Programme Manager vs. Project Manager Jobs: A Complete Guide

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn about the difference between a programme manager vs project manager, the key skills required for each profession, and what you need to build a successful career in project leadership with this guide from Coursera.

[Featured image] Programme manager demonstrates data on two whiteboards

Programme Manager vs. Project Manager Jobs: A Complete Guide

While project managers work on individual projects, programme managers maintain a bigger picture in terms of scope, schedule, and budget, managing multiple project streams simultaneously. This guide will help you to understand the differences between a programme manager vs project manager, and how both of these roles fit into the wider organisational perspective. 

Project manager vs. programme manager jobs: How are they different?

As a project manager you direct individual projects to completion. As a programme manager you ensure that groups of related projects run smoothly. But how do these roles differ day to day?

The job of a project manager

Project managers make sure individual projects complete on time, within budget, and in alignment with goals. "Project management" is an umbrella term for communication and financial planning skills, analytical frameworks, interpersonal communication skills, decision-making skills, and the ability to coordinate different groups of people who work interdependently to achieve project outcomes.

As a project manager you will be responsible for:

  • Managing the project you work on, including helping to define objectives

  • Prioritising work, and ensuring that your team gets results

  • Addressing project risks and threats to success

  • Planning and acquiring project resources from the project management office

  • Communicating effectively to stakeholders and colleagues

  • Understanding how your project fits into the bigger picture so that you can keep it aligned with company goals

The job of a programme manager

Programme managers oversee all projects within a programme, or a portfolio of projects. Programme managers typically have broad supervisory authority, which includes the ability to:

  • Monitor and assess performance across multiple projects

  • Identify high-level risks

  • Prioritise projects and allocate resources across the programme to maximise success

  • Oversee data collection and reporting

  • Present analysis of programme and individual project statuses to executives

As a programme manager, you’ll work with project managers, executive management, and cross-functional teams to plan project schedules, budgets, and goals. You’ll also provide guidance to help problem-solve obstacles across multiple projects.

To thrive as a programme manager you need to be an expert in communication, analytical thinking, facilitation, progressive problem solving, creativity, and leadership. If you have these skills, you may be an ideal candidate to manage programme lifecycles that could be challenging for even the most seasoned project manager to control.  

What exactly is the difference between project and programme management?

Programme managers and project managers are similar in that both of them lead teams of people towards a common goal. However, there are a few key differences in the roles that are a result of the relative seniority of the positions and subsequent responsibility levels.

  • A programme manager works at a higher organisational level than a project manager. As a programme manager you will be in charge of groups of projects, while as a project manager you take responsibility for one project at a time. As the head of multiple projects, programme managers are in a more strategic position than project managers.

  • Programme managers are in charge of coordinating multiple individual projects, managing their specific progress toward an overarching goal. They have leadership duties that are more extensive than project managers, and can be found at higher organisational levels, so programme manager pay is, on average, higher. They tend to be less hands-on in projects and more managerial.

  • One of the biggest differences between a project manager and a programme manager is the timeframes they work within. Project managers typically work within limited timeframes, moving onto other projects after their existing project is complete. Programme managers guide an enterprise or mission through longer sweeps of time. You will find programme managers working on programmes with finite dates for completion, which may include annual budget cycles, but you will also find many working on organisation transformations with much longer timeframes, or without any specific time bound plan.

What is the working relationship between the two roles?

As a programme manager in any transformation program, you’ll help manage the efforts of multiple project managers and analysts. Your goal is to make sure all of the individual teams in your programme work together with a cohesive strategy and that they respect each other’s contributions.

As an IT programme manager, for example, you might work with project managers on different parts of a worldwide IT rollout to ensure that each part is running smoothly. You might work with project managers on the software design team to make sure they’re meeting the software specifications. Simultaneously, you might coordinate with the database team to ensure data being captured by the user interface design team stacks up correctly. 

As a project manager of the software team, you might act as an intermediary between business managers, business analysts, and developers, and you might use focus groups and user acceptance testing to improve your software. You will likely report to and negotiate resources with the programme manager.

Which job is right for you?

Programme and project managers, while doing somewhat distinct jobs, both wear many similar hats while working day to day. Both positions focus on deliverables and managing people to ensure the highest quality of work possible. 

If you enjoy variety and moving from one task to another without the heavy responsibilities of retaining overall strategic control, you may want to choose project management as a profession. If you prefer to lay down tracks within an organisation, building lasting relationships with co-workers, and gaining a better grasp of the big picture, you may want to consider working toward a programme manager position.

