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What does a Program Manager do?

N. Kalu
N. Kalu

A program manager coordinates, manages, and maintains various initiatives or programs for an organization in order to optimize organizational output. Program managers are most often found in the technology industry. In this industry, program refers to software, and it is part of the program manager job description to ensure that all new specifications for a piece of software are included in the latest release. Having a competent technical manager is key to a software company creating reliable and effective products. Program management requires years of experience and a solid educational background, including certification.

In industries other than technology, such as the manufacturing industry, this professional is oftentimes seen juggling several different programs at a time. Such programs could include spearheading a new product design initiative, selecting and obtaining the type of machinery needed for the product, communicating any changes to the process across different manufacturing departments, and assisting the product development team on any new tasks. In this way, a program manager can be thought of as someone who manages programs or products, not employees.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

Companies within the technology industry are always on the lookout for experienced program managers. Even the most low-impact, localized software programs require a great deal of planning and preparation in order to be successful. Program managers take on the enormous task of organizing project stages and setting deadlines for each stage of completion. In order for a piece of software to come to market, many factors must be in place beforehand. From assigning specialists to mapping out the documentation and specifications for the product to brainstorming ideas on better user intent (UI) design, a program manager must rely on his or her excellent communication skills, broad knowledge of all company departments, and the needs of the client or market.

Top program managers have 5-10 years experience in the field and in their respective industries. They must normally have a bachelor's degree from an accredited university or college. Additionally, many companies are now requiring that program managers have a Master's of Business Administration (MBA) degree to complement their past experience. An MBA degree is especially useful in training would-be program managers on how to execute a process most effectively, saving the company valuable time and money.

Getting program manager certification is paramount to advancing further in this field. Many program managers take classes to prepare them for the Project Management Professional (PMP®) certification exam. This exam and its certification is given by the Project Management Institute, an international organization dedicated to training the world's program and project managers.

Discussion Comments


@Markerrag -- You are correct and that job has gotten more complex with the increasing consolidation of radio stations.

Let's say you have a company that owns 50 radio stations throughout the United States. What kind of programming will play well with local audiences in each of those 50 markets? A program manager may be charged with figuring that out and making sure those stations broadcast only the programs appropriate for their individual markets.

That can be a heck of a job depending on quality market research. If a program director for one of those national companies is lucky, he or she will have plenty of local help in each market.


The position of "program manager" can be found all over the place. These folks are common in the radio industry, for example, as they are the ones who deal with the types of programming (hence the name) the station plays and, as such, must keep a close eye on what brings in listeners and what drives them to other stations.

A good program manager can, in fact, make a radio station a success or a complete bust.

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