On leading programs and initiatives

Managing programs and initiatives form the 4th most crucial step in the leadership development framework. As you can tell, it builds off of the previous levels for a definite reason — we’re talking about massive responsibilities here.

Some of which include the following:

Technology Management

Keeps up-to-date on technological developments. Makes effective use of technology to achieve results. Ensures access to, and security of, technology systems.

As you can guess, you don’t have the privilege to call yourself a “tech dinosaur.” Nobody will care. Get your act together and learn what it takes to use technology to your advantage. Else, you won’t succeed.

I hate it when responsible folks yap about their inability to open a document on their machines or worse, say that they’re a “Mac guy/gal.” It drives me nuts! Having a preference is alright but knowing how to troubleshoot everyday challenges is a must. If you can’t, move to a platform that everyone in your organization is working on. That’ll potentially minimize half of your challenges.

What do you do with your Mac, you ask? Well, use it as your backup or personal laptop. Or give it to someone if you’re the minimalist soul who can’t handle more than a single computer.

The point is that you should be spearheading technological transitions. Meaning you’ve got to be at the forefront of every technology initiative you take to ensure that your program is functioning smoothly.

Financial Management

Understands the organization’s financial processes. Prepares, justifies, and administers the program budget. Oversees procurement and contracting to achieve desired results. Monitors expenditures and uses cost-benefit thinking to set priorities.

I’ll be honest, finance isn’t my forte, but I can’t imagine effectively growing my companies if I don’t have a clue about my finances. Managing company finances is different from managing personal finance. You can get away with the latter (which, you shouldn’t, ideally) or tend to procrastinate. With company finances, you have to get regimented with your approach when it comes to preparing, monitoring, and justifying budgets, expenditures, and investments.

If you hate bargaining as I do, know that all professionals are expected to maximize the value of an investment, that’s what you have to do. You’re not twisting your vendors’ arm (or squeezing their necks, if that resonates with you) to give you more or less but asking them to justify their costs and value to the services they’re delivering.

All programs have a cost attached to it. Keeping a tab is one of your primary responsibilities. Not doing so isn’t an option at all.

Creativity / Innovation

Develops new insights into situations; questions conventional approaches; encourages new ideas and innovations; designs and implements new or cutting edge programs/processes.

Whoever thought leadership wasn’t creative didn’t give enough thought into it, which is the essence of all creativity. I believe you will find the highest levels of creativity in the war-room than the copy-room or the company’s design studio. There’s a lot at stake when you’re running a program as all else is on you; moreover, the buck stops at you.

Guess who would people becoming if they run into a problem? You! And what would you do with those challenges, curveballs, and complications that people are going to throw at you? Solve them, because you can’t delegate it to anyone else.

Creativity lies at the heart of leadership. All influential leaders are problem solvers. If they can’t, they’re not leaders.


Develops networks and builds alliances; collaborates across boundaries to build strategic relationships and achieve common goals.

There’s no such thing as a one-person island. As a program manager, you’ve got to take the initiative to partner with colleagues, peers, and other departments to get things done. These are strategic relationships due to mutual benefits.

Building an alliance is a skill that hard to come by, mostly if you skipped this step in the previous developmental stages. By now, collaborating and building relationships should come to you naturally. If not, well, start working on this skill right now and without further delay.

I’ve come across several program managers who think they can run the show themselves, only to scramble, wrestle, and get submitted by all the challenges that come with any ambitious program.

As they say, “if you want to go faster, run, but if you want to go further, let’s go together.”

Political Savvy

Identifies the internal and external politics that impact the work of the organization. Perceives organizational and political reality and acts accordingly.

I’ll be honest. I still suck at this! Over the past few years, however, I’ve come to embrace it. Politics at the workplace has a negative connotation because the so-called “politicians” operate and act like crooks. But it doesn’t have to go down that route at all.

Being politically savvy allows you to navigate organizational challenges much more effectively. One can dissect, identify, and resolve issues compartmentally, without risking resentment and hatred. For the greater good for the organization, of course.

If you think this is an optional skill, let me assure you, it’s not. If you’re managing programs, know that you will have individual differences, resentful team members, un-cooperating peers and colleagues. You’ve got to learn how to navigate through such complexities without letting them consume your life. And the best way to do that is by learning to understand the nature and objective of office politics because you start to practice it.

Managing programs is quite different from managing projects. Ideally, a program manager will manage tens or hundreds of projects, depending on the size of the company. The responsibilities and complexities that come with it are multi-fold, and you can’t solve them with the skills you attained at the previous level.

That’s why experts tell you to think a step ahead of the role you’re currently serving. It allows you to prepare and develop the skills needed for the next level, so, when an opportunity arises, you’re ready instead of “getting ready for it.”

The big question is this — are you ready for the next level, organizational leadership? Stay tuned.

P.S. This post is part of the 5 key leadership comptencies series.

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