Program Management vs. Project Management

Is there a difference between program management and project management? This can depend upon the individual organization, but for most organizations, the two are separate roles. Project management by definition is the managing of an individual project. In the simplest of terms, program management is comprised of multiple projects that are dependent on each other. Sometimes the program manager is seen as the visionary for a program. He or she focuses on the strategy and implementation of the program and assures that projects are delegated to the appropriate project managers. In order to be successful, the roles of the program manager and project manager are interdependent but distinguished by different responsibilities, challenges, and competencies.


Project management is more finely nuanced than program management. Project managers are responsible for the performance of the personnel dedicated to the project. Project managers outline objectives, plan execution, and regularly report on project status to a program manager. Because an individual project has an agreed upon end-date, a project is ruled by meeting deadlines, staying within budget, and completing deliverables. Program management is driven by corporate goals and business objectives. Changes to the project can impact the project timeline. Project managers must routinely report project changes that deviate from the baseline plan and prepare an updated plan to the program manager. The new plan reflects changes to time, scope, and resources. Program managers review the plan to ensure that corporate objectives will still be met. Let’s look at a couple of resume examples that highlight the responsibilities of a project manager and a program manager: Project Manager:
  • Managed construction projects valued from $15 million to over $100 million
  • Managed and forecasted monthly pay-apps during all phases
  • Directed a team of eight employees during design and construction
  • Coordinated with the in-house architects and engineers to revise and redesign flaws in the buildings
  • Organized and conducted weekly meetings with trade partners and other community leaders to plan for the upcoming week
  • Submitted updated weekly project plans to program management that reflected project status from week to week
Program Manager: Managed the strategic direction and daily operations of a five-year $50M Operations/Telephony/Systems Engineering multi-site contract.
  • Personally responsible for the program profit and loss and grew the business by 11% over three years
  • Directed project personnel, mindfully watching cost and schedule requirements, and ensured contract compliance
  • Provided leadership and consistently introduced innovative approaches to enhance performance, efficiency, and customer satisfaction
  • Met with client leadership on a daily basis to discuss project direction, overall health, costs, risks, and developing initiatives
  • Developed performance and financial analysis reports, which showed the effectiveness of meeting program commitments
  • Managed and scheduled all personnel training and built staff development plans that promoted increased responsibility and growth
  • Major contributor to the development of all information technology initiatives for the client including critical path and design projects, budgeting, planning, policies, and workflow prioritization


Typically, there are different job challenges for project and program managers. A program manager views projects in a more holistic manner. A project manager is in the nuts and bolts of a project’s development and completion. A project manager works cross-functionally while a program manager works cross-enterprise. A project manager focuses on process compliance whereas a program manager develops processes. A project manager uses tools to track the project. The program manager develops or chooses the tools for his or her project managers to use. bag-1245954_960_720 The success of a project largely depends on the project manager’s attention to detail and level of technical knowledge. Staying on top of the project’s many moving parts is critical. Though program managers may possess the same level of technical know-how, they are involved in wider responsibilities that require them to work with other managers and leaders in the organization. Program managers should manage by exception and best leave the details to the project manager. Project managers face the challenge of time management and people coordination while program managers deal more with people management. Project managers focus on the completion of projects that meet the expectations of program managers. Project managers resolve conflicting project requirements. Program managers are often faced with competing business strategies and objectives. A program manager is responsible for the outcome of the program. This includes overseeing multiple projects plus conveying the goals and objectives of a program to senior leadership. Programs are linked to revenue and costs, which are tied to the organization’s financial calendar and results. Therefore, the program manager must have a greater understanding of the organizational budget. Though a project has a straightforward budget, it may not be tied to quarterly or annual results.


To achieve expected results, different competencies are required of program and project managers. Program managers, more so than project managers, are more attuned to the long-term benefits of the program. Since program management requires a big-picture viewpoint, systematic thinking is essential to those who manage programs. Project management requires analytical and tactical thinking to complete tasks and deliverables on time and within budget, which are the keys to project success. presentation-407291_960_720 Programs are governed by senior-level staff, which provides direction, oversight, and control. For that reason, it is critical that program managers possess the ability to communicate and influence on a senior level. Project managers must possess strong communication skills to ensure all team members are aware of the plan and any changes that will impact team members’ work within the team. There are also shared competencies. Both project and program managers should be results/goal oriented as well as proficient at team building. Both functions must collaborate well with internal and external stakeholders. Recognizing the different responsibilities, challenges, and competencies of these two distinct roles can help organizations better staff for corporate programs and initiatives, and plan for success.


CATMEDIA is an award-winning Inc. 500 company based in Atlanta, Georgia. Founded in 1997, the company specializes in advertising, creative services, media production, program management, training, and human resource management. As a Women Owned Small Business (WOSB), CATMEDIA provides world-class customer service and innovative solutions to government and commercial clients. Current CATMEDIA clients include Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

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