Performance Management

Top 5 Qualities of a Rockstar Program Lead

By Michelle Kim
May 4, 2015
3 minute read

Behind every successful initiative, there is someone who works tirelessly to keep the program running.

After working with countless companies to develop, launch, and manage strategic programs, I can confidently say having the right person in the role of a Program Lead is critical to any initiative’s success.

Before diving into the top qualities of a successful Program Lead, let’s define two key differences between projects and programs. First, projects end. Programs can be ongoing. Furthermore, programs generally continue as long as they provide benefit and value to the participants. Program Leads are responsible for maintaining the success of a program well beyond the initial “launch” date, which requires them to keep the engagement level high and the feedback loop ongoing for the continuous success of the programs they oversee.

So what qualities make a rockstar Program Lead? Rockstar Program Leads are:

1. Excellent Communicators

This is a no-brainer, but fundamental nonetheless. Successful Program Leads are effective communicators who can deliver clear and timely communications throughout the organization, understand how to get buy-in from a wide range of stakeholders, and elicit excitement through inspirational messaging.

 2. Agile Master Minds

Program Leads have the ability to manage shifting priorities and understand interdependencies. In a world where the only constant is change, directions will change and Program Leads must be able to display agility through adapting to changing demands and shifting priorities. Successful Program Leads are able to develop action plans that address the cascading effects of interdependencies as well as risks that need to be mitigated.

3. Problem Solvers

When issues arise, Program Leads are comfortable digging in to identify the root causes and creative ways to resolve them. They are resourceful and know how to use their formal and informal networks in and outside of their organizations. They solicit feedback and collaborate with others to develop a solution that not only addresses the problem at hand, but also prevents the same issues from occurring again in the future.

4. Change Management Experts

Program Leads are change agents who successfully define the goals of the change that new programs bring to their organizations while effectively anticipating and managing resistance. They are able to identify and communicate change impact, build capacity to implement and adopt change, and lay out steps to achieve the desired transformation. Program Leads understand organizational transformation requires dedication and commitment from all levels of the company and they are able to identify compelling and frequent wins along the way to keep up the momentum.

5. Strong Leaders

Program Leads lead. They are well-respected coaches who inspire through action, build consensus through listening, and motivate by understanding what people value. They know what it takes to rally a team around a common goal and they exemplify behaviors they want to see in others.

The Bottom Line

Great Program Leads are critical to any new or changing programs’ success. Invest time and commit to identifying the right Program Leads to champion the programs at your company. That way, you’ll see better results across the board!


What does a Program Lead do?

A Program Lead helps to start a program and supervise it, along with its many moving parts, until its launch date. A Program Lead is dedicated to a project or task, and he or she will oversee it completely until it reaches its end.

A Program Lead will also help to retain engagement throughout this entire process, as well as create and management feedback. Ultimately, the end result will rest primarily upon the Program Lead’s efforts.

What qualities should a Program Lead have to be successful?

A Program Lead will need to be an excellent communicator in order to engage with other team members to successfully move the process along. He or she will also need to be an agile thinker, constantly able to pivot on a moment’s notice.

Additionally, a Program Lead will need to be a strong leader and problem solver – often simultaneously. They must be respected by the other team members and be able to get to the root of a problem in a timely manner.

Is there a difference between a Manager and a Program Lead?

While not in 100% of the cases, a Manager typically builds a team from the ground up, often even including the hiring process. They will place people in roles and supervise all operations.

Usually, a Program Lead is selected to take control over an existing team. They will take over a program and be the go-to person for all comments or questions requiring an expert decision.

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