Becoming a programme manager is a very successful career achievement in the engineering industry, and brings with it plenty of responsibility and influence in a company. If you’re a candidate aspiring for this role, or just want to learn more about what the position involves, this article has all the information you need about how to become a successful programme manager.
What is a Programme Manager?
A programme manager is a senior employee who is responsible for overseeing a range of projects taking place within an organisation. They keep track of the progress of all these and ensure that time and resources are being effectively delegated so that overall business goals are achieved.
Programme managers tend to be near the top of the hierarchy within a business, meaning that they are responsible for deciding on the overarching targets the organisation is trying to hit. They will select programmes or series of projects that drive the business forwards and should ensure that all of the work happening within a company aligns with its values and objectives. This may involve choosing clients or partners to work with and having the final say on how company resources and budgets are allocated.
Ultimately, a programme manager is responsible for forward planning for a business to make sure that long-term growth and stability are achieved. Instead of getting involved with the details of what each internal or client project should involve, they take a ‘big picture’ view of the company and decide how multiple projects will take place simultaneously.
Programme managers are not exclusive to the engineering industry and work across a wide range of sectors to help companies manage long term growth and stay aligned with cultural values and business goals. In areas such as electronics engineering or embedded systems and software development, programme managers tend to be found in larger companies that take on multiple projects or client accounts at once.
The role of programme manager tends to be a senior position, as the individual in the role needs a good understanding of the company and the industry it belongs to, as well as having an investment in its potential growth and success. An experienced programme manager may come into the role from another company if a business is struggling or needs a fresh perspective, or an existing employee may be promoted to programme manager after working in the business for a while.
What does a Programme Manager Do?
Programme managers can work in a variety of industries, so the specifics of the expertise they provide and the kinds of projects they oversee will vary. However, overall programme manager roles and responsibilities are similar across the board, which are outlined below to give a good idea of what a programme manager does in their role.
- Working with managers, directors and company stakeholders to decide on long-term goals and objectives
- Communicating key company goals, objectives and values to other employees
- Organising company-wide programs which consist of a series of projects taking place over a time span, each aligning with key business objectives
- Outlining what is required of each project and handing this information over to project managers or team leaders
- Allocating budget to each project involved in their programme
- Coordinating the running of multiple, simultaneous projects so that there are enough resources for each team and timelines are compatible
- Aligning project deliverables with program values and goals to ensure company growth
- Assisting with the process of project risk assessments and implementing preventative measures where necessary
- Liaising with project managers and team leads to monitor the progress of each project and ensure that deadlines are met
- Tracking the efficiency of the processes and strategies used in each project and making suggestions or changes if a better method is identified
- Meeting with clients and stakeholders to ensure that there is support for business growth and deliverables are meeting the expected standards
- Reviewing project reports
- Managing programme reports and documentation and updating these documents where necessary
Typical Programme Manager Career Path
The very start of a career in programme management begins with your education. There are no specific program manager qualifications, degrees or diplomas that focus entirely on program governance, so there are a variety of ways you can begin your career path.
In the engineering industry, the majority of programme engineers come from an engineering background and have worked their way up in the company to a managerial position. You can study any engineering discipline with a university degree or equivalent qualification, as long as you have the necessary GCSE and A Level grades to do so.
It is also possible to become a programme manager in the engineering industry by studying a subject like business management or economics at a higher education level.
As a graduate, you will likely start your engineering career in a junior-level position, and work here for several years before receiving a promotion. Many graduates move companies a lot in the first stage of their career to figure out the sector or specialist they want to work in, so you may spend a while working at this level of a company.
The best thing you can do to advance your career towards programme manager roles is taking as many opportunities as possible to lead others and manage aspects of the projects you work on. Build up your skills as a team leader and gain as much experience as possible to start building a reputation as a strong leader and give yourself lots to talk about in future job interviews.
The next step on your career path should be to get promoted or regularly be chosen for the position of team leader in your workplace. This will give you lots of opportunities to take responsibility for projects and people, deliver updates, present deliverables to senior members of staff and organise aspects of a project or task.
