In a typical structure, it usually goes Portfolio Manager, Program Manager, and then Project Manager. Let’s start with Portfolio Manager. 

What is a Portfolio Manager?

A Portfolio Manager is usually responsible for having a mix of programs, projects, and operational tasks. This is often the Director of a department, Account Executive in a consulting company, or just plain Portfolio Manager. 

The Portfolio Manager makes sure that his or her portfolio of program and projects are strategically aligned to where the company sees itself going in the next few years. Portfolio Managers need to make sure that they understand this so that they can have the right mix of programs and projects. They usually will brief company executives so that they have what they need to continue making sure the company keeps reaching success. 

Portfolio Managers are also responsible for the budget for their portfolios. Even though the Program Managers, and at some companies, the project managers are managing the budget at their level, the Portfolio Manager has to make sure that they are on top of the numbers. 

They are usually the ones who can decide to kill a project. If the project isn’t making any money or some risks will cause the company to negatively be affected, a portfolio manager can decide to stop the project. Program Managers can, but not usually. They have to discuss it with the Portfolio Manager. 

I’m a huge advocate for certifications. At times, I think certifications are more valuable than school education. Some certifications for Portfolio Managers are the Portfolio Management (PfMP) Certification from PMI and The Program & Portfolio Management Certification (PPMC)

What is a Program Manager?

Program Managers manage subprograms and projects. The programs are usually part of a portfolio. While projects have an end date, programs are a little bit more fluid with that. They are more long-term because it is a collection of projects that are linked together. For instance, a project can end in a week, but one can be starting soon that is related to that project that is completing, but this new one is completing a month later.  

Program Managers will have different teams underneath them, and these will usually have their own project managers or leads. These managers will often report up to the Program Manager so that he or she is aware of how each project to help understand the health of a program as a whole.

There could be times that a company can have Program Managers, but not have Portfolio Managers. These Program Managers directly report to the C-Level executive. This is fine to do, but I would think that the C-level executive will have to be more hands-on if that is the case. 

As the Portfolio Manager, the Program Manager is more strategically aligned than a Project Manager. 

A certification tailored for Program Managers is the Program Management Professional (PgMP)®

What is a Project Manager?

  Project Managers focus on one project at a time. They are involved in the day-to-day management of their projects and work closely with their teams and stakeholders. Project Managers know that their projects have are temporary and end, so they have to make sure that they are monitoring the money spent vs. the funded amount, team morale, and schedules. They also have to be on top of risks and issues and make sure that they are communicating with their Program Managers, team, and stakeholders at all times. 

It’s always suitable for Portfolio Managers and Program Managers to have started out as Project Managers because if they understand project management, then it makes program management and portfolio management easier because they know what makes a project successful. If you know this, then a program and portfolio that are mainly a collection of projects will be more straightforward. 

Project Managers have to plan, execute, and monitor their projects and understand all the players involved. 

Certifications that are good to have are the Project Management Professional (PMP)®. Portfolio Managers and Programs Managers should also get this certification. Also, the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)® and Certified Agile Leadership. 

Similarities Between the Three Manager Types

Similarities are that as the name they are all share, Portfolio Manager, Program Manager, and Project Manager manage a project at the end of the day. Yes, Portfolio Managers and Program Managers manage numerous projects and even programs. They manage projects. There is usually a people aspect in that they are usually mentors of other people and as well could lead them in the sense of more administrative tasks like signing their timesheets and working on performance reviews. The three people also work with clients and are responsible for communicating a project’s or program’s progress, risks, and issues. 

Therefore, soft skills are a must for all three. Soft skills such as communication skills, problem solving, leadership, flexibility, and so forth. If the manager doesn’t have these soft skills, then either the person will fail or the company will if they continue having that person in that managerial position. 

They should also be good at managing budgets, schedules, and people. All three should work on continuously improving processes to make future work more efficient and successful. 

Differences Between the Three Manager Types

The differences are the scope of what they are managing, and that includes different metrics that they are collecting and monitoring. It’s also that Portfolio Managers and Program Managers are more strategic than Project Managers. It depends on the company, but usually, Portfolio Managers and Program Managers will have a line of credit and approve invoices. However, there are project managers who can do this as well. Project Managers understand that their projects are short-term while Portfolio Managers and Program Managers are more long-term, and as I already said, strategic. 

I hope this helped you understand the different levels of management. As I always stress, it’s also dependent on the company. A smaller company will have less structure than a bigger one, but this can also help the company be more flexible. At the end of the day, all three manage something and have to be good at planning, executing, and monitoring.

Please comment below if you are a manager, which one, and if you have any of these certifications. I have a PMP, and that is probably the hardest exam that I have ever taken. I will post a future video on how I prepared to take that test. Let me know if that is something that would interest you.

portfolio management, program management, project management
three managerial types

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