One part match-maker, another part relationship counsellor, mixed with liberal doses of financial controller, communications specialist, trainer and project manager. That’s what makes up the unique characteristics of a great program manager. The role is so broad that it’s actually quite hard to do really well at all aspects.
The European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC) administers a Global Coach/Mentor Program Manager Training Quality Award (PMQA). This Award has 12 professional core standards against which program managers are assessed. I’ve grouped them into six:
- Program Planning. An effective mentoring program manager designs a program to suit the context and clearly identifies the purpose, scope and goals, making the methodology available to key stakeholders.
- Program governance, stakeholder management, risks and issue management. Good program management requires effective reporting to stakeholders, ability to balance and skilfully navigate different agendas of participants, program team and wider stakeholders. Good governance includes maintaining high ethical standards and duty of care. A skilled program manager identifies risk up front and makes timely adjustments to suit a changing context.
- Budgeting and ROI. It is the program manager’s role to ensure the program is adequately funded and delivers a return on investment.
- Recruit, select, match, train and supervise participants. Great program managers design and implement effective processes for these core activities, ideally informed by evidence. They establish a suitable supervision or reflective practice plan for participants.
- Program evaluation and quality assurance. An evaluation strategy and methodology must be identified at the beginning so that program effectiveness can be assessed. The program manager will apply quality assurance processes, enabling individual, training or program accreditation as appropriate.
- Focus on self. A great program manager is highly self-aware and invests in continuing professional development for the role.
The best program managers I know have the ability to balance empathy with assertiveness. The role requires outstanding listening and communication skills, so that mentors and mentees will open up and seek assistance when needed. At the same time, an accomplished program manager knows when to push the responsibility back to participants as needed, and how to push back on stakeholders’ (sometimes) unreasonable demands. For programs with large numbers, numeracy and a degree of tech savviness are also needed.
The role requirements are often under-estimated. Whilst there is a degree of administration in the role, a good program manager has wisdom and judgement that junior administrators lack. It is also highly rewarding. There is nothing better than mentor and mentee feedback when the mentoring experience has been life-changing. It is a gift to have the opportunity to enable that for others.
© 2020 Melissa Richardson