Product managers are in high demand—and for good reason. These multi-talented professionals are critical to business success, driving the development, launch, and maintenance of profitable products. They are also rather unique, bringing a coveted blend of business know-how, technical expertise, and interpersonal skills to the table.
If you’re considering a career as a product manager, you’re probably wondering: what are the exact skills you’ll need to be successful in the role?
Look no further. In this post, we set out the 11 most important skills that employers look for when hiring a product manager.
Start honing the skills on our list and you’ll be well on your way to a successful career in the field. First, though, let’s briefly recap what product management is, and what a product manager actually does.
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- What is product management, and what does a product manager do?
- The top 11 most important product manager skills
- How to learn the most important product manager skills
- Final thoughts
1. What is product management, and what does a product manager do?
Product management is the function within an organization that’s responsible for the overall success of a product. It sits at the intersection of business, UX, and technology, with the goal of driving innovation and growth—while also keeping the end user happy.
The product manager takes on a strategic role, developing an overall vision for the product—as well as a plan for how that vision will be realized. They work cross-functionally to ensure that everybody’s aligned and working towards a common goal. This requires them to wear many hats, and to be in tune with the needs and perspectives of both the end user and of multiple stakeholders within the organization.
You can learn more about what product management is in our complete introductory guide. Now, though, let’s consider those all-important skills you’ll need to demonstrate if you want to become a product manager.
2. The top 11 most important product manager skills
1. Technical expertise
Product managers don’t need to be able to code, but they do need a good handle on the technical side of the product development process.
As a product manager, you’ll work closely with web developers to ensure the product is built and tested according to the specifications you’ve set out for them. It’s therefore necessary to have an understanding of the web development process, and of the technology behind your product.
Learn how to speak the developers’ language and you’ll be well-positioned to collaborate with engineering teams—a crucial aspect of the product manager role.
2. An understanding of UX
It’s the product manager’s job to bring products to market that generate value for the business and serve the end user/customer. They advocate for the user at every stage of the product life cycle, collaborating closely with UX designers and researchers along the way.
Again, as a product manager, you don’t need to be an expert UX designer yourself—but you do need a thorough understanding of user experience principles, best practices, and processes.
This will help you to communicate product requirements more effectively, to understand the time-intensity and complexity of different design-related tasks, and to generally foster better collaboration with the design team. Not only that: having a good understanding of UX will enable you to bring a user-first approach to your own work.
Want to learn more about UX? Start with this introductory guide to user experience design.
3. Business savvy
Product managers occupy a strategic role, developing a vision for the product that aligns with business goals. To do this, they need a good dose of business acumen.
It’s important to understand how all the different areas of business work together to drive success, to have a grip on things like budgeting, cash flow, and profit margin, and to be well-versed in company metrics and KPIs (key performance indicators). Having a good head for business also means being able to see the “big picture” and relate smaller, on-the-ground actions back to the overarching strategy.
Acquiring this business acumen takes time, but you can do it in almost any role, at any stage of your career. If you’re currently working in an organization of any kind, make an effort to understand what factors are driving the success of the company, how success is being measured, and the role that each department plays. This will set you in good stead for a career in product management.
4. Critical thinking
In their day-to-day work, product managers must constantly make decisions about the product, the strategy, and the allocation of time and resources—all while weighing up what’s best for the business and the user at once. This requires excellent critical thinking skills.
Critical thinking can be described as the analysis of available facts, evidence, observations, and arguments to form a judgment. Most of us apply critical thinking everyday without even realizing—which means you probably already possess this crucial product management skill.
Want to hone this skill further and become a better product manager? Try these seven techniques to improve your critical thinking.
5. The ability to analyze and interpret data
As with virtually any role in business nowadays, product management is highly data-driven. The best product managers are able to analyze different types of data and use their findings to make smart decisions.
Product managers use data and analytics to understand the market they’re competing in,to see how users behave, to test different versions of a product or feature, to uncover issues with the product, and to measure performance and progress against relevant KPIs.
Bear in mind that you don’t need to be an expert data scientist or data analyst. As long as you have a foundational understanding of data and know how to glean useful insights from it, you’ll be well set up for a role in product management.
6. Research skills
To lead the development of successful products, product managers must know their market inside-out. A key part of the job involves conducting research: research into market and industry trends, research into competing products, and research into the target user base.
This enables product managers to identify opportunities for growth and to anticipate potential threats to the product’s success. To succeed in the role, you’ll need to remain curious and continuously run your own research to stay ahead of the curve.
