Ward was born in Princeton, New Jersey, the son of Barbara Carnes Ward and John William Ward, a Professor of English and History at Princeton University who later served as President of Amherst College. He attended Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota, earning a B.A. degree in 1976. He worked on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico before attending Harvard Divinity School, where he received a Master of Theological Studies.
Ward worked at the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs as Director of Research from 1982 to 1988. From 1988 to 1992, he was an Assistant Commissioner for the New York City Department of Telecommunications and Energy. He was Senior Vice President for Transportation and Commerce at the New York City Economic Development Corporation from 1992 to 1996.
Ward then worked in the private sector as Director of Business Development of American Stevedoring, Inc. from 1996 to 1997. From 1997 to 2002, he was Chief of Planning and External Affairs and Director of Port Development for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. He then served as Commissioner of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection from 2002 to 2005.
Ward returned to the private sector, as CEO of American Stevedoring from 2005 to 2006, and then as Managing Director of the General Contractors Association of New York, Inc. (GCA). After New York Governor David Paterson recommended Ward to become Executive Director of the Port Authority, he was appointed to the position on May 22, 2008.
Ward is charged with overseeing the planned expansion of Pennsylvania Station to the James Farley Post Office, which will be named Moynihan Station. He attracted attention in July 2008 when he announced that construction at the World Trade Center site would run longer and cost significantly more than previously promised. He is also a survivor of the 9/11 Attacks. Ward was in building 5 when Tower 1 collapsed and was later rescued.