Program Specialist Job Description
In general, the main function of a Program Specialist is to coordinate all aspects of multiple programs for an organization. They are in charge of overseeing each program’s funding, execution, staff, budget and goals from start to finish. As the Program Specialist, they are held accountable for the success or failure of each program.
Program Specialists most commonly work for nonprofit organizations, such as those that protect or provide services to people, land or animals. However, they can also work educational institutions or the local, state or federal government. Regardless of the industry they work in, their job is to ensure the success of their organization’s programs. They typically report to a higher-level member of staff, such as a Program Director, and may also be required to oversee one or more lower-level staff members and/or volunteers. Program Specialists work in an office environment, though they may also travel to various events and meetings depending on the needs of each program.
Program Specialist Duties and Responsibilities
In order to ensure that each program in their care is executed efficiently, Program Specialists regularly perform a variety of tasks. We analyzed several online job postings to identify the following core duties and responsibilities.
No organization has an unlimited amount of money, so Program Specialists must constantly create and analyze budgets for each program in order to minimize unnecessary expenditure as much as possible. This often involves relatively complex budgetary planning and forecasting.
The proper allocation of resources is just as important as the proper allocation of money. For these reasons, one of the major duties of a Program Specialist is allocating a specific amount of resources for each program while avoiding the depletion of resources as well as the degradation of quality.
Besides overseeing finances and resources, Program Specialists also need to be involved in the programs themselves. They may simply be asked to approve a certain set of criteria, or they may be expected to help develop a fully-fledged program complete with fine-tuned procedures and techniques.
A significant portion of a Program Specialist’s job is training, assisting and reviewing of staff members who are involved in one or more programs. This requires Program Specialists to have an intimate knowledge of the programs they’re handling. In their staff supervision, Program Specialists must facilitate communication, aid organization, coordinate objectives and ensure that standards are met.
Whether a program is designed to fit the needs of a government-funded community center or a nonprofit foundation, it’s bound to come with a lot of paperwork. A great deal of that paperwork will fall into the hands of the Program Specialist, who will be charged with tracking deliverables, monitoring progress and entering data.
Program Specialist Skills
Successful Program Specialists are detail-oriented individuals who possess a high attention to detail and thrive in a collaborative team environment. They are just as able to jump into a team meeting as they are to analyze financial information, and they’re driven by the idea of completing each successive goal. In addition to these general skills and personality traits, employers are looking for Program Specialists with the following skills.
- Communication skills - Program Specialists will be required to frequently work with staff members of all levels within their organization, and may also need to communicate with board members, clients or stakeholders. Thus, they must have excellent communication skills.
- Financial acumen – Because of the important role that budgets play in the jobs of Program Specialists, they need to have strong fundamental math skills as well as intermediate to advanced financial skills.
- Management skills - More often than not, Program Specialists will be expected to manage one or more lower-level members of staff. For this reason, they must have good management skills and managerial experience.
- Organization - Since Program Specialists will need to keep track of a vast array of details at once, they need to be highly organized.
- Ability to multitask - Program Specialists will usually have more than one program on their plate at any given time. Because of this, it’s important that Program Specialists be able to juggle multiple programs simultaneously.
Program Specialist Salary
According to data published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Social and Community Service Managers, which includes Program Specialists, earn a median annual salary of $63,530. The lowest ten percent earn $38,770 per year or less, and the highest paid earn $108,960 per year or more. Program Specialists in the District of Columbia, New York and Alaska enjoy the highest median annual salary in the United States, making $88,900, $84,900 and $80,000 per year, respectively.
Program Specialist Tools of the Trade
In order to accomplish the goals they must meet regularly, Program Specialists use a variety of tools. If you’re planning on becoming a Program Specialist, make sure that you’re familiar with the following.
Recent versions of Microsoft Office software suites - A number of the programs in Microsoft Office, such as Excel, PowerPoint and Word, are indispensable to Program Specialists.
Standard office equipment - Program Specialists need to know how to operate standard office equipment such as copiers, printers and fax machines.
Telecommunications equipment - Program Specialists use telecommunications equipment to communicate with clients, colleagues and more.
Financial software - Various kinds of financial software may be needed in order to keep track of and project budgets and expenses.
Additional Program Specialist Resources
We compiled this list of resources to help you continue exploring your career as a Program Specialist.
Project Manager Community – This LinkedIn group has over 400,000 members and makes for a perfect place to connect with Project Managers, Program Specialists and more.
Non Profit Network – Program Specialists who work in the nonprofit sector will enjoy discussing best practices, technology, techniques and more with the 200,000 members that make up this group.
The Handbook of Program Management – This textbook contains nearly everything you need to know about Program Management.
Interpersonal Skills for Portfolio, Program and Project Managers – Rather than taking a more general approach, this book hones in on the specific interpersonal skills that help Program Specialists succeed.
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