Program managers are big-picture picture thinkers. They lead teams, communicate with organizational stakeholders, design information management systems, and maintain budgets to ensure their employer pursues and completes projects that align with organizational goals.
Salary figures for program managers reflect how essential they are to business success; according to Salary.com, the median project manager earns over $140,000 per year.
Success in this profession requires experience and a great deal of expertise. Program management certifications offer a relatively inexpensive way (compared to graduate degrees, at least) to aqcuire specialized knowledge and prove your program management capabilities to improve your career prospects. Experienced professionals often hold multiple certifications and even a master’s degree.
This article explores the best certifications for program managers. It also addresses the questions:
Many program management professionals gain the experience they need for the role through project management, in which they oversee individual projects. This list includes the top project management certifications because they’re stepping stones to higher-paying careers, including program management.
The Project Management Institute (PMI) is one of this sector’s top professional organizations. Its PMP certification helps project management professionals authenticate their managerial skills. PMP program coursework focuses around three concepts: people, process, and business environment. The organization offers exam prep in the form of an online course or in-person class.
This certification is designed for working professionals with a four-year degree and at least 36 months of project leadership experience, plus 35 hours of project management training or a Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) certification. Those with an associate’s degree or high school diploma need at least 60 months of leadership experience.
To maintain their certification, PMPs must complete 60 professional development units (PDUs) after three years; each PDU represents one credit hour.
The ACP represents another excellent option for project management professionals looking to improve their credibility. It targets professionals who need the agile project management skillsets useful in responding quickly to volatile market changes. PMI offers self-study and formal exam prep options.
The PMI says applicants need at least eight months of agile experience (within the past three years), 21 hours of agile contact training, a secondary degree, and either a PMP certification or a year of general project experience (within the last five). Maintaining an ACP requires 30 PDUs every three years.
Scrum framework breaks down large tasks into small pieces. At its best, Scrum improves morale and productivity. Scrum is not the only agility tool, but it’s one of the most recognizable. It’s commonly used in software development but can be applied to any industry.
Scrum Alliance is one of the leaders in Scrum methodology; this certification can improve your career prospects. Students complete an interactive program, then take the certification test. ScrumAlliance says Scrum masters, software engineers, business analysts, project managers, and new Scrum team members should consider this certification. CSM is the Scrum Alliance’s entry-level professional certification; others include Advanced Scrum Master and Certified Scrum Professional.
The MPM is designed for program managers, training and development managers, executive directors, and team leaders in all sectors. Completing the program may help qualify you for an executive position. Program applicants should have a graduate-level education, project management experience, and knowledge of project management ethics. The four-module course addresses organizational techniques, leadership, relevant technologies, cost control, conflict management, and much more. Ultimately, the certificate is most useful for project and program managers who want to learn scrum techniques.
The American Academy of Project Management (AAPM), which offers the MPM, is one of the most established organizations in the field. Other AAPM certifications include Certified International Project Manager (CIPM), Master Quality Manager (MQM), Certified E-Commerce Consultant (CEC), and Certified Leadership Consultant (CLC).
This certificate program is designed for current program managers; it can lead to increased responsibility and upper-management jobs. Admissions requirements for those with a high school diploma or an associate’s degree are a PMP or at least four years of project management experience—plus seven years of program management experience in the past 15 years. Those with a bachelor’s degree only need 48 months of project and program management experience.
Like the PMP, the PgMP tests business, technical, and management skills. Exam topics include “soft” negotiating, communication, problem solving, and leadership skills; hybrid and agile methodologies, design thinking, performance management, budgeting, business modeling, competitive analysis, market awareness, strategic planning, and regulatory compliance.
Students can self-study for the certification exam or enroll in a PMI certification course. Outside institutions also offer exam preparation courses; University of Washington has a two-course program.
I.T. encompasses a vast spectrum of systems and applications. They include common networks most of us use every day, such as telephone and point-of-sale systems. At the other end of the spectrum are comparatively obscure, poorly understood systems like blockchain, used in cryptocurrencies and other transactions. In between lie background systems such as databases and inventory management, crucial to businesses, corporations, and government agencies. (
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the computer and information technology job market should grow by 15 percent between 2021 and 2031, creating more than 682,000 new jobs. Earning a Master of Science in Information Technology builds skill sets in critical areas that include cloud computing, algorithms, big data, business intelligence, cybersecurity, data science, machine learning, and IT management, among others. ( )
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Whether you need a Master of Science in Information Management (MSIM) depends on your career goals. According to ZipRecruiter, program managers at large companies often have a master’s degree. It isn’t a hard rule but it is one many organizations follow.
While a MSIM is an excellent degree for program managers, it isn’t the only one. Many pursue a master’s in finance or a Master of Business Administration (MBA). Program managers who work in information technology may pursue a master’s in information technology or computer science.
Core MSIM coursework often includes data management, information management ethics, project management, and information technology and computer science topics. That said, what you learn in an information management degree depends heavily on the program and your specialization.
Specializations involve unique required courses and electives. Students at University of Washington can pursue six tracks: business intelligence, information architecture, information and cyber security, user experience, data science, and program/product management and consulting. Naturally, those who complete the data science track have different career prospects (senior data analyst or cybersecurity architect) than those in the management-focused specialization (program manager c-suite executive).
Information management means collecting and organizing information with the goal of improving management practices. Though it’s a unique field of study, information management relies heavily on information technology and data science.
The MSIM itself is a traditional two-year graduate degree; programs are offered online or in-person. Not all MSIM programs help graduates pursue program management. Other career paths (depending on your course of study) include IT advisory risk consultant, business systems manager, chief information officer, and systems engineer.
After reading about master’s degrees and certifications, you may wonder which is the better choice. The answer: it depends on your situation and the program. Consider a certification if you don’t want to spend two years in a master’s program. Consider a master’s if you’re looking for a broader education that includes theory as well as specific-skill training.
One reason to earn a master’s over a certification is if you want to change careers and enter the field. While entry-level certifications certainly exist, professionals may benefit from the inclusive nature of a master’s degree geared to inexperienced students (University of Washington offers two early-career tracks). Formal education means you won’t need to piece together coursework from disparate sources.
Earning a master’s degree doesn’t prevent you from pursuing a certificate, and vice versa. The best professionals constantly pursue continuing education and typically hold multiple credentials; many top executives have a master’s and certifications.
Top information management schools include:
Keep in mind, not all of these schools offer an MSIM, though coursework frequently overlaps.
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