Scaling Up? You Need a Program Manager on Your Team. Here’s Why


A construction program manager guides your project delivery teams and brings consistency to project execution across your portfolio.

So, the question is, does your construction firm have a strategic vision, a repeatable project delivery process, and a systematic way to measure, monitor, correct, and control project outcomes across portfolios?

If not, you may be ready for a program manager.

Here’s what to consider as you decide.

Program Manager vs. Project Manager: What’s the difference?

The primary differences between program and project managers are their timelines, focus areas, and horizons of scale.

Project managers generally take a deeper perspective and are only responsible for one project at a time. 

Project managers are responsible for planning, scheduling, and executing a project. And projects have targeted end dates.

On the other hand, a program manager strategically coordinates multiple projects to achieve the program’s overall objectives. The program’s objectives are long-range. And although goals may change over time, the program is an ongoing process without a fixed end date.


Program managers vs. project managers: The differences continue

A project manager focuses on timelines, budgets, and meeting milestones and deadlines. Project managers also interact with many stakeholders, including the project owner, site superintendent, project subcontractors, and suppliers. 

In contrast, program managers ensure all portfolio projects align with the company’s goals. And while program managers also interact with project owners, the program manager reports directly to the CEO.  

Direction from the CEO guides the program manager’s strategic objectives. 

Then the program manager works with the firm’s procurement managers, finance department heads, and project managers to ensure project outcomes meet the firm’s long-range, strategic business goals.

Do program managers and project managers need different skills?

Program and project managers need a blend of technical and interpersonal skills. And not surprisingly, this is where the roles converge.

Hard skills

  • Strategic and critical thinking
    • The construction industry is volatile, unpredictable, and risky
    • Project and program managers need to think beyond what’s in front of them and problem-solve on the fly. 
  • Data analysis and reporting
    • Program managers continually monitor the economy, the construction markets, the supply chain, and the project performance in their portfolios. They make sense of this information, devise strategies to capitalize on market conditions and report to the CEO or Board of Directors.
    • Project managers also rely on data to inform their decisions. Project managers keep their projects moving forward by monitoring their crew’s performance, and tracking RFIs, change orders, and incoming supplies, project managers keep their projects moving forward.
  • Long-range planning, short-range strategy, effective action 
    • Both positions have goals and milestones to meet.
    • And project and program managers must manage risk and work within budgets over short and long-range timelines.

Program managers and project managers need soft skills too

  • Organizational leadership
    • Strong leaders don’t always make good managers. But the best managers are always good leaders. 
    • Program and project managers must rally the people they manage around common objectives. Strong leadership skills are a must.
  • Highly evolved interpersonal skills
    • Project and program managers need excellent communication skills, both written and verbal. 
    • They need to be skilled at negotiation and conflict resolution and be able to motivate and lead people, teams, and initiatives.
  • Time management
    • Project and program managers need to juggle multiple tasks, responsibilities, and deadlines at once.
    • The people in both positions must prioritize their work schedule, set the schedule expectations for their subordinates, and delegate work to others as appropriate for maximum efficiency. 

Defining project and program management

What is a project?

The term ‘project’ refers to a specific, singular mission to accomplish a specific goal.

Project managers work to complete projects on time and within budget.

What is a program?

A program is an integrated set of projects.

The program manager oversees the entire program, ensuring it achieves its goals.

How do projects and programs differ?

  • Structure: 
    • A project’s scope and goals are well-defined and specific, and components are required to meet rigid standards.
    • Programs are less detail-oriented and more focused on collective outcomes. The program manager works with a broader timeline, and because of that, programs tend to be more fluid than projects.
  • Effort: 
    • A project represents a single, focused endeavor. And some project phases run more smoothly than others, but interruptions and delays can spontaneously occur. There may be high-intensity phases and more relaxed project segments. Nevertheless, project managers have to be diligent and watchful throughout the entirety of the project term.
    • In a program, multiple projects form a connected package. As a result, programs tend to run more smoothly overall. Although projects overlap in programs, the program manager assesses these overlaps and works with the relevant project managers to ensure smooth progress. 
  • Length: 
    • While some projects take several years, a typical project usually runs between six to eighteen months.
    • Programs are long-term commitments, so it’s common for programs to organize into phases with specific objectives marking the end of one phase and the beginning of the next.

Would your team benefit from a construction program manager?

In conclusion, a construction program manager can help your operation in many ways.

By providing leadership and strategic direction, a consistent and repeatable project delivery process, and organizational oversight to ensure success, a construction program manager helps construction businesses run more smoothly and efficiently. 

If you are considering hiring a construction program manager, be sure to do your research to find the best candidate for your needs.

Enterprise construction management solutions built for collaboration

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Linarc is a cloud-based enterprise management system built solely for collaborative, data-driven construction management.

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