Being a product manager requires a baseline of technical skills including user research, analytics, and software development. To become a great product manager, you'll also need a few foundational soft skills to stand out from other candidates. Those skills include:
- Big-picture thinking
- Attention to detail
- Time management and organizational skills.
Let's examine each of these skills in more detail.
Why are communication skills important?
To lead your own team, you'll need to communicate well. You'll need excellent communication skills when building relationships and trust with stakeholders.
There's an argument to be made that PMs communicate more than any other business role. On an average day, you might:
- Hold a morning standup meeting with your product team
- Conduct interviews and focus groups for user feedback
- Provide written status reports to key stakeholders
- Outline anticipated product features to company leadership
- Justify product decisions to your team
- Oversee and mentor junior product managers
- Summarize tested product experiences for your team to make improvements.
You might need to become a mediator within your team. You might have to create visual reports of product progress and roadmaps. You might need to explain engineering concepts to your customer research team or research concepts to their engineering counterparts.
Successful business project managers need to know when to apply affective communication and when neutral communication is more appropriate. The most successful project leaders can adapt their communication style to suit the needs and motivations of key stakeholders to push toward successful outcomes.
Invite your project team to each take the free F4S assessment. Then set up a team in the F4S platform to map individual motivations and communication styles. This will help you to excel and accelerate successful outcomes.
How can leadership skills accelerate success?
To become a great product manager, strong leadership skills are essential. You'll need to oversee the entire product development process and key stakeholders from business areas such as marketing, communications, sales, engineering, and finance. The project teams you'll oversee include:
- Cross-functional teams
- Development teams
- Design teams
- Engineering teams.
The best project managers excel at establishing high-performing cross-functional teams. For larger teams, each functional group may send a representative to a single product team. Strong leadership skills help the project manager ensure a successful product launch. That includes tasks such as:
- Establishing a clear product strategy and roadmap
- Defining clear business outcomes
- Assigning and overseeing individual roles and responsibilities within the product team
- Managing the product from vision to launch and beyond.
Product designers have different motivations compared to engineering managers. An engineer might have a high motivation for detail and problem-solving, while a product manager may focus on the big picture. You might not have direct authority over their work. But you'll need to know how to communicate with them depending on their motivations.
Managing your team, from product meetups to daily work, requires a high level of emotional intelligence (EQ) and its four core traits1:
- Relationship management, building relationships with both internal and external stakeholders. The best relationships are based on mutual trust and a shared desire to achieve a mutual goal.
- Self-awareness, which includes knowing your own cognitive biases. That way, you can remain objective and avoid projecting those biases onto others. Despite having expertise, you need to be able to defer to the needs and desires of an audience that might be less informed.
- Self-starter. The product manager role is often stressful, especially considering potential conflicting priorities. Deadlines and budgets can be tight. Building a great product culture means not just knowing which priorities matter, but also when to step away and take a breath.
- Social awareness. Customer feedback matters in building a more customer-centric product and business. So do your own team's thoughts and expertise. Being able to read your surroundings and support your team in the right areas can go a long way toward succeeding in a product management job.
A high EQ also means knowing when working independently makes sense and when your teams can benefit from belongingness.
Why are big-picture thinking skills important?
Product managers have to be visionaries. In addition to overseeing daily work, they need to connect product goals to larger business objectives.
Daily life is a constant balance between daily tasks and big-picture thinking. You cannot emphasize one over the other. Instead, both sides need to equally play into developing great products.
Exceptional product managers are able to keep that big-picture vision in mind at all times. They are able to connect even the smallest decision to their potential strategic ripple effects down the road.
This type of big-picture thinking and divergent thinking drives innovation. Without it, you cannot think outside of the box. Any improvements will likely be incremental, causing you to miss the opportunity for significant changes. Steve Jobs invented the iPhone not because customers wanted it, but because he anticipated the market trends that would cause customers to need it in the future. Those who are able to bring in fresh thoughts and rapidly turn customer feedback into products and features can develop new, innovative products centered around customer needs.
Why develop an attention to detail?
Big-picture thinking is only half of the equation. Awesome product managers never stop thinking about the day-to-day tactical development process. You'll need to be equally as detail-oriented as you are able to see the big picture.
Focusing too much on one or the other can be detrimental:
- Emphasizing only strategy means missing small details and tweaks that could improve the product. It might be a small UI improvement or a change to make a process more efficient. The product, built with great intention, might not perform as well.
- Focusing only on small tactics means building a potentially great product that doesn't help anyone. A lack of strategic oversight can cause the process to go off-track. It might be technically great, but it no longer achieves customer requirements or company objectives.
To be a product leader, you'll need a healthy mix of these vital soft skills. Your team will look to you for the strategic overview. But you'll also be able to see tactical improvements that can help the entire process.
Why are time management and organizational skills important?
Managing a product development cycle requires constant multitasking. The process is never linear. Planning, design, engineering, and testing will often overlap to happen concurrently to keep tight deadlines and budgets.
Consider the typical agile engineering process in product design:
- Initial planning and brainstorming moves to a minimum viable product that can be quickly rolled out.
- While the engineers build the products, designers already plan more complex versions.
- The MVP receives initial testing and user feedback.
- The feedback feeds back into brainstorming and making improvements.
- Improvement suggestions move into new, iterative design and engineering phases.
At each stage, the MVP incrementally improves. But they all happen at the same time, turning the development process into a circle rather than a linear timeline.
For the product leader, that means constant decision-making on the tasks that matter most. Prioritizing tasks, making improvements, and adjusting budgets is a constant balancing act.
Closely connected to prioritization is the PM's time management skillset. You'll need to know how to prioritize your and your team's time to optimize product development. It's about developing your ability to stick to a schedule. You might even need to include shifting work from one team member to another to optimize everyone's time on the project.