Five Essential Skills for a Programme Manager

Rod Bisset
Based on my 15+ years' experience of dealing with programmes and being a programme manager at Faithful+Gould, these are some of the skills, I believe, are required.

A programme manager deals with open scope, uncertainty and risk mitigation, whilst a project manager deals with closed scope, certainty of cost and duration. Being a programme manager is very different to being a project manager. A programme manager will however need to know how to track and follow up on issues, manage risks, produce plans and be comfortable with common project management terminology and stages. It's all about the skill set. The skills of a programme manager are not the same as a project manager – they are completely different.

The skills of a programme manager are not the same as a project manager – they are completely different.

A programme manager needs to set an overarching programme strategy, define scope parameters and direction, whilst being able to lead on programme communications and ensure all stakeholders are engaged and informed. They will take responsibility for the overall programme delivery, ensuring it meets its commercial and operational goals. They need to co-ordinate multiple project streams, make key decisions based on progress and make difficult decisions on the necessity of individual projects, which may no longer be aligned to the business or programme key goals.

1. Information Analysis and Decision Making

An experienced programme manager will be able to formulate the programme strategy by evaluating options with a clear sense of the key priorities and risks to the programme. They will manage information from multiple parallel work streams and integrate them to form an overall view of issues.

A programme manager will always apply judgement to make decisions on what scoping options to pursue and at what point in the programme strategy some may not be appropriate to commence at the beginning of a programme. They need the ability to think longer term and take a broad business perspective when making decisions.

2. Resource Management

A programme manager is responsible for securing the resources to meet programme requirements, both internally and externally, as it is unlikely an organisation will have all the requisite resources. They need to have the ability to resolve conflicting demands and reallocate resources as required, whilst coaching project managers in managing individual teams. A great programme manager will motivate and generate a 'one team' perspective to achieve common programme goals.

A great programme manager will motivate and generate a 'one team' perspective to achieve common programme goals.

Often, different parts of the business with different agendas will need to be brought together. Gaining their respect will get them onto the same page as the programme. Once you've achieved this you'll probably need good conflict resolution skills to bring them together. It's your job to find a common and clear approach that all parties can sign up to.

3. Stakeholder Management

A good programme manager will lead and influence the programme strategy to gain 'buy-in' and build confidence; from stakeholders, programme boards and executive teams as well as the programme team. They will need to effectively manage team relationships and promote cross-functional collaboration. They must have the ability to simplify the complex technical issues and tailor key messages for the relevant stakeholder group.

A programme manager will maintain a philosophy of openness and honesty around problems and ensure there are no surprises for stakeholders. They need to be comfortable communicating at all levels and be able to adapt their communications and presentations according to the audience.

4. Delivery Focus

On a large programme, the programme manager will never understand all of the detail. They need to be comfortable progressing the programme without having a full picture of everything that is happening at any point in time. This is about letting go of the control and trusting the project managers within the programme.

This is about letting go of the control and trusting the project managers within the programme.

A programme manager is also responsible for managing and controlling programme finances. They will regularly review and redefine the delivery plan when new issues or information emerges, and maintain a focus on moving things forward and progressing in the face of uncertainty, delay or complexity.

5. Commerciality

And last but not least, the commercial aspects of a programme. A programme manager will need good forecasting skills to be able to track and manage programme costs, despite the uncertainty of the scope when it is initially unknown. They will be able to anticipate and manage commercial implications of any programme issues that emerge, and you can guarantee that they will emerge. They must also be able to negotiate and finalise contractual arrangements with various key suppliers.

In conclusion, a skilled programme manager will be an inspiration to their team, act with integrity, communicate with stakeholders effectively and deliver a successful quality programme on time and within budget in a collaborative and safe environment.

Written by

Rod Bisset Regional Director Contact me View my profile >