Copyright to Ginger Levin and J. LeRoy Ward © 2013.

Note: PMBOK and PgMP are registered marks of the Project Management Institute.

Published here May 2013.

PART 1 | Introduction | PgM Performance Competencies Detail 
PgM Personal Competencies | PgM Personal Competencies Detail | Summary

PgM Personal Competencies

The personal competencies, combined with the performance competencies, relate to the interpersonal skills required to enhance the program manager's abilities to successfully "perform," or execute, the program. We based these competencies on the GAO study,[20] our survey of PgMPs, and the program manager knowledge and skills discussed in PMI's PgM standard.[21]

These personal competencies are grouped into eight areas as follows:

  1. Communicating. Project management research has shown that an effective project manager communicates approximately 90% of his or her time. In program management, communications consumes an even greater amount of time, as there are more diverse stakeholders and more stakeholders who are external to the organization. Active listening is included in this category. PMI's PgM standard states that communicating is the most important competency.
  2. Leading. Although the vision or end state of the program is set out in the initial business case, the program manager is responsible for ensuring that this vision is understood at all levels of involvement in the program. Leadership involves setting out this vision and establishing the program's direction. Since programs consist of projects and non-project work, it also involves identifying interdependencies between them and making decisions as required. Project managers, for example, will escalate issues and risks to the program manager requiring him or her to make decisions. Sometimes these decisions on issues and risks must be made quickly, while on others, they may need to be escalated to the Program Governance Board for advice and decisions.
  3. Building Relationships. In PMI's PgM standard, "stakeholder management" is a knowledge area. The program manager is responsible identifying those stakeholders that may influence or impact his or her program. The program manager is responsible for developing a stakeholder management plan, a stakeholder inventory, and a stakeholder management strategy to engage them throughout the program's life cycle. The specific interests of each stakeholder must be noted and respected and this dealing with the various stakeholder groups requires significant time and effort by the program manager and his or her team.
  4. Negotiating. The large number of stakeholders typically involved with a program means that there is a need for the program manager to have a high level of negotiation skills and competencies. These will apply to such situations as negotiating for resources, maintaining the program's priority in the organization's portfolio, convincing the Program Governance Board to make necessary decisions at a stage gate review, and encouraging and promoting stakeholder support.
  5. Thinking Critically. A critical thinker is one who has the ability to identify the important questions to ask and problems to solve in a way that defines them clearly. Following identification of the issue, the relevant facts and information are gathered and analyzed in a logical or even an abstract manner. Based on the interpretation of the facts at hand, the person then comes to well-reasoned conclusions or solutions that are then tested against relevant criteria. Critical thinkers have the ability to think openly, to not be influenced by others' thinking, and to identify the assumptions, constraints, and implications and consequences of their decisions. Thinking critically also means communicating effectively with others in formulating solutions to complex problems. It is, in short, the ability to think about one's thinking, while one is thinking, and to make one's thinking better. Better thinking typically yields better results. The program manager addressing complex programs is well served by a competency that promotes more insightful analysis of the problems and opportunities at hand. Given the nature of the interdependencies on complex programs, the ability to "connect the dots" and understand the integrative nature of such endeavors is crucial to managing and controlling such efforts.
  6. Facilitating. It is not the program manager's job to do all of the work of the program - that is the responsibility of the project managers, operations managers, and the team. That said, the program manager must set the stage for success by creating an environment in which people can do their assigned tasks without undue roadblocks. If there are issues that require resolution, or risks for which the planned responses are not effective, then these must be escalated to the program manager as quickly as possible. This is so that he or she can assist the project manager or team member appropriately. This facilitation role is also significant if issues or risks must be escalated to higher levels such as to the Program Governance Board. Similarly, if the priorities of the program change, the program manager must communicate these changes to affected parties. Additionally, the program manager is responsible for ensuring that the team's policies, procedures, and processes are conducive for the team to realize the stated program benefits.
  7. Mentoring. Many programs last a number of years in which case the program manager can expect staff turnover throughout its life span. Program managers, and others in the organization, need to serve as mentors to team members so they can assume additional responsibilities and advance to positions of greater responsibility as the need demands. This mentoring function is one that requires support and commitment by the program manager, as well as by the person being mentored. Consequently, well-defined goals and objectives for the mentoring relationship need to be established. A formal documented commitment by each party to the mentoring initiative is required. On a large program, it may be desirable for the program manager to set up a mentoring program at a variety of levels. It may very well be more effective if the mentor is someone who is familiar with the program but, for greater objectivity and confidentiality, it is better if they are not directly involved.
  8. Embracing Change. Unlike the project manager who generally strives to keep changes to his or her project to a minimum, the program manager recognizes that changes are going to occur on the program, and they can be positive. He or she therefore must keep an open mind to, and embrace, change that will have a positive effect on program objectives. Additionally, the program manager must realize that change may come from either internal initiatives or external factors. A change on one project, while at first may be perceived as negative, may in fact be a benefit to other projects or other work under way on the program. Given the longer life of most programs than projects, technology changes also may be beneficial.
PgM Performance Competencies Detail  PgM Performance Competencies Detail

20. United States Government Accountability Office. Best Practices. Better support of weapon system program managers needed for impressive Outcomes. Washington, D.C., 2005
21. The standard for program management, second edition, Project Management Institute, Newtown Square, PA, 2008
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