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From Project Pro to Program Guru: Your Guide to Climbing the Management Ladder

Career Growth

Northwest Partners is a company that helps other businesses succeed by providing top talent and technology consulting. We specialize in managing projects and strategies. Many of our project managers want to know how to move up to become program managers. In this article, we are sharing our thoughts to help our project managers community. First, we’ll explain what separates a project manager from a program manager. Then, we’ll give you a 10-step plan to make that career leap.

Differences in Responsibility

Scope: Project Managers focus on individual projects with specific deliverables, while Program Managers oversee a portfolio of related projects aligned with organizational objectives.

Planning: Project Managers create project plans; Program Managers create program plans that coordinate multiple project plans.

Decision-making: Program Managers typically have more decision-making authority and are responsible for ensuring that individual projects align with organizational strategy.

Stakeholder Management: Program Managers often interact with higher-level stakeholders and must align multiple projects’ objectives with organizational goals.

Budgeting: Program Managers usually manage larger budgets and have more authority over resource allocation.

Risk Management: Program Managers have to consider risks at a program level, which could be more complex and impactful than project-level risks.

Governance: Program Managers are often responsible for setting up governance models for managing multiple projects.

Differences in Compensation

Program Managers usually earn more than Project Managers due to their broader job duties. However, pay can differ a lot based on the industry, the size of the company, and where it’s located. They might also get better perks, like bigger bonuses. In fact, if your job aligns more to program management, you could make 30% or more than than those focused on project management tasks.

Career Transition Action Plan

Showcase Leadership Skills: Lead high-profile projects and successfully deliver them. Your leadership and results will be your best advertisement.

Engage in Knowledge Sharing: Frequently contribute insights and best practices in internal forums, and perhaps represent Northwest Partners or its client in industry events.

Focus on Client Relationships: Building strong relationships with clients can help you understand their broader organizational goals, not just project-specific objectives. This is essential for a Program Manager.

Internal Networking: Network with current Program Managers and leadership to understand the nuances of the role at Northwest Partners. Request informational interviews or shadowing opportunities.

Skill Enhancement: Consider taking internal or external courses to gain necessary skills in strategic management, finance, and organizational behavior. Northwest Partners offers education benefits to its associate.

Consult Your Career Path: Sit down with HR and your line manager to express your aspirations and to understand what milestones you need to achieve to make the transition.

Ask for More Responsibility: Slowly take on responsibilities that are typically expected of a Program Manager. This could be overseeing a very small team or perhaps a very minor program, to begin with.

Cross-Functional Exposure: Try to work on projects that require you to interact with multiple departments. Program Managers often have to juggle different departmental needs and expectations.

Performance Reviews: In your performance reviews, highlight your interest and also show how your work has aligned with the broader goals of Northwest Partners and your clients.

Certification and Training: Seek additional qualifications relevant to Program Management. Check if Northwest Partners can sponsor these courses or certification as part of the continuing education benefits.


Transitioning from a Project Manager to a Program Manager is not just a step up in responsibility but also requires a broader skill set. The two roles are fundamentally different in their focus and approach, and preparing for this transition can take time, effort, and strategic planning. Making the move from Project Manager to Program Manager at Northwest Partners will be a journey that involves acquiring new skills, taking on more responsibilities, and aligning closely with both client and organizational objectives. Consult with HR and your managers for tailored advice specific to your career path within the firm.

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