Skill Requirements For Program Managers

Managing complex programs represents a challenge requiring skills in team building, leadership, conflict resolution, technical expertise, planning, organization, entrepreneurship, administration, management support, and the allocation of resources. This section examines these skills relative to program management effectiveness. A key factor to good program performance is the program manager's ability to integrate personnel from many disciplines into an effective work team.

To get results, the program manager must relate to (1) the people to be managed, (2) the task to be done, (3) the tools available, (4) the organizational structure, and (5) the organizational environment, including the customer community.

With an understanding of the interaction of corporate organization and behavior elements, the manager can build an environment conducive to the working team's needs. The internal and external forces that impinge on the organization of the project must be reconciled to mutual goals. Thus the program manager must be both socially and technically aware to understand how the organization functions and how these functions will affect the program organization of the particular job to be done. In addition, the program manager must understand the culture and value system of the organization he is working with. Effective program management is directly related to proficiency in these ten skills:


Team building




Conflict resolution


Technical expertise










Management support


Resource allocation

It is important that the personal management style underlying these skills facilitate the integration of multidisciplinary program resources for synergistic operation. The days of the manager who gets by with technical expertise alone or pure administrative skills are gone.

Team-Building Skills Building the program team is one of the prime responsibilities of the program manager. Team building involves a whole spectrum of management skills required to identify, commit, and integrate the various task groups from the traditional functional organization into a single program management system.

To be effective, the program manager must provide an atmosphere conducive to teamwork. He must nurture a climate with the following characteristics:

• Team members committed to the program

• Good interpersonal relations and team spirit

• The necessary expertise and resources

• Clearly defined goals and program objectives

• Involved and supportive top management

• Good program leadership

• Open communication among team members and support organizations

• A low degree of detrimental interpersonal and intergroup conflict

Three major considerations are involved in all of the above factors: (1) effective communications, (2) sincere interest in the professional growth of team members, and (3) commitment to the project.

Leadership Skills A prerequisite for program success is the program manager's ability to lead the team within a relatively unstructured environment. It involves dealing effectively with managers and supporting personnel across functional lines and the ability to collect and filter relevant data for decision-making in a dynamic environment. It involves the ability to integrate individual demands, requirements, and limitations into decisions and to resolve intergroup conflicts.

As with a general manager, quality leadership depends heavily on the program manager's personal experience and credibility within the organization. An effective management style might be characterized this way:

• Clear project leadership and direction

• Assistance in problem-solving

• Facilitating the integration of new members into the team

• Ability to handle interpersonal conflict

• Facilitating group decisions

• Capability to plan and elicit commitments

• Ability to communicate clearly

• Presentation of the team to higher management

• Ability to balance technical solutions against economic and human factors

The personal traits desirable and supportive of the above skills are:

Project management experience

• Flexibility and change orientation

• Innovative thinking

• Initiative and enthusiasm

Charisma and persuasiveness

• Organization and discipline

Conflict Resolution Skills Conflict is fundamental to complex task management. Understanding the determinants of conflicts is important to the program manager's ability to deal with conflicts effectively. When conflict becomes dysfunctional, it often results in poor program decision-making, lengthy delays over issues, and a disruption of the team's efforts, all negative influences to program performance. However, conflict can be beneficial when it produces involvement and new information and enhances the competitive spirit.

To successfully resolve conflict and improve overall program performance, program managers must:

• Understand interaction of the organizational and behavioral elements in order to build an environment conducive to their team's motivational needs. This will enhance active participation and minimize unproductive conflict.

• Communicate effectively with all organizational levels regarding both project objectives and decisions. Regularly scheduled status review meetings can be an important communication vehicle.

• Recognize the determinants of conflict and their timing in the project life cycle. Effective project planning, contingency planning, securing of commitments, and involving top management can help to avoid or minimize many conflicts before they impede project performance.

The accomplished manager needs a "sixth sense" to indicate when conflict is desirable, what kind of conflict will be useful, and how much conflict is optimal for a given situation. In the final analysis, he has the sole responsibility for his program and how conflict will contribute to its success or failure.

Technical Skills The program manager rarely has all the technical, administrative, and marketing expertise needed to direct the program single-handedly. It is essential, however, for the program manager to understand the technology, the markets, and the environment of the business. Without this understanding, the consequences of local decisions on the total program, the potential growth ramifications, and relationships to other business opportunities cannot be foreseen by the manager. Further technical expertise is necessary to evaluate technical concepts and solutions, to communicate effectively in technical terms with the project team, and to assess risks and make trade-offs between cost, schedule, and technical issues. This is why in complex problem-solving situations so many project managers must have an engineering background.

Technical expertise is composed of an understanding of the:

• Technology involved

• Engineering tools and techniques employed

• Specific markets, their customers, and requirements

• Product applications

• Technological trends and evolutions

• Relationship among supporting technologies

• People who are part of the technical community

The technical expertise required for effective management of engineering programs is normally developed through progressive growth in engineering or supportive project assignments in a specific technology area. Frequently, the project begins with an exploratory phase leading into a proposal. This is normally an excellent testing ground for the future program manager. It also allows top management to judge the new candidate's capacity for managing the technological innovations and integration of solutions.

Planning Skills Planning skills are helpful for any undertaking; they are absolutely es sential for the successful management of large complex programs. The project plan is the road map that defines how to get from the start to the final results.

Program planning is an ongoing activity at all organizational levels. However, the preparation of a project summary plan, prior to project start, is the responsibility of the program manager. Effective project planning requires particular skills far beyond writing a document with schedules and budgets. It requires communication and information processing skills to define the actual resource requirements and administrative support necessary. It requires the ability to negotiate the necessary resources and commitments from key personnel in various support organizations with little or no formal authority.

Effective planning requires skills in the areas of:

• Information processing

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