20 Soft skills that I value as a Product Manager

A product manager operates across various phases of product development. At a high level, a product manager is involved in these 3 aspects:

  1. Customer and market research
  2. Product development
  3. Partner & team development

In order to be effective in all these 3 aspects, a product manager needs few soft skills. Let us take a deep dive into these soft skills.

Just a cute dog that has nothing to do with PM soft skills by Cookie the Pom on Unsplash

Video

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Customer and market research

Soft skills important for customer and market research:

  1. Communication skills: Communication skills go way beyond being articulate, succinct, and effective while speaking. A product manager should also be a keen listener and understand the core needs of a customer. and be able to extract meaningful information in conversations.
  2. Growth mindset: A product manager should show a learning first attitude. Some of the product managers with the greatest accomplishments are life long students somewhere deep within. They remain learners in every conversation be it people, product, customer, partner, or team related.
  3. Business acumen: Everyone talks about building products that solve grave customer problems and add tremendous customer value. This is just half the truth. You should build products that deliver both customer value and business value. A product manager should have the right business acumen to translate customer value to business value.
  4. Curiosity: Curiosity is the first step to seeking knowledge. Curious product managers seek to find more information. Curious product managers become better problem solvers since they are always seeking to learn more by asking more.
  5. Empathy: Curiosity when marinated with empathy is one of the most important traits that makes product managers effective. Empathy is that distance travelled between “understanding someone’s perspective” to “building your own”.
The above skills will make you look cool by alan King on Unsplash

Product development

Soft skills important for product development:

  1. Energy management: Product managers often find themselves in complex situations dealing with conflicts, ambiguity, & volatility. Product Managers effective at energy management know how to keep themselves and their surroundings joyous, despite the complex demand of the situation.
  2. Time management: Product managers deal with many stakeholders therefore, they often run into situations where their TODO lists run beyond the length of their pages. Product managers should be great time managers. Time management is about organizing, planning, prioritizing, and delegating items. A product manager effective at time management can differentiate between tasks that “must be done by her” and tasks that “can be done by her”.
  3. Self awareness (Biases): Product managers (read humans) are often plagued with various biases. Everyone is biased and we bring our biases in various ways and forms. This could be in customer conversations or product building. The best way to eliminate a bias is by being aware of it. If you know that you are biased, you are already on the path to liberation.
  4. Ship success: A product manager is great at creating value and shipping success. You should have a keen eye on product delivery, understand risks, bring forward any potential delays, and be razor focused on driving the team to building a great product.
  5. Critical thinking: A product manager makes decisions based on objective analysis and evaluation of an issue. A critical thinker collects information and data, asks thoughtful questions and analyzes possible solutions.
  6. Question the status quo: Processes, workflows, and mindsets have tremendous inertia. A good product manager questions the status quo and brings about improvements in all while enrolling others in the change.
  7. Storyteller: I have seen many great ideas falling flat because they were presented in an unflattering manner that did not elicit energy, passion, and clarity. Story telling is that bridge between your ideas and concepts and the listener’s internalization. Product Managers should be great story tellers who think on behalf of their listener.
  8. Visionary: A product manager is a visionary. She is able to able to see the big picture and the minute aspects at the same time and able to translate that vision into inspiration for others.
The above skills will help you build something awesome by Jamie Street on Unsplash

Team & partner development

Soft skills important for team and partner development:

  1. Stakeholder management: A product manager should know how to handle stakeholders. One golden principle for stakeholder management that you can apply is “to think on behalf of your stakeholder”. We often have our agendas but if we repivot to understand the stakeholder’s needs, we will be 10x more effective.
  2. Create clarity: Each team, project, and business operates in different levels of ambiguity. A product manager should create clarity for the team. It could be clarity around the customer value, product solution, backlog, prioritization, processes or business value.
  3. Influence: It is easier to use power and authority to enforce alignment. It is way more difficult to influence an entire team on the sheer vision that people can stand behind. When you influence instead of enforce, you create a fly wheel effect in your team where things just happen and you don’t need to make things happen.
  4. Generate energy: A good product manager not only inspires his or her own team, but is a source of inspiration across the company. Generating energy is a mix of inspiration, optimism, creativity, transparency, shared commitment and growth whether the going is good or bad.
  5. Adaptable: It may sound cliched, but change is the only constant. If you feel you have not experienced much change in the last few months at work, then you are not challenging yourself hard enough. A product manager experiences constant change and is not flustered with it, rather she acts as a change agent by showing adaptability.
  6. Articulate: There is a fine line between compliance and confrontation. A product manager does not comply with managers, leadership, and customers blindly. Neither does he confront them with his own ideologies without empathizing with the person at the other end. A product manager is articulate about his or her own perspective and is able to table his or her own ideas, hypothesis, and solutions in ways that create alignment.
The above skills will help you stand up for others and care for them by Anusha Barwa on Unsplash

Thank you for reading this blog. You can share what are some of the core skills of a product manager that you found useful, and I will add them to the blog with due credits. If you have a question, then please leave it in the comments section. You should have a question if you are a keen reader. If you don’t have one, then you have not read the blog carefully. Please read again.

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