Leading as a Product Manager

leaderThose who know me, know that I absolutely love being a Product Manager. This role provides the opportunity to be creative, problem solve, have front row access to our customers and work with a team to build something quite incredible that solve real problems.

I have learned, though, that product management takes more than documenting requirements, knowing your market or monitoring metrics.

With the responsibility of delivering great products, you are also required to be a leader. To come to the table with the opportunities that deliver business value. To lead the vision that drives the company forward. To motivate the people around you.

One tiny, little problem. As a product manager, we manage the products not the people.

So how can we be effective leaders in our role as a Product Manager when we don’t always have the authority? I asked this very question to the panelists of our Thursday May 19th Boston Women in Product event and came away with three primary themes to being an effective leader.

Be Prepared
First and foremost, you need to be prepared. This means you have a strong understanding of your market and customers. You have evaluated the opportunities and determined your hypotheses. You have the data to support your decisions around prioritization for the next iterations (or new product offering) and you are ready to bring this to the team.

It is important to your team that you understand what we are doing and why. As Nichole Mace suggests, “Make yourself the go-to person by going the extra mile in your research – customer research, competitive analysis, knowledge of initiative or process. There is a tremendous amount of research and resources at your fingertips.”

And if you do not have the answer, know when to say “I don’t know, but I will find out!” Not only do you gain a deeper understanding with the additional research, but there is a level of respect that accompanies your willingness to admit that you don’t always have the answers.

Be Engaged
Collaboration and communication are important aspects of your role as a product manager.

Being an active player on the team as opposed to directing, enables you to not only problem solve together, but build relationships with your team. Amisha Thakkar has found this approach provides her the opportunity to be more effective in her role. “Invariably you will find that people are incredibly resourceful and creative and will come up with more solutions than you could think of alone.”

Ellen Chisa expresses it is important to remember that while trying to influence as a PM it is necessary to deflect praise and absorb blame. Everyone should know that you support their work, and want them to succeed. Give those people praise when they do something good. When something goes wrong, take responsibility, and try not to let it happen again. By doing that, people on your team will begin to trust you, and your influence will grow. This doesn’t mean you should take fault for everything that goes awry – it means you are self-aware and learn from mistakes.

Communication goes beyond presenting in the meeting room or distributing your requirements. According to Nichole, being responsive in a timely manner supports your efforts to build these relationships with those you hope to lead. These relationships will carry you through during times when communication can break down.

Be Confident
Confidence in product management is not a trait some people just have. Confidence comes from having the right amount of information to make informed decisions.

Nichole finds that the more information you have, the stronger the stakeholder buy-in, and the more invested your team is in your initiatives, the more confident you become. And with perceived levels of confidence, the greater the success is in leading without authority.

Being a Product Manager is sometimes referred to as being the CEO of the product. While that sentiment alludes to the leadership qualities a product manager must exhibit, it does not get at the heart of what makes product managers effective.

Get informed, build relationships and become a more influential Product Manager.

Feature image from Flickr Commons

For more on how to manage challenges like this and many others as you navigate through your career, attend the next Boston Women in Product event:

Storytelling: Managing Challenges in your Product Career
Pivotal Labs
145 Broadway, 3rd Floor
Cambridge, Ma


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