Skills of an Effective United States Air Force Program Manager: A Qualitative Descriptive Study of the Skills Required for United States Air Force Program Managers

Date of Award

Spring 2024

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Business Administration (DBA)

Committee Chair

Leo Sedlmeyer

Committee Member

David Mccurry

Committee Member

Charles Fenner


The United States Air Force (USAF) purchases billions in arms, equipment, and services to support the Department of Defense and its mission to defend the public from all enemies, foreign and domestic. Program Managers (PM) are the leaders appointed to develop, deliver, and sustain a solution for the capability gaps identified by operational leaders. PMs oversee programs of all sizes across many domains. A substantial proportion of programs fail to meet the triple constraint of cost, schedule, and performance. It is in the interest of the public who funds these purchases to identify the skills that can help PMs deliver programs within the triple constraint. PMs require skills to lead an effective program. The researcher used Katz's (1955) framework to identify the technical, human, and conceptual skills PMs need. The researcher interviewed nine retired USAF acquisition members and identified seventeen PM skills required to deliver programs within the triple constraint alongside other observations about the acquisition field. The seventeen skills include (1) General Military Knowledge, (2) Programmatic Knowledge, (3) Functional Knowledge, (4) Program-specific Knowledge, (5) Technological Proficiency, (6) Leadership, (7) Mentorship, (8) Communication, (9) Relationship Management, (10) Emotional Intelligence, (11) Political Skills, (12) Stakeholder Management, (13) Requirement Management, (14) Problem-solving, (15) Critical Thinking, (16) Outlook, and (17) Continuity. PMs can use the seventeen skills from this study as possible competencies to identify where they excel and need improvement and create a plan of action to improve performance at their current job and prepare for the next. Career managers can use the skill set as criteria to consider in selecting, developing, and retaining PMs to meet today's and tomorrow's needs. Additionally, the USAF should incorporate the seventeen skills into professional development, education, and training. The study further serves as a template for future studies and meritocratic initiatives within the defense acquisition workforce.