Program Manager vs Project Manager: We Explore Two Dynamic Careers

Project Management

With so much growth happening across a variety of industries, it is a great time to consider if a project manager career path is right for you. If you are interested in pursuing a career in project management, it is important to understand the difference between a program manager and a project manager. While both positions are integral to organisations and are interrelated, each has distinct roles and responsibilities. As all industries continue to evolve and adapt, roles like these are needed more and more.

As a lecturer in the School of Business and Law at ECU, Masoud Aghajani recognises the significance of effective project and program management. We spoke to him about the skills required to be successful in both roles and how the Master of Project Management program equips students with the advanced knowledge and practices needed for a successful career in both disciplines.

“I see the core skills required for these roles as being very similar. But when you move from being a project manager to becoming a program manager, there needs to be more strategic thinking and a more holistic approach,” says Aghajani.

What is a project manager?

A project manager is accountable for successfully delivering a single project within defined constraints and goals. The position’s primary focus is ensuring the project’s success and meeting its objectives, which could be anything from reducing overall business costs to launching a new product. A project manager typically works on one project at a time and is responsible for ensuring the project is completed within budget, on time and to the required quality standards.

Project management skills

  • Strong planning and organisational skills
  • Attention to detail
  • Multitasking ability
  • Leadership and team motivation skills
  • Effective communication
  • Stakeholder management skills
  • Industry expertise

What is a program manager?

A program manager is responsible for coordinating multiple interrelated or similar projects to achieve a common goal. They commonly work on two or three projects simultaneously and have a more strategic role. A program manager focuses on aligning and coordinating the various projects under their program to achieve a specific outcome or goal defined by the organisation and the portfolio. This outcome could be reducing the overall cost of the project through resource optimisation or achieving strategic goals.

Program manager skills

  • Strategic thinking ability
  • Strong leadership and interpersonal skills
  • Effective coordination of multiple projects and teams
  • Understanding of program governance systems
  • Management of successful programs in line with organisational strategy
  • Experience in budget and schedule management
  • Development of program strategies aligned with organisational goals and objectives
  • The ability to make impactful decisions to ensure program success

“Effective communication, stakeholder management and decision-making are essential to managing projects and programs successfully. By continuously improving your skills and gaining experience, you can become a successful project manager and advance to the role of a program manager, ” Aghajani explains.

Challenges facing project and program managers today

Balancing conflicting priorities is one of the biggest challenges project and program managers face. Project managers must juggle the competing demands of scope, schedule, cost, quality and risk to deliver a successful project while also reconciling the divergent ideas of different stakeholders. In a rapidly changing market, project managers must also remain strategically aware of the changes around them and manage their workload and competing demands accordingly.

Similarly, program managers must balance the needs of multiple projects and ensure that each project aligns with the overall program goal. They must manage budgets and schedules while ensuring project stakeholders have realistic expectations. Managing these complex situations is a significant challenge for program managers.

At ECU Online, we provide practical training and exposure to real-world scenarios, so students can learn to manage competing demands, reconcile divergent ideas and align multiple projects with overarching program goals. With our training and tools, our graduates are well-prepared to tackle the challenges of project and program management with confidence and success.

How success is measured as a project or program manager

As a project manager, success is measured by the ability to deliver a project within its constraints, including scope, schedule, cost, quality, risk and stakeholder expectations. Key metrics for project success include completion on time and within budget, meeting project requirements and deliverables and achieving customer satisfaction.

At the program level, success is measured by the ability to deliver individual projects within the program while ensuring they align with the overall program goal. The program goal may have a longer-term focus, such as achieving resource optimisation or launching a new product to the market.

In both roles, it is crucial to continuously monitor progress, track key metrics and make necessary adjustments to ensure success. Technical skills are important, but effective communication and leadership are also essential. Project and program managers must be skilled communicators who can collaborate with stakeholders and make informed decisions to drive success. Engaging stakeholders in this way is vital to succeeding in project or program management.

Project manager salary vs program manager salary

When it comes to salary, Aghajani says, “The salary for both roles may vary depending on your location and the individual experiences and qualifications you have.” The value that project and program managers bring to organisations is clear, with both roles generously renumerated. The ability to strategically align objectives and outputs of a business can deliver increased efficiencies and helps companies strengthen their competitive advantage, making project and program managers critical to organisational success.

A program manager working in Australia can expect to earn around $125,000 to $145,000 a year. The average annual salary for a project manager ranges from $110,000 to $130,000.

Project management postgraduate study

For both program managers and project managers, a postgraduate degree in project management can be a valuable asset. These programs provide a structured approach to learning project management principles, tools and techniques. This can be particularly helpful for individuals new to the field or looking to enhance their skills.

“Our learning programs are designed for students dedicated to achieving their career goals. Our online format allows students to study at their own pace and gain practical skills through interactive coursework, including case studies and simulations,” Aghajani says.

ECU Online also provides networking opportunities for online students, including events and initiatives, to help them advance their careers and increase their earning potential. By studying with ECU Online, you will have the opportunity to demonstrate your mastery of project management to potential employers and gain the skills necessary to succeed in this exciting field.

Why study the online Master of Project Management online?

So why study project management? At ECU Online, our Master of Project Management program goes beyond providing you with technical knowledge. Through our comprehensive coursework, case studies, simulations and real-life scenarios, you will develop the necessary interpersonal skills to become an effective project or program manager. This includes developing your communication, presentation and active listening skills, which are crucial for successfully managing people.

Our program also emphasises the importance of understanding how stakeholders can impact project performance and outcomes. You will learn how to engage with stakeholders and leverage their input to advance the value delivery of your projects. By practising these skills in our simulated environments, you will become better prepared to tackle real-world projects and jobs.

Advantages of the ECU Online Master of Project Management degree

  • Gain professional recognition with a course accredited by the PMI Global Accreditation Center for Project Management Education Programs (GAC) and endorsed by the Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM).
  • Study in an accessible and flexible learning environment.
  • Be supported while you study with a dedicated Student Success Advisor.
  • Learn from industry experts and project managers out in the field.

Build your future with ECU Online

To take the step to build your future, and embark on your project management career with ECU Online Master of Project Management, download your course guide or speak to our friendly Student Enrolment team by calling 1300 707 760 or emailing