Programme Management Career Path: What You Need to Know

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn how to become a programme manager, how this role is similar yet different from project management, and what this career field entails.

[Featured image] A programme management team, one female, wearing a white blouse, and a male, wearing a dark sports jacket and white shirt, are working on a laptop in their office.

Programme managers direct programmes consisting of multiple projects. As a programme manager, you’ll oversee different teams, working towards other goals and with separate work schedules. Projects in your programme will be connected by overarching organisational objectives or within the same business function. You’ll track project progress and align project managers and project outcomes.

What is programme management?

Programme management involves coordinating, monitoring, and controlling an aligned group of projects. As a programme manager, you'll manage a portfolio of related projects that impact the same parts of the organisation or rely on each other to be delivered successfully. Programme managers must coordinate multiple projects to avoid redundancy, track progress, and meet schedules.

As a programme manager, you take a strategic project management approach. It would be best to consider scheduling, scope, cost, risk dependencies, and how each project fits the critical path towards program objectives.

The programme management lifecycle

The programme management lifecycle is a framework that helps you manage large, complex programs. As a programme manager, you’re responsible for the success of a programme from beginning to end. This means you must ensure that the individual projects within your programme are successful and that they work together and support the goal of your programme.

The programme management lifecycle is a cyclical process with five distinct phases:

  1. Developing the concept or idea

  2. Setting up and defining the programme

  3. Planning, scheduling, and organising the programme

  4. Executing the programme, including monitoring and controlling 

  5. Closing the programme

Within this framework, each project has its life cycle of initiation, designing, execution, monitoring and controlling, and closing phases. Therefore, each programme involves multiple workflows, all going through their lifecycles. Some projects may last the duration of the programme. Other projects may be opened, completed, and closed in a single programme phase. 

Who works in programme management?

Individuals who have authority over projects work in programme management. You'll work with various people and departments as a programme manager while fulfilling your duties. Some professionals that you make worth with include:

  • Subject matter experts

  • Programme sponsors

  • Operations directors

  • Directors of programmes

  • Programme coordinators

  • Project managers

  • Programme budget managers

  • Technical leads 

  • Programme office team members (finance, control, administration)

Can a project manager be a programme manager?

Programme managers are usually project managers who gained enough experience to manage multiple projects simultaneously. Becoming a programme manager requires advanced knowledge of scheduling, controlling, budgeting, and monitoring various projects concurrently. Some programme managers manage a programme and oversee individual projects within their programme. In larger, more complex programmes, you’ll typically delegate project management to individual project managers.

Programme manager vs. project manager

While “programme management” may seem interchangeable with “project management,” several essential differences distinguish the two.

You’ll usually operate at a higher level in program management than project managers. Programme management involves managing multiple projects to achieve a common goal and business objectives. As a programme manager, you coordinate the duties of numerous project managers, overseeing the entire life cycle of a programme from start to finish. You're responsible for ensuring all projects are on schedule, budget, and adequately resourced. 

You don’t have day-to-day control over specific projects. Instead, you create an environment where individual projects can succeed.

Project managers are responsible for delivering individual projects within a programme. Your work may be anything from developing new software to launching a new advertisement campaign. Project managers oversee individual projects while managing tasks and communicating with project owners to ensure their teams complete projects as expected.

Responsibilities of a programme manager

As a programme manager, you are a strategic leader. You’re responsible for delivering benefits related to the programme’s goals. You’ll implement programme management processes and approaches to planning, managing, executing, and providing programmes.

Your responsibilities will include :

  • Strategic planning: Aligning projects to strategic objectives

  • Programme governance: Defining roles, responsibilities, decision-making authority, and policy

  • Stakeholder engagement and communication planning: Identifying stakeholders, engaging stakeholders early in a programme, and developing an effective communication plan

  • Risk management: Identifying, analysing, prioritising, and managing risks in a programme

  • Benefits realisation management: Ensuring benefits are identified and planned for; assessing progress towards benefits achievement throughout a programme

  • Programme lifecycle delivery monitoring and reporting: Reporting on progress against milestones, deliverables, and outcomes at each stage 

  • Working closely with project managers: Aligning projects with a programme by coordinating, controlling, strategic planning, and communication 

Programme manager salary 

According to Glassdoor in India, programme managers in India earn an average salary of ₹20,60,022 as of March 2024. Additionally, the average compensation above base pay is ₹60,022, ranging from ₹57,895 to ₹62,149 in commissions, tips, bonuses, or profit-sharing [1]. The salary for this role may vary based on location, industry, and type of experience.  

How to become a programme manager

While you can take different paths to become a programme manager, employers typically expect you to have at least a bachelor's degree. Because this is a competitive role, your qualifications are essential, with many employers preferring candidates with a master’s degree. You'll also need experience in project management and can seek certifications to strengthen your skills and increase your job prospects.


Most programme managers have engineering, technical, or business backgrounds, so a bachelor's or master's degree in computer science, business administration, engineering, or another related field may be helpful.

Some programme managers have worked through project roles without formal education. This path is less common in the modern workplace, as employers look for candidates with bachelors and advanced degrees for project and programme management roles. You don’t necessarily need a Master of Business Administration (MBA) or a Project Management Professional (PMP) certification, but they can help. 

Programme manager roles are competitive, so it’s worth doing what you can to set yourself apart. Niche programmes may require advanced degrees in specialised fields like engineering, cloud infrastructure, or construction.

While you’ll find various available programme manager certifications, you don’t need certification to complete programme management roles. You only require certifications if the organisation you’re applying to needs them. For example, Microsoft offers project management certifications specific to its products and processes. If you work for Microsoft or plan to do so in the future, getting certified is usually a requirement. 

Certifications demonstrate your competence. Many programme managers have project management and programme management certifications on their CVs. Some common certifications include the following:

Project management certifications

  • Project Management Professional (PMP)

  • Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)

  • PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)

  • Certified ScrumMaster (CSM)

Programme management certifications

  • Programme Management Professional (PgMP)

  • MSP Practitioner

Earning a Project Management Professional (PMP) certification from the Project Management Institute (PMI) is highly recommended to add credibility to your professional profile and demonstrate your knowledge of project management best practices.

While completing qualifications like education and credentials are essential to becoming a programme manager, becoming exceptional requires more. You need to be able to apply what you know in real-world scenarios. That requires experience and expertise.


Programme management is a complex profession that requires multiple skill sets, including leadership, management, customer focus, and technical expertise. A prevalent path begins with working as a project manager and building experience within project management structures. 

Employers typically prefer to hire programme managers with at least three to five years of experience in project management roles. You'll need expertise managing large-scale or critical projects with cross-functional teams for employers to consider you for large-scale programs.

Getting started 

You'll find many paths leading to becoming an effective programme manager. Consider building your project management skills to advance to a programme manager role. The Google Project Management: Professional Certificate can help you get started. Seek opportunities to manage projects and deliver consistent quality while upgrading your educational credentials, certification, or both.

To learn more about the complexities of managing multiple projects simultaneously, you can take the Project Practicum With Multiple Projects course, part of the UCI Project Management Professional Certificate.

Article sources

  1. Glassdoor. “Programme Manager Salaries in India,,15.htm?clickSource=searchBtn.” Accessed April 2, 2024.

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