Programme managers often have backgrounds as project managers, so many people evolve into this position as a natural career growth path.

Salaries of project vs programme managers


Project Manager£49,109£47,741£57,889
Programme Manager£59,867£50,540£64,273

Data from November 2021. Averages salaries on job sites in London, UK.

The salaries of programme managers and project managers are dependent on experience, industry, location, company size, job duties, and a lot more. For example, there are large discrepancies in salary in locations around the UK. London has the most project and programme manager roles and the highest salaries, although more jobs are moving to remote working. 

The London job site data above tells us that, as a programme manager, you are likely to earn about 13% more than you would as a project manager. 

The APM 2021 survey suggests an even bigger difference in salaries across the UK, with average project manager salary at £47,875 and the average programme manager earning £65,252. This data may be skewed slightly though, and reflect that there are a higher proportion of programme manager roles based in London where salaries are higher.

Growth prospects for these roles

The APM survey highlights that project and programme managers have remain in demand, despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Salaries for project professionals have been level or have increased over the last year. Programme managers have seen salaries increase by almost 9%, according to the survey. This demonstrates the resilience of project roles in the face of uncertain times. The data is a positive sign for the future.

Project manager vs programme manager competencies

The project manager and programme manager roles are similar in nature; both perform project management activities to deliver a business benefit to the customer. However, there are some fundamental differences between the two roles, which come from the way in which they deal with their project team and the complexity of projects that each role must undertake.

What skills do you need to be a project manager?

As a project manager, you will have many responsibilities, which can include implementing project management tools, managing people and projects, overseeing risks, balancing budgets, and leading effectively. Some of the most important competencies that will set you apart include:


  • Leadership qualities

  • Good soft skills

  • Patience and persistence

  • Technical/domain-specific knowledge

The skills required to be a project manager include understanding and utilising project management approaches and methodologies, such as: 

  • Prince II 

  • Agile

  • Waterfall

  • Scrum

In order to be a successful project manager, you must also have knowledge of and the ability to use tools such as GANTT charts, burndown charts, Asana, and Technical project managers may need working knowledge of development languages, artificial intelligence, database management, and other technologies. For this reason, technical project managers often start as developers, business analysts or database managers or in technical support roles.

What skills do you need to be a programme manager?

To be a programme manager, you must have the skills to oversee the management of programmes. Programme management is a profession in which you are responsible for the planning, execution, and completion of multiple large and complex streams of work. You need all of the competencies of a project manager in addition to strong managerial skills and familiarity with business operations and strategy. You will probably be interfacing with executives at the board level, so your communication, presentation, and negotiation skills should be at an advanced level.

Project and programme management are competitive fields. It is important to have a toolbox of methodologies at hand in order to select the most appropriate tools for a specific programme or project. The following list highlights some of the most commonly accepted project management methodologies:

  • The Google Project Management Professional Certificate will give you the opportunity to prepare for a career in project management and add to your existing skillset. In just six months, you can access the resources you need to learn valuable competencies that companies recruiting project management professionals are looking for.

  • The PRINCE2 qualification is a globally recognised project management qualification that is structured into Foundation and Practitioner training courses. It provides you with a systematic approach to managing projects in a consistent and controlled way that facilitates high standards of delivery and accountability.

  • Completion of the Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) Qualification helps you to streamline projects and become an expert in one of the most commonly-used Agile frameworks. As a Certified ScrumMaster (CSM), you’ll know how to keep projects under tight control while maximising productivity. 

  • The Certified Project Manager qualification offers a flexible, comprehensive and consistently updated approach to deliver expert project management across multiple disciplines and industries. It is an entry-level project management qualification offered by the International Association of Project Managers (IAPM)

  • The Six Sigma Yellow, Green and Black Belts are internationally recognised qualifications focused on process quality and saving money. Achieving Six Sigma competency demonstrates that you have the skills to understand, measure, analyse, and improve business processes.

Though most programme manager job postings don't specifically ask for certifications, they can be helpful for those who want to work on these more complex projects. Most programme managers hold qualifications in a variety of project management methodologies.

Getting started in Project Roles

Whether your ultimate goal is to be a project manager or a programme manager, you’ll need project management skills and qualifications. You can learn those skills by taking an online course like the Google Project Management: Professional Certificate

If project work is your chosen career path, it’s a good idea to build your foundational skills and then move on to advanced methodologies. It will be your experience and grasp of project management that help your CV get noticed.

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