Program Manager and Project Manager: How are they different


A sound project management practice keeps any organization stays ahead in the competition. It is understood that most of the companies take up and implement multiple projects at a time based on their business needs and market trends. These projects are executed as individual projects headed by the project managers. They can also be grouped under a few programs assigned to a program manager. If required all projects or programs are undertaken as a single portfolio based on the type of projects planned.

Here, an attempt is been made to draw a line between the programs and projects along with the key responsibilities managed by the project managers and the program manager giving a brief on the roles they play in the respective assignment.

Program Management:

A program is defined as a group of related projects, subsidiary programs, and program activities. They are operated in a coordinated way to gain benefits not obtainable from operating them independently. 

Program management is the process of managing several related projects, often with the intention of improving an organization's performance and meet the market competition. A program irrespective of the domain, structure or outcome shall comprise of several projects. Hence certain project management roles will also be part of program management.

According to PMBOK 6th edition, program management focuses on interdependencies within projects and between projects and the program level. It is to determine the optimal approach for managing them.

Actions related to but not limited to program management may include:

  • Allocating program scope into program components

  • Managing interdependencies among the program components

  • Managing program risks that may impact the multiple projects under the program

  • Allocating the program budget to all the projects

  • Measuring and ensuring the planned benefit of the program

Program Manager:

The person accountable or assigned by the organization to manage a program OR a set of projects is a Program Manager.

A program manager is generally managing multiple projects at a time as shown in the figure below. He has to ensure the master plans are followed, to develop solutions to program challenges.

Mentoring the key resources to enhance performance. Direct the reporting project managers for the successful completion of all the assigned projects on time and within budget. His key responsibilities include:

  • Governance

  • Alignment

  • Management

  • Integration

  • Optimization

  • Tracking

  • Infrastructure

  • Budgeting 

  • Achieve corporate vision

The program manager must possess knowledge of organizations' monetary strategies. The performance of the program has a direct impact on the organizations’ financial health.

Official Consumer Report


Project Management:

The project as we know is a temporary and unique initiative taken up by any individual or an organization. It is carefully planned to achieve desired/planned product, result or service.

Project management is all about managing the assigned project within the given constraints. In a broader sense, according to PMBOK 6th Edition, Project Management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements.

Project Management Phases


Project Manager:

According to PMBOK 6th edition, the project manager is the person assigned by the performing organization to lead the team that is responsible for achieving the project objectives.

He/She is accountable for the development and maintenance of the project business case document. While working with a program he should work with the appropriate program managers to ensure the project management documents are aligned with program documents. 

Depending upon the organization structure project manager will report to the Project Management Office (PMO) or a portfolio of a program manager who is accountable for one or more organization's projects and when the project is within the program or portfolio.

Program Management vs Project Management:

In general, the key difference between program and project management is:

Program management manages the set of projects or a portfolio of projects headed by a program manager. Project management manage projects lead by a project manager.

The following table narrates other major differences between program and project management.

Program Management vs Project Management

Program Manager vs Project Manager:

On a general note, it looks that both program and project managers share similar responsibilities. Yet, there are multiple differences among the roles both play in their individual position.

Generally, program managers manage a broader role as multiple projects are conducted under their leadership. Whereas, Project managers have a narrow role as they manage a single project.

Program managers have to coordinate at the enterprise level and manage their projects at the macro level while project managers required to manage the project at the micro-level. Hence the tools both require to manage the responsibilities will also differ.   

Project managers need to manage the team members individually throughout the project.  Whereas it’s enough if program managers manage the individual project managers only.

The program manager needs to have a broader knowledge of organizations financial strategies. Project managers need to focus on managing project cost/budget.

Program managers deal with organizations to align the program with business strategy and focus on ensuring the ROI of the program undertaken by completing on time. The project manager ensures the project completed within the schedule and the cost.

The following table summarises the differences between the program and the project manager.

Program Manager vs Project Manager

Finally, program managers are strategic whereas project managers are tactical.


The overall study shows that program managers have to play broader roles and carry higher responsibilities towards the organization. They have to manage the job for a longer duration as the program undertaken will last for a longer time since it involves multiple projects. Program managers play the role at the enterprise level also as they involve in monetary negotiations.  

On the other hand, project managers have to stick to their individual projects. Their role is limited to managing the project resources and stakeholders while delivering the project.  

Program managers need to be more strategic while project managers play the tactical/technical role. Program managers are responsible for the people, policies, business strategy and goals of the organization. And Project managers are responsible for the specific project.

Finally, both individuals contribute to the organizations' growth if both adhere and perform their responsibilities.

Click here to kickstart your Project Management Career

About Author
Sanjeeva Nagmoti