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Close analysis of the PMBOK® version5 suggests that all skills required for effective project management are also required for program management.

The differences between project management and program management reflect the prioritization and relative importance of skills to each role.

At a high-level, both project management and program management require:

  1. Conceptual skills
  2. Design skills
  3. Human skills
  4. Technical skills

However, there are clear differences between the day-shift manager at a fast-food restaurant and a program manager running a multi-billion, multi-cultural, multi-year project. Both require the skills listed above, but differences lie in their relative importance, or prioritization. If comparing the three roles on a simple basis, you might agree to the following levels of importance, where a solid powerball is High and an empty powerball is Low:

Differences Between Skills of Project and Program Management

While your environment may be ‘unique’ and therefore not like the above, there must remain differences. Most noteworthy on the aggregate, ‘human’ skills are the most important, followed by technical skills. Since human skills rely hugely on communication skills, and effective communication relies largely on ‘listening’ skills, then arguably facilitation remains one of the most important skills for project management and program management, since the core skill of facilitation is “active listening.”

Program Management in 3-D

Expand the logic further by using Mackenzie’s “The Management Process in 3-D” as a guidepost.  Here we see (from an area perspective) that “People” represent one-half of the pie. People require ‘leadership’ skills depending on the function of ‘communications’ to ensure understanding and bring about purposeful action.

Differences Between Skills of Project and Program Management Program Management: Mackenzie's Management Process in 3-D © 1969 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College

Program Management: Mackenzie’s Management Process in 3-D © 1969 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College

Therefore, we would argue that facilitation skills are more important for project managers than program managers. With a project manager, there may be more than one right answer. For most program management, conditions and assumptions drive optimal solutions. Both manager types need to be skilled, but the relative importance of those skills varies across management types.


Don’t ruin your career or reputation with bad meetings. Register for a class or forward this to someone who should. Taught by world-class instructors, MG RUSH  professional facilitation curriculum focuses on practice. Each student thoroughly practices and rehearses tools, methods, and approaches throughout the week. While some call this immersion, we call it the road to building impactful facilitation skills.

Our courses also provide an excellent way to earn up to 40 SEUs from the Scrum Alliance, 40 PDUs from PMI, and 40 CDUs from IIBA, as well as 3.2 CEUs for other professions. (See individual class descriptions for details.)

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Facilitation Expert

Terrence Metz, CSM, PSPO, CSPF, is the Managing Director of MG RUSH Facilitation Training and Coaching, the acknowledged leader in structured facilitation training. His FAST Facilitation Best Practices blog features over 300 articles on facilitation skills and tools aimed at helping others lead faster, more productive meetings and workshops that yield higher quality decisions. His clients include Agilists, Scrum teams, program and project managers, senior officers, and the business analyst community among numerous private and public companies and global corporations. As an undergraduate of Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) and MBA graduate from NWU’s Kellogg School of Management, his professional experience has focused on process improvement and product development. He continually aspires to make it easier for others to succeed.

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