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As a Product Manager, having a decent set of soft skills is essential. As you'll be dealing with other teams a lot, these 5 skills are particularly vital for your daily success.
One thing that I am grateful for as a Product Manager is the endless learning opportunities.
We collaborate with several other roles on a daily basis, and while it’s challenging, it also means we get to learn a lot of new things all the time. Think engineering, design, research, marketing, sales, support.
The variety of domain knowledge you’ll acquire in the Product Manager role is indeed remarkable. While the rest of the team are experts in their fields, as you might have already realized, your role is one of a generalist.
And that means soft skills will be central to your success and the success of the team.
So what soft skills will you need as a Product Manager?
You’ll likely get to experience a variety of situations requiring different skills. But I’d like to focus on the main few that will be needed day in and day out regardless of your industry, company or team.
As a Product Manager, you will not have typical leadership responsibilities such as managing direct reports and budgets.
Yet, by all means, you’ll have a very central role in your team of engineers and designers. Your team will rely on you for strategic direction, clarifications, decision-making, managing external stakeholders, being their spokesperson within the rest of the organization and even for boosting team morale.
All these activities need strong lateral leadership, which is the ability to influence others without any formal authority. It’s not easy, but your ability to lead others informally will improve as you become more experienced.
I cannot stress enough how important strong communication is for a Product Manager.
Succinct, timely and intentional communication is hard to master. Once you do get the hang of it, it becomes easier to say ‘No’ to stakeholders and to explain the reasoning behind it.
You’ll find it easier to communicate what the highest priority is and why ensuring your team is focused on what matters. Miscommunication and back-and-forth conversations are some of the big productivity killers.
A strong communicator will be able to minimize them. Both verbal and written communication can help to build better mutual understanding, save time and efforts and rally people around the same goal.
Become a better Product Manager
No matter how many times you might have heard this before, you’ll still be surprised by the number of decisions you’ll have to make every day.
It is a significant part of your role because it helps teams to make progress.
Being highly analytical will help you grasp better the various situations you’re facing and make a timely choice.
Any decision is better than no decision as they say because it’s easy to lose track and wait for the perfect amount of information to make the decision, but you lost time and likely will still not get all the information you wish you had.
Instead, get comfortable with making a decision based on partial data and smart estimations and learn from the outcome.
It’s sometimes cheaper and faster to make the wrong decision, learn from it, and adapt than to wait and gather all data you need for the complete analysis.
If you prefer to work on your own, then you might struggle as a Product Manager.
The role is created to be the one that brings everyone together to build the right product the right way and by definition is highly collaborative. Remember, you are the generalist amongst the experts.
That means, at every step of the way, you should be making use of relevant experts from your team to make sure you’re not missing out on valuable insights.
You should be the enabler and should communicate what the problem is and let the team figure out how to best solve it with their expertise.
You shouldn’t work alone and neither should they because the best results will be a collaborative effort.
As you get more used to the team, it’ll become easier to identify when to give more space, when to involve certain people more and when you’ll need to lead.
Last but not least, empathy is often cited as one of the most sought-after skills in Product Managers.
The reason is that we are expected to actively listen to our users (or customers) and internal stakeholders, understand what their pain points are and empathize so that we can then be laser-focused and motivated to deliver the right product.
Failing to understand what the issues are means we’ll then focus on the wrong problem.
Without empathy, we could fall victim to the notion that we actually know best what the user needs.
We will fail to advocate for our users.
As a result, we will likely fail in our mission to build products people love.
Go talk to your users now and start actively listening to what they have to say. Empathy will follow.
While the above five skills are fundamental for any Product Manager, there will be many more soft skills that will come in handy throughout your career. And don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to practice and get better every day.
Be humble, keep learning and trust your team.
You’ll do great!