Program Manager Salary: 5 Key Things You Need to Know

A program manager has a difficult and complex job, which is why a program manager salary is often quite high. Technologists in this role must multi-task between shared projects within a particular program or initiative, which means that ideal candidates must see things both strategically and tactically; deal with both the “big picture” and those small details that can mean the difference between success and failure. 

Although some people might use the terms “program manager” vs “project manager” interchangeably, the two are often very different. As the name implies, project managers usually tackle discrete projects that result in a product or service (if everything goes right), whereas program managers head up initiatives that result in systemic change (hence the term “super project managers” that some folks use to describe the role). 

For example, one program manager might oversee a portfolio of projects that result in new products for a company, while another tackles a program of cost-cutting and operational streamlining that improves their company’s revenue. The program management timeline is often quite long, whereas a project manager might tackle projects of relatively short duration.

What is a program manager’s average salary?

According to Burning Glass, which collects and analyzes millions of job postings from across the country, the median salary for a program manager is $91,450, although one can earn quite a bit more (or less, if you’re just starting out).

Do program managers get paid well?

As with any technology position, program manager salary is highly dependent on factors such as company, experience, and education. Here’s how tenure as a program manager can have an impact on pay, based on a Burning Glass analysis:

The compensation structures at each company are different, and senior program managers at certain firms can also expect to earn equity and other perks as part of their overall packages. Within the highest percentile of program managers, the average pay is $131,468. 

Are program managers in demand?

Over the past 12 months, Burning Glass has noted some 131,736 postings for program managers, and predicts that the profession will grow eight percent over the next decade. That indicates a solid level of demand in the medium- to long-term.

At the moment, the average time to fill an open program manager position is 36 days, which suggests that employers need to really work to find available candidates—again, a sign of a tight market for the position. For comparison’s sake, the time to fill a software developer/engineer position is 39 days, and a systems analyst is 37 days.

What skills do you need as a program manager?

As you might expect, the most-requested skills that pop up in program manager job description postings include program and project management, along with an aptitude for budgeting, scheduling, and staff management. Related to that, program manager resumes must also showcase excellent “soft skills” such as communication and empathy, because they’ll necessarily spend a solid chunk of their day negotiating and talking to various stakeholders.

Depending on the program manager’s area of focus, they may also need specialized knowledge in certain kinds of technologies. For example, if you’re overseeing a company’s data transformation efforts, you may need to know everything from SQL to the tools that data scientists and analysts need to actually do their jobs. As you might expect, such specialized knowledge will vary considerably from job to job.

Do I need a degree to become a program manager? 

In short, you don’t need an advanced degree in order to become a program manager. According to the Burning Glass database, some 8.5 percent of all program manager jobs ask only for a high school diploma; around 80 percent want a bachelor’s degree, and 7.2 percent ask for a master’s degree.

That being said, education can have a substantial impact on how much you get paid. Check out this breakdown of how educational attainment correlates with salary:

Depending on the role, a program manager position may ask for a project-management certification such as Project Management Professional (PMP), which is offered by the Project Management Institute and requires 35 hours of project management education/training (or CAPM certification), or Certified ScrumMaster (CSM). As with technical skills, though, certification requirements can vary wildly from job to job. 

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