Background: Program directors have a formal leading position within a teaching team. It is not clear how program directors fulfill their leadership role in practice. In this interview study we aim to explore the role of the program director as strategic leader, based on the research-question: What are the experiences of program directors with strategic leadership? Method: We conducted an interview study using the principles of phenomenography to explore program directors' experiences. In the period June 2012-May 2013, 16 program directors from different hospital organisations were invited to participate in an interview study. Iterative data collection and analysis were based on strategic leadership: (1) developing collective mindset, (2) focusing on collaborative learning and (3) designing teaching organisation. Results: Fourteen program directors participated in this study. We identified four leadership profiles: (1) captains, (2) carers, (3) professionals and (4) team-players. The 'team-players' come closest to integrally applying strategic leadership. For all four profiles there seems to be a preference for developing collectivity by means of providing information. Program directors have less experience with promoting collaborative learning and the designing of teaching organisation is task-oriented. Conclusion: Promoting collaborative learning is the most important challenge for developing leadership within the teaching team.