reviewed frequently is more likely to succeed than a short project that isn’t reviewed frequently.
  2. Integrity: Managers should reflect on the extent to which they can and actively do rely on teams of managers, supervisors, and staff to execute change projects successfully
  3. Commitment: Managers must boost the commitment of two different groups of people if they want to change projects to take root, the People who have influence and those who will ultimately deal with the new system
  4. Effort: Managers must calculate how much extra work the new system will be for the team members and accordingly act towards making the change as seamless as possible.

Hope you find this guide helpful in your endeavors of becoming a great Program Manager!

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