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The Soft Skills of a Product Manager

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23rd Oct, 2017
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The Soft Skills of a Product Manager

A Product Manager has to be a cross-functional leader, who has to get involved in all aspects of the product. From the operations and analytics, engineering and design, to legal and other functions of the company. Your role involves taking decisions which are driven by data, user-behaviour, as well as marketing. According to Aha! – a product manager is often considered the CEO of the product, who’s responsible for the strategy, roadmap, as well as for defining the features of the product. Product Managers may need to undertake marketing, forecasting, and even profit and loss (P&L) responsibilities.

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Along with the hard skills, you will also need to work very hard to foster in yourself a number of soft skills.

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The following Soft Skills will help you perform your role as a Product Manager to the best of your ability:

1. Leading without authority

In order to collaborate with various departments, you need to build credibility to earn the respect and confidence of the internal stakeholders, without being domineering.

Leading without authority can be mastered by perfecting three things –

(i) Collaborative work such that no one person or team is a one-man-army and sufficient contribution is made across functions, in a harmonious manner;
(ii) Your convincing ability will really be put to test in the role of a Product Manager. Hence, you may want to work on this – you will constantly need to propose and back up your ideas with sound reasoning including data, etc. In such a way that the person you are trying to convince understands your point of view while getting a chance to voice their opinion;

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(iii) Your skills of persuasion will also be put to test. Just as you need to be convincing, you need to be persuasive if you want your ideas to be accepted without hitting major roadblocks. The role of a product manager is a tough one in the sense that plans you will propose may be outside the comfort zone of many in the organisation. But if it’s important for the product’s success, you need to soldier on to change status quo.
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“Participatory leadership works.”

– Vishwesh Jirgale, Head of R&D Centre at Microsoft Pune.
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2. Communicating effectively

Product managers are always interacting with other people. In fact, their core responsibilities are centered around cross-functional communication and their work dependent on many others. This is why, clarity of thought enables you to communicate with different stakeholders like internal departments, senior management, as well as the users of your product.
You will be expected to conduct open-ended interviews, make presentations to senior management, and hold discussions with different teams.

“Communicating effectively as a Product Manager doesn’t just mean speaking eloquently, but being able to break down the problem, talking to engineers, etc.”

– Mangesh Dalvi, Director, Product Management at Myntra.

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3. Negotiating

Balancing the needs of the product with the schedules and priorities of different teams requires carefully honed negotiation skills. You also need to keep in mind that the success of the product is shared with all the team members, while you alone need to accept its failure.

4. Pushing back requirements

Developing a product means prioritising certain ideas and tasks above others — this means saying no to a lot of good ideas that may not fit into your vision. You need to establish a framework to ensure that time and resources are spent on building a product that users actually want.
So what do you need to do to push back? Learn to say no.
The Hard Skills of a Product Manager

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In the end, Successful product managers are those who manage to perfect the right combination of soft and hard skills. From negotiating effectively and leading without authority to employing strategic communication tactics depending on the situation; product managers have a challenging task cut out for them. These soft skills will ensure that utmost attention and effort is paid towards building and improving the product. So, now you know all about the soft skills you ought to master if you want to be a successful product manager.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1What are the soft skills required by a product manager?

Soft skills are often one of the most underestimated qualities for product management, when they are actually the key to success. Product managers should be adept at leading cross functional teams, as it is crucial to their success in driving products. Thus, they should have excellent people management and collaborative skills. Product managers should also be highly agile and pro-active, so that they can adapt their strategies to any unexpected situation that may arise. They should also be excellent decision makers. Confidence, and communications skills (both verbal and written) are also important qualities, since product managers are often required to make presentations.

2How can I perform better at product manager interviews?

Take mock interviews by asking your close friends and family to help. After the mock interview is done, you can ask for feedback. Note down the points where there is a scope for improvement, and work on those skills. For example, if you think that you are not able to explain your resume very well, then go through it in detail, and then practise saying it out loud. If you think you need to brush up on technical skills, you can download study material available or even take part time courses in product management or related skills such as wireframing which will help you gain more confidence.

3Why am I not getting accepted for product management roles?

Take a good look at your resume. Does it have the required keywords displaying your skills and knowledge required for a product management role? Recruiters often base their searches on keywords, and if your resume is not adequate, it could explain why you may not be getting as many calls as you expect. Next, check if your qualifications and experience fit the required criteria of recruiters who are looking for product managers. If you apply for jobs that require more experience, a lower salary expectation, and so on, you may not get calls for such roles. Brushing up on your interview skills would also go a long way into securing your dream job.