in Leadership

What Makes a Great Product Manager?


via Wellington Snipes

Product managers adapt to a range of business models, team needs, and company sizes. Some come from a technical and engineering background — others were marketers or business development leaders in past lives.

Regardless of their backgrounds, what they share in common are strong communication skills, big-picture vision, and the ability to empower cross-functional teams. They’re able to keep organizations on track to accomplish challenging goals and milestones. In addition to overseeing new feature releases, product managers are a company’s innovation engines — ensuring that organizations are constantly adapting to their markets.

It’s the following qualities that will help push them ahead:

1. Leadership Through Empathy

Product managers are constantly connecting dots between different people, systems, and processes. The ability to lead cross functionally is crucial, but here’s the challenge:

It’s impossible for one product manager to know everything. Sometimes, you’ll be throwing darts in the dark — and you’ll need to make judgment calls about things that you don’t fully understand.

That’s where empathy comes in.

As a product manager, you’re not alone. You’re surrounded by your team, peers — and even your customers. The more time you spend listening, learning, and caring, the more you can rely on others to help you navigate extremely complex situations.

The people around you will ultimately be your best asset. The more you’re able to listen to and care about their needs, the more empowered you’ll be as a leader.

2. The Ability to Make Decisions in Ambiguous Situations


via Anna Dziubinska

Product managers often find themselves in unknown situations where paths forward are not always clear. How do you know which feature set will be the best investment? Which engineering initiatives should be placed on hold for effective resource allocation?

Some judgment calls will be easier than others — but good product managers won’t let the tough moments bog them down.

Strong product managers are able to take a step back and think rationally about the bigger picture — to connect what their teams are working on with what customers ultimately want. Ambiguity, while uncomfortable, ultimately won’t scare these leaders off — instead, they’ll take a step back, dig a little deeper into the situation at hand, and forge ahead. While others may be fumbling to figure out what to do, strong product managers will feel empowered to make a clear, informed decision.

Great product managers know that they’ll be wrong sometimes. And that’s okay. What’s most important is that they learn from their mistakes and continuously strive to push forward.

3. An Ability to Position Risk as an Asset


via Victor Erixon

How do you know whether you’re making the right decisions and that your work will amplify revenues?

That’s just it — at the end of the day, you don’t. Your decisions involve a clear set of informed, calculated decisions, but at the end of the day, you can’t predict the future.

Product managers know that there’s always the potential to fail, and they’re comfortable with moving forward anyway. Rather than letting uncertainty intimidate them, they focus on opportunities (and opportunity costs) ahead.

With risk tolerance comes risk management. Great product managers don’t make frivolous decisions — and they don’t rely on probability to determine their team’s successes. Instead, these leaders find ways to keep risk to a minimum — for instance, testing new releases before deploying them in full, conducting thorough customer feedback, and running experiments before committing to major decisions.

Risk isn’t risk for these leaders. It’s a competitive advantage.

Your Thoughts

It’s your turn to chime into the conversation. What have been the qualities of the best product managers that you’ve come across? If you’re a product managers, what traits do you find most important for success in your role?

[Featured Image Courtesy of Wellington Snipe]

[Second Image Courtesy of Anna Dziubinska]

[Third Image Courtesy of Victor Erixon]