How to Become a Program Manager

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Program managers implement a structured process, managing and coordinating multiple projects within an organization. The role of the program manager is to ensure that projects align with corporate goals, maximize benefits and minimize risk. The program manager ensures the quality of project deliverables. While projects have a definite beginning and end date, programs tend to be ongoing. A program manager needs to have strong knowledge and experience with project management. The Project Management Institute (PMI) offers training and certification for program managers.

There is no specific training that will qualify you to become a program manager without experience in project management. Before considering taking on the program manager role, it is essential to gain this experience and learn project management methods. This includes defining project goals, initiating projects, breaking down and analyzing project activities, assessing risk, budgeting, acquiring resources and controlling project outcomes.

In most cases, program management is the next step up from project management in the organizational structure. Training is available, both in a classroom setting and online, to help prepare individuals for the role of program manager.

A common path to program management is through the coaching and developmental experiences received as a project manager. Your company may have a formal career path, but within many companies, the path is not formalized. Discuss your goals with your boss and with your HR Manager. Try to develop a relationship with someone who can mentor your development. Work at developing the higher-level skills needed for program management. Some key skills include delegation and coaching, and developing a broader perspective on change and on risk management.

Read and study. There is a variety of books and publications available that describe the program management process in detail. Look for publications that reflect the practices and standards of the Project Management Institute (PMI). One reliable source of information is the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK).

Study and take the exam to acquire PMP (Project Management Professional) certification. The Project Management Institute provides a study guide to help prepare candidates to take this exam. There are both experience and education requirements. These vary depending on educational background. Standards and requirements for the exam can be found on the Project Management Institute (PMI) Web site. In some companies, the PMP certification is a requirement for moving into program level management.