What Is The Most Underrated Product Management Skill?

What Skills Do Product Managers Need?

The skills needed by good Product Managers are of course linked to what Product Managers have to do day to day. And there are some very typical skills that you’re likely to see on a job posting, or be asked about in an interview. These are the skills everyone knows and loves.

To work in the tech industry, you need a certain level of technical skills. Depending on the company, you may or may not need a CS degree. To work at places like Google and Apple, you’ll most likely need formal education in software engineering, or a proven track record of working at a highly technical level.

You’ll need some general awareness of the things involved in software development, like what a Jira ticket is, what tech debt is, and how engineering teams work.

You’ll also need to be capable of collaboratively making strategic product decisions. This involves building and owning the product roadmap, analysing user and market research, and being able to decant customer feedback into actionable insights.

Product Managers should also be data driven, which of course means being data literate, at least enough to be able to communicate with data scientists and use data to back up their assumptions.

Then of course there are all the usual suspects, like strategic thinking, time management, communication, etc.

What’s The Most Underrated Product Management Skill?

Ah, now these are the skills they don’t teach you about. (Well…we do 😉)

We asked our community, ‘what do you think is the most underrated Product Management skill?’ and here’s what they had to say…

Listening

"My motto: Listen to understand, instead of listening to respond.""Listening Skills- One needs to be very attentive & relaxed when in conversation with customers, sponsor, internal team & competitors. Wait for the speaker to pause & don't impose your solutions".

Listening is something that we all assume we’re inherently good at, because it’s something we do every day. In actual fact, listening is a skill that needs to be honed and used in the right way.

As a Product Manager, you have a lot of different voices to listen to. The sales team, the product team, stakeholders, management, your CEO, your customers…

You need to learn now just how to listen, but how to make people feel they’ve been listened to. This may involve sending a summary of points made in a 1-1 with your team mates, or just following up on what was said. You won’t make any friends on your development team if they feel that talking to you is like talking to a brick wall.

You also need to know who to listen to. Just because someone’s voice is the loudest, doesn’t mean it’s the one you need to pay the most attention to.

Business Know-how

"I'd say business acumen in general. So much focus is put on "writing user stories" or "writing requirements" that I meet product managers all the time who can't even explain how their product makes money or contributes to the company's overall strategy.""This! If you don’t understand what they’re doing with it or need from it, your requirements are useless""I’d also say subject matter knowledge of the product (and actual product/business vision)."

It’s not just enough to know how digital products get made. Without a certain level of business acumen, it’s hard to make a product that aligns well with the company’s business goals. The company strategy should also influence your product strategy, so it’s hard to make the right choices if you don’t truly understand what those are.

Products are, at the end of the day, a way of making money (along with all of the other goals of a product of course). So without truly understanding how that process works, you’ll never be able to build what your company wants.

Understanding business goals is also a great way of understanding and empathizing with key stakeholders. Your CEO is a business person, and you need to know how to speak their language.

Industry awareness

"Doing your homework. You can't confidently communicate what's going on in the outside world without studying your industry and competitors.So when a coworker argues, "This is how the industry does it", you can say without wavering, "No, our rival's quarterly analyst call said otherwise last week..."
"Agree. Having an eye on the industry landscape, incumbents and emerging players, and changing customer expectations is critical. I’d add monitoring trends in other industries, adjacent industries or otherwise, is important. Customer experiences with products and experienced across industries inform their expectations of every product experience over time."

Product leaders can get caught up in releases and feature delivery (execution mode) and lose sight of the industry trends. Industry awareness is absolutely key for product-market fit, which is solidly a responsibility of the Product Manager.

When conducting research for your own product/user base, you should also be keeping up with what’s happening in the industry at large.

Humility

"Humility!" "Indeed, although I would say humbleness instead of humility because no team members should consider themselves above others and that includes PMs"
"In the end many of the things a product manager does (and hopefully does well) are happening under the radar. Product management is a tough job that has a great amount of moving parts, and PMs who have some scars know that it is a challenge to navigate through these waters. Great PMs make all these challenges look easy on the surface.

Wanna-be-great PMs talk about how easy the job is and guarantee success to stakeholders. (A point where there is a complete misinterpretation of the role and the importance of it).”

There’s nothing wrong with being confident, or being proud of your achievements. But the line between confidence and arrogance is thin, and will really affect how well you’re able to work with your teams.

One of the main myths surrounding Product Managers, is that they’re the CEO of the product. While this metaphor works in a few ways, it’s not a good attitude for a Product Manager to be walking around with. If you assume that you’re somehow an official authority over your teammates, and try to tell them what to do, you’ll lose their respect very quickly.

A PM’s role relies on the ability to influence without authority. Without that skill, it’s hard to be a successful Product Manager.

Keeping it cool

"Being the voice of reason when others are not being reasonable and convincing them to see more objectively" "Poker face. You'll hear some crazy requests ranging from the impossible to the illegal from stakeholders and users. Responding with a reasoned rejection is all well and good, but if your face is saying WTF you may alienate that person."

This goes back to being able to influence without authority. As a Product Manager, you’re going to have a lot of different ideas thrown your way. And yes, some of them will be terrible. It’s up to you to keep your composure, and maintain safe environment where everyone feels comfortable to share their ideas.

Successful Product Management is built upon a foundation of respect, and if you’re rude or dismissive of people’s ideas, you’ll lose their respect very quickly. It’s much better to show people that you’re listening, and explain the reasons why their ideas won’t work. But always make sure that they feel that their ideas are respected…even if they’re terrible.

Interpersonal skills and people management

"Interpersonal 'soft' skills. Knowing how to talk to a business guy to understand their pain points w/o saying impossible on their faces, discussing in different languages with different stakeholders like fellow PMs / designers / marketing / tech and adding business value / vision to it when showcasing to the C-suite. Irrespective of how good a PM you are with your customer-first attitude, if you don't win the internal team first with your communication skills, it's difficult to get acceptance and success internally. IMO."
"I visited a company recently (not to be named) and looked at all the management positions of all types including product manager, and not one of them ever mentioned once anything related to managing people."
"Emotional intelligence and self awareness. The best vision, with the greatest technical acumen, skills, and industry knowledge...are absolutely irrelevant if you can't understand your shortcomings for personal + professional growth & team building, motivate & mobilize humans, and cultivate a deep understanding and empathy of your humans' (i.e. customers, organization, teams, etc) needs, desires, dreams, fears, pains, and goals."

You’re leading a cross functional team, but teams are made up of people. How can you possibly expect to work with people without solid interpersonal skills?

You’ll probably have to deal with things like conflict resolution, team building, brainstorming sessions, one-to-one meetings…all things that revolve around people being able to communicate and work together.

At the end of the day, product development happens because of people working together, and you need to facilitate a strong working environment where your teams enjoy working together, and avoid friction.

It’s not a skill you can learn online, it’s one that you’ll have to hone, tapping into your instincts and learning from experience.

Did we miss anything? What other under appreciated Product Manager skills are there? Join in the conversation!

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