Tag Archives: Executive Suite

Can Program Managers Make it to the Executive Suite?

Note: I recently shared some view on this subject for PMI’s Career Central article by the same name. You can access the original article here. In this post, I have shared the original article, with my comments highlighted in green color.


Not many of today’s senior executives come from a project management background. But that’s not to say that program managers aren’t capable of getting there.

“The skills required in most executive positions compared with those required to succeed as a program manager are similar,” says Oluwatosin Agbetusin, PMP, PgMP, program manager, Ericsson, Lagos, Nigeria.

Outlining the similarities, Mr. Agbetusin said both program managers and executives:

  • Decide and guide the actions of their teams
  • Manage human, financial and physical resources
  • Oversee stakeholder management
  • Ensure the organization’s strategic goals are achieved
  • Help establish oversight and proper governance

According to a 2011 PMI-sponsored study, Project Managers as Senior Executives, about 74 percent of respondents said the experience and skills required for project and program management is good preparation for an executive position. Survey respondents included senior executives and project and program professionals from six countries.

And program managers are particularly well positioned to make the jump.

“Program managers usually report to higher levels, which gives them a broader view and more personal exposure to the executive levels,” says Russell Archibald, PMP, the San Miguel de Allende, Mexico-based co-author of the study.

Before moving into his role as senior director of business operations for Yahoo! in Bangalore, India, Tathagat Varma, PMP, worked as a project, program and general manager. He says the skills he honed as a program manager gave him an advantage over line managers.

For example, as a program manager for Huawei Technologies, a telecom company in China, Mr. Varma managed 190-plus people on a program with 14 parallel projects. His experience also taught him how to overcome challenges like cultural barriers and stakeholder alignment.

“It’s about leading with influence versus leading with authority, which I learned as a program manager,” he says. “My approach was to focus on results and let component project teams figure out the means to achieve those results.”

Similarities between executives and program managers center on such abilities as strong decision-making, communication and negotiation, according to the PMI-sponsored study. But one skill that truly transcends positions is leadership.

“As a program manager, if your leadership skills go beyond just managing programs and into areas like contributing valuable insights into strategy, or operational and personnel skills, you will start getting regarded as a leader,” says Naveen Venugopal, PMP, project and program management consultant, International Finance Corporation, Washington, D.C., USA. “This can pave the way for an executive spot in the long run.”

To set themselves apart, program managers must take a holistic view and get creative, says Asad Ullah Chaudhry, PMI-ACP, PMP, PgMP, CEO, AUC Technologies, a training and development firm in Karachi, Pakistan.

“Most program managers think rationally and focus on deadlines and scope. They lose the creativity. To be an executive, they need to use an innovative approach for managing their programs,” he says. “Review the whole process, and try to remove the bottlenecks or shorten the process.”

Program managers should also seek projects aligned with the organization’s overall business goals, says Mr. Varma. When program managers can show they can both deliver and develop or influence strategy, they’re more likely to rise up the ranks, he says.

For added credibility, program managers should consider earning a Program Management Professional(PgMP)® credential.

“The topics, core skills, requirements and knowledge identified as part of the PgMP® credential process are very important for any program manager to either land an executive job or succeed in one because they are closely tied to those required for executive-level job functions,” says Mr. Agbetusin.

Whether program managers realize it or not, the very nature of their role is preparing them for the executive suite. If they continue to hone those abilities, they’ll be on their way. 

If you are a program manager, or know someone who is one, ask them to share their viewpoint on this topic. Program Management is in nascent stages, and it serves the larger community to collate all lessons from its practitioners. 

Can Program Managers make it to the Executive Suite?