CWS 3.0: July 13, 2011 - Vol. 3.16


Feature: An Inside Look at the Emerging Role of Program Managers

One minute they're helping a befuddled supervisor hone a complex requisition, the next they're spearheading a multi-million dollar staffing RFP. But contingent workforce program managers aren't accomplishing their diverse duties by following in their predecessor's footsteps; these modern-day Daniel Boones are blazing the trail.

"It's lonely sometimes, because you don't belong to a specific group and there are only one or two managers in each company," concedes Jenny Warioba, recruiting operations principal at Pacific Gas and Electric Co. "Program management is a unique role that forces you to live in two worlds -- human resources and strategic sourcing."

Career Path and Compensation

So who are these brazen program pioneers? Many, like Nicole Dowden, start out in recruiting, rise up through the ranks and nab a newly created position. Dowden was hired in April to launch an inaugural program for Zanett, where she is rewarded for helping the company boost its billable hours and profits by securing top-notch IT contractors at a reasonable rate.

“Program managers should be financially rewarded for the revenue and savings they generate instead of the company’s overall performance,” says Dowden. “Assuming they can dollarize their program’s contributions.”

Annual compensation for a program manager ranges from $80,000 to $110,000 and up to $150,000 for a director who oversees a major program whose annual expenditures exceed $50 million. Their package often includes an annual bonus opportunity of 5 percent to 20 percent for attaining key deliverables like increased customer satisfaction, cost savings and meeting program-specific goals. (Look for more detailed compensation data in our next issue of CWS 30.)

Program managers can ultimately head up talent acquisition or become human resource leaders, but most move up the ladder by switching companies and running a larger contingent workforce program with more complex responsibilities. Warioba proves that such career-enhancing moves are becoming feasible; she recently moved to PG&E after running a smaller program at Fireman’s Fund for five years.

Whether they fly solo, supervise a small group of subordinates or watch over a team of on-site representatives from a staffing firm or MSP, program managers agree that acquiring quality contingent workers and fulfilling line managers’ needs are their top priorities and must be balanced with the need for cost savings, compliance and paperwork.

Talent management looms large as the use of contingents rises. In fact, some experts predict that contingent workers could comprise 50 percent of the total workforce by the end of 2012, so companies need to control costs and mitigate risk through a holistic program that encompasses independent contractors as well as contingent workers from a multitude of global staffing and consulting firms.

“You can’t follow what someone else has done, so you need to be an astute and competent project manager to build a program from scratch,” says Dowden.

Program managers must gather stakeholder requirements, gain agreement on priorities, and develop an infrastructure and a host of coordinating processes before selling their ideas to the masses and finally advancing to the implementation and refinement phase.

The dynamic nature of staffing and the shifting business climate means contingent workforce programs are in a constant state of flux. In fact, veteran managers compare building a program to building the famous Winchester Mystery House, because the construction process is complicated and never ends.

Many program managers have acquired duties from their colleagues in procurement and now conduct requests for proposals and negotiate vendor contracts.

Being familiar with the nuances of the talent acquisition process allows program managers to create targeted service-level agreements that drive contingent quality and improve vendor performance. But they often need to learn risk mitigation and compliance techniques by interfacing with company attorneys and risk managers.

“It’s easier to learn the contract side of the business because the concepts are tangible,” notes Warioba, who recently administered a major RFP, “while recruiting takes you into gray areas that require intuition and interpretation.”

Key Responsibilities
• Talent acquisition/stakeholder satisfaction
• Holistic program design, development, implementation and administration
• Workforce analysis and planning
• Cost management and risk mitigation
• Vendor selection and management
• Contract/ SLA design and compliance

While most jobs cater to right-brain or left-brain thinkers, program managers have to use their entire brain to execute their varied responsibilities. They need the critical thinking and change management skills of an experienced executive, the charm and persuasiveness of a marketing leader, the detail orientation of an accountant and the patience and compassion of a registered nurse.

For example, Carmen Butler spends most of her day helping managers navigate the company’s VMS or complete rudimentary paperwork, but the Bayer contingent labor program specialist has to transition to strategic tasks at the drop of a hat, such as forecasting future staffing needs, conducting cost comparison or helping a line manager select the best solution.

“You have to multi-task, follow through and stay on top of everything — including new laws that impact contingent staffing,” notes Butler. “But most importantly, you have to seamlessly transition between task-oriented and strategic activities on an hourly basis.”

While developing a robust, holistic program is a major responsibility, even the best plan won’t get off the ground if the program manager can’t muster support or steps on a political landmine. So above all, managers must have the savoir-faire to finesse major change through a complex organization.

Critical Competencies
• Service orientation/patience
• Planning/strategic thinking
• Problem analysis and solution development
• Project management/cross functional expertise
• Adaptability/change management/ consensus building
• Multi-tasking/detail orientation/follow through
• Communications/political savvy
• Negotiations

Leslie Stevens-Huffman is a freelance writer in Southern California who has 20 years' experience in the staffing industry. She can be reached at


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