From the role of team leader, the next best step towards programme management jobs in engineering is to become a project manager. This is generally considered the role below a programme manager and involves similar levels of responsibility, as well as requiring excellent organisation and people skills.
You may work as a project manager for a long time, switching companies or taking on projects with different people and departments. You should use this as an opportunity to hone skills such as delegation, organisation, adaptability, accountability, lateral thinking and empathy.
It is possible to take programme management courses as part of personal development schemes, which will help you build the necessary soft skills that will make you well-suited for the role.
With plenty of experience in project management, you will then be able to apply for roles as a programme manager. This may be within the company you already work for, or in other companies in similar industries.
The most important thing to remember when setting out on a programme manager career path is that it is a role that requires as much experience as it does technical knowledge and practical talent as an engineer. You can set out to become a programme manager as soon as possible, but it’s a role that requires real talent at managing people and understanding the industry of the company you work for so that you can make strategic decisions and plan for long-term progress.
Top Program Management Skills
Programme manager responsibilities require a variety of skills to accomplish successfully. Below are some of the attributes that potential employers value the most in candidates for programme management.
The most important skill you will need for successful programme management is project management. This not only involves all of the soft skills required to be a good project manager, but knowledge of specialist project management methodologies and approaches that inform how you will go about organising different tasks and teams. Having experience with common project management software may also make you a more valuable candidate.
Commercial awareness and knowledge of the market your company belongs to is essential to good programme management, as this will help with strategic planning and goal setting to ensure that the business and its offering remains relevant. You’ll need to be able to forecast for the business and estimate costs, as well as being a key port of call if something changes and the company needs to adapt as a result.
Commerciality is another skill that is best gained through experience, but is also an example of how having a background in business management or economics can also be a good foundation for a programme manager.
On top of commercial awareness and a good head for business, programme managers also need to have lots of relevant industry knowledge to inform their ideas and the direction they guide the company in. From speaking to clients about the work they are doing to making decisions and setting goals for how your company is going to push innovative boundaries, programme managers in the engineering industry in particular need a strong understanding of the sector they work in.
Perspective is a useful skill that will be needed when programme managers are setting long term goals and forecasting for their company’s future. You will need to be able to focus on the progress of current projects and their impact, as well as planning the next programme and thinking about where the company needs to be in several years.
Programme managers do a lot of their work in collaboration with others, so strong interpersonal skills are very important in the role. Whilst you ultimately have the autonomy to decide on program objectives and directions, and will do a lot of the necessary planning on your own, a large part of the role will involve meetings with directors, managers, clients and stakeholders, where you will need to come across as friendly, confident, persuasive and capable.
Programme manager roles carry a lot of responsibility, so leadership is a key skill that will be sought after when hiring for the role. Other people in the company will look to you for guidance when it comes to making decisions that affect the company’s future, and you will need to feel confident making these decisions and taking accountability for their outcome.
As a programme manager, you need to keep your eye on the progress of several projects at once, alongside managing other responsibilities of the role. Superior organisation skills are required to keep on top of the range of tasks you will need to complete, as well as keeping your head straight about which projects are happening, what is coming in the future and what your overall objectives are.
Some of the responsibility of resource allocation will go to the managers of each project within a company, but as the programme manager, you will be responsible for ensuring that all of the tasks in your programme are completed without going over budget or taking more than their appropriate share of company resources. Resource allocation is an important skill when it comes to the planning stage of various programs, and experience in using this skill will be considered very valuable by potential employers.
Finally, a skill that will make you a particularly valuable programme manager is innovation. You are responsible for steering the company into the future and setting goals that will ultimately lead to success, and having an innovative edge to your ideas will ensure this.
Programme management is a position with a huge amount of responsibility, but it also allows for the individual in the role to bring their own ideas and insight to a company and have a significant influence on the work that they do and the way that they grow. It’s a brilliant position for engineering candidates with lots of leadership and management experience who are ready to take on more responsibility and is recruited for across the industry.
If you’re an engineer in the electronics and embedded systems industry who is looking for a role as a programme manager, we’re a specialist recruitment company that can help you find the ideal opportunity. Get in touch to find out more about how we can help.