Product managers are excellent problem-solvers. It’s the very foundation of what they do: create products that solve real user problems.
This doesn’t only apply to coming up with new product and feature ideas. You’ll also need to problem-solve internally, coming up with solutions to improve processes and finding workarounds for various challenges (such as a lack of time or resources).
A problem-solving mindset is crucial throughout the product life cycle, and for juggling internal operations. Fortunately, this is a highly transferable skill that you’ve no doubt already developed in one context or another.
Want to tap into your problem-solving potential? Here are six ways to enhance your problem-solving skills in everyday life.
8. The ability to prioritize
How do product managers make sure that everybody’s working on the right things at the right time, and that goals and deadlines are met? Through robust prioritization.
As a product manager, you’ll soon notice that ideas, requests, and suggestions come at you from all angles. You can’t implement everything, so it’s your job to determine what’s a high priority and what belongs on the backburner. Often, this will require you to put your foot down and deliver unwelcome decisions—decisions that might be met with disappointment or frustration.
So: not only do you need to be able to prioritize; you need to be ready to explain your reasons for doing so.
9. Strategic thinking
Everything the product manager does must be done with the overall strategy in mind. Strategic thinking informs how you make decisions and set priorities, how you define the vision for the product, and how you set goals to make that vision a reality.
But what exactly does it mean to “think strategically”? Ultimately, it’s about keeping your eye on the bigger picture. If you’re a strategic thinker, you don’t make decisions just to benefit the here and now; you think ahead to the end goal. You consider how your work impacts the company as a whole, and you seek to drive the entire organization to success.
Strategic thinking underpins the entire product management process, so you can’t get by without it.
10. Communication skills
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of communication skills for product managers.
Building and launching a successful product requires input from all kinds of departments and experts—from designers and developers to sales, marketing, and customer service teams. And guess who’s the star player when it comes to aligning all these different teams? That’s right: the product manager.
Not a day will go by when you’re not answering questions, facilitating a meeting, having catch-ups, or presenting to stakeholders. Excellent communication skills are a must, and it’s essential that you’re able to use this skill with confidence and empathy. This includes being an active and engaged listener—communication should always be a two-way street.
11. A knack for storytelling
Last but not least, the most successful product managers are excellent storytellers.
As a product manager, you need to ensure that everybody’s aligned and working towards the same goal. Sure, you can simply share the product roadmap and have everybody play their part. But, to get true buy-in, you need people to actually understand and believe in the product vision as much as you do.
If you can convincingly tell the story of your product—why you’re building it, who you’re building it for, and the problems it’ll solve—you’ll help people to see why it matters. From there, you’ll get their passion, enthusiasm, and their best work.
Further down the line, you’ll also need product storytelling to successfully launch the product and get buy-in from customers, too. You can learn more about why product managers need to be great storytellers in this post, and pick up some product storytelling techniques of your own.
3. How to learn the most important product management skills
There you have it: the most important skills and traits of a successful product manager. So what’s the best way to go about learning these skills?
Product manager soft skills
Many of the skills on our list are what we call soft skills. Soft skills are extremely important, but they aren’t unique to a specific job or field. This includes things like communication, strategic thinking, and problem-solving.
You can actually develop these skills in almost any role, and then transfer them to a new discipline. Look for opportunities in your current job to develop these soft skills (you’ve probably got many of them down already!) and consider how you’ll apply them in the context of product management.
Technical product manager skills
As for the hard skills—those more technical, role-specific competencies—you’ll need a more focused learning path. The most effective way to learn core product management skills and get qualified for a job in the field is through a professional product management course or certification.
As well as a set of skills, it’s important to note that this has evolved into an important role itself. You can learn more about it in our guide to the technical product manager role.
4. Final thoughts
So there you have it, the must-have skills product managers will need in 2023. Check how many of them are in your skillset, and then plan how you can go about adding the other strings to your bow through courses or tutorials.
Still not 100% sure if this is the path for you? Try it out first with a free introductory product management short course. You’ll get a hands-on introduction to the profession, learning about everything from strategy and design to Agile methodology. In a nutshell, the course will give you the tools and understanding you need to start your career in this field.
And, if you’re intent on making a career change and landing a job in the field, it’s worth checking out the full CareerFoundry Product Management Program. This fully mentored course will guide you through a structured learning path, equip you with the hands-on skills employers are looking for, and leave you with a professional-quality portfolio to demonstrate your expertise.
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