Linda Gorchels blogs

Top Skills for Product Manager Success

Welcome to 2019! And your first steps to learn about successful product managers.

If you’re reading this, I’m assuming you are—or would like to be—a product manager. What questions do you have entering the new year? Perhaps you wonder if you have what it takes for success. Or what type of company is right for you. Maybe you’re looking for that magic tool that will make your life easier.

I’ll touch on several of these topics this year, with a product management post on the first Friday of each month. (On the remaining Fridays, my posts will address cover other topics.)

Today’s topic focuses on what makes product managers successful. There are ample variations of this question on Quora. There are so many, in fact, that some answerers have recycled prior responses. Even though the repetition can get monotonous, the sheer number of question variations suggests that the topic has widespread appeal.

  • What does it take to be an exceptional product manager?
  • What separates great product managers from good ones?
  • What qualities, skills, and attributes define the best product managers?

Drum roll, please…

Product managers connect the company to customers and customers to the company through their vision and execution of a product plan. Those who do it well are the great (or exceptional) ones, and likely apply the following skills and capabilities.

People skills: listening (with empathy); clear and persuasive communication; ability to suppress ego; poise with different functions and management levels

Product managers must accomplish their goals and execute product plans through others (development, production, marketing, sales, etc.). As cross-functional leaders, they must establish mutual respect with a variety of internal stakeholders. In addition, a critical external set of stakeholders includes customers and market segments.

A mindset balancing long-term and short-term thinkingcomfort with both strategy and tactics

It’s challenging to contemplate product strategy 2–5 years into the future while dealing with current flaws and sales issues. But product managers do it all the time. Long-term thinking could include product portfolio building, trend-spotting, and competitive intelligence. Short-term thinking could include being a customer champion and contributing to marketing and support efforts.

Organizationadroit at managing time and projects; able to prioritize

Being able to manage multiple priorities is pivotal. Given that product managers exist in a matrix world, they are always fielding requests from diverse stakeholders. They have to manage their time and know when to say no. They also need to embrace project management principles.

Technical knowledgeproduct, process, customer, and relevant industry familiarity

“Technical” won’t mean the same thing for all product managers. In the medical industry, technical might require a background in nursing or pharmaceuticals. In capital equipment, technical might mean sufficient engineering knowledge to understand product requirements. Whatever industry you are in, you need to understand both the design/development/engineering people and the customers and customer-contact people in your organization.

Basic business aptitude: understanding the components of profit and loss for the product line

As “virtual CEOs,” a common moniker given to product managers, their job is to manage their products as a business. That requires a basic financial aptitude including costing, pricing and how your product fits into the company’s financial statements.

Creativitycomfort with product positioning and differentiation, flexible focus in ideation

At its simplest level, creativity is originality. defines it as “the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.” If product managers can create meaningful new value, they exhibit creativity.