Product Manager Skills: From Essentials to Next-Level

We examine the product manager skills you'll need for success. Let's dive into the basics, the essentials, and the next-level skills that productive PMs possess πŸš€

Paula Becchetti
18 min read

Product teams are the beating heart of any business. They’re the link between a project—the idea, processes, and execution, and the outer world. 

Having that said, building and delivering a successful product is a complex and collaborative endeavor. But, like any collaborative endeavor, it needs a flag-bearer who holds everything together and looks after the vision, the coherence, and the effectiveness of it all. 

Welcome to the role of the Product Manager.

What does a product manager do? #

A Product Manager is like the team’s sweeper—if you’re into sports metaphors. 

They pivot through all stages of the product life cycle; they start with research and ideation before moving forward to the roadmap, product development, engineering—then onto launching, and distribution. The Product Manager is a cross-functional figure, the ultimate caretaker of the product strategy, from ideation to its arrival to the marketplace—without dropping the ball on optimization and product growth.  

A PM has to be the most collaborative colleague as well as the most supporting and decisive leader of a team of people with diverse expertise and backgrounds. At the same time, they’ll be responsible for negotiating with numerous internal and external stakeholders including the company's leadership team. 

They’ll translate business needs to technical requirements with the ability to convey the product vision into a universal language for everyone involved. And, above all, they’ll be committed to becoming the customer’s number one fan, listening carefully to their needs to exceed expectations by building a first-class product. 

At the end of the day, the PM has one goal, to build products that users love, in the most time and cost-efficient way. Delighted customers and the consequent sustainable revenue that comes with them stems from a successful Product Manager who is focused on solving challenges with an innovative mind.

Sounds like a lot to juggle. But by understanding the market, working with a motivated team, and becoming laser-focused on long-term objectives—the perfect PM skillset is born. 

What skills does a product manager need? #

A product manager’s resume is an elaborate compound of multiple skills, from technical to interpersonal ones, all balanced up with a strategic view of the business and management prowess. Depending on the company itself, sometimes a PM even has to oversee multiple product paths with their different process ecosystems, teams, and requirements. 

Like in any job, as a product manager, you need a basic skill set to survive, a pack of essential capabilities to really succeed, and next-class aptitudes to stand out from the crowd and shine.

(Source)

Basic product management skills #

The ABC of product management is deeply connected to the core of the product lifecycle itself—feature definition, implementation, improvement, and marketing. The following product manager skills are the preconditions for a PM to achieve a high-quality product that meets the needs of its niche customer market. 

Project management

There’s a reason why management is in the job title. PMs need to excel at estimation, planning, and prioritization. This means being able to strategically forecast every step of the way, defining clear objectives and requirements, properly allocating resources, as well as creating comprehensive budgets taking into account the potential risks. 

As a PM, you’re expected to have strong organizational skills, in regards to setting priorities and clear deadlines. Saying “no” to random requests that sidetrack efforts is definitely part of the job as well. The result: positioning the product at its best and taking advantage of market cycle momentum. 

Business understanding

PMs are cross-functional players who relate on different levels with the entire organization to make a product work. It’s vital for any PM to understand how the company operates as a whole and within each department. The deeper you go, the easier would be to identify direct or indirect corporate impacts on the product development and secure the success of the product—from budgeting, pricing, and revenue modeling, to marketing and talent recruitment. 

Successful Product Managers understand the ins and outs of every different department. They shadow Marketing teams, review Sales’ materials, and monitor CS conversations to get the most valuable insights into how the company is performing. Getting practical knowledge from the horse’s mouth is an unparalleled field exercise—so get speaking to your colleagues.

Strategic thinking

A child of the two previous basic skills combine—this is a true must of product management skills. Once a planning mindset and business knowledge is applied, going to the next level implies defining the product roadmap with the company’s vision as the north of the journey, and driving the growth of your company through the thrive of your product

Strategic thinking contemplates rational and logical thinking as well as inductive and deductive reasoning—engaging in a SWOT analysis is a good example of this skill put into motion. Having this superpower will lead PMs to make the right decisions at the right time, being able to set achievable goals and always pivot when needed.

Data-driven analytical mind

Another indispensable skill for PMs is knowing how to read, interpret, and use data properly. Sometimes people relate analytical minds to stiff approaches that neglect flexibility or the opportunity to step out of the box, but that’s definitely not true. Quantitative skills are strategic in all decision making situations: statistics support risk management, market information helps in pricing overlook and product added value validation, and financial analysis assists in resource allocation.

Having a data-driven mindset is deeply connected with being goal-oriented, another basic product manager skill you don’t want to miss. Setting and tracking KPIs, like customer conversion rate, user churn, NPS, and feature adoption, among others, is key to measuring success, the effectiveness of your product and its functionalities, and users’ appraisal. 

πŸ’‘ At Chameleon, we know that a data-driven approach is intertwined with an experimental mindset if you aim to make daily or bold decisions based on solid insights. 

On-Demand Webinar: Product-Led Growth 101 πŸš€

How can you use PLG to drive acquisition on autopilot? Become an expert in this 60-minute webinar.

We use your email to send you new blog posts and product updates.

User-centric approach

There’s no successful product without its users. PMs have to actively listen to customers and empathize with their personal worlds—their unmet needs, daily challenges, desires, habits, and more. Your goal is for you to be their confidant, and your product has to be their remedythe marvelous solution they have been waiting for. To execute this effectively, PMs must carefully define user cases and customer personas as well as look for constant customer feedback. 

Some golden tools to do this: CRM, Microsurveys, interviews and user testing, focus groups, polls on social media channels, and even 1:1 conversations. 

For upgrading this skill, it doesn’t hurt to have some UX specific background. User experience—UX research and design in particular—will help you analyze your product better and identify paint points to sharpen your product story. 

Marketing know-how

Product marketing understanding is essential if you really want to take your product to its final home: the offering-demand market. 

Market research is fundamental at the beginning and at the finish line of the product cycle: understanding the needs of customers, market trends and rivals’ propositions is key to shape your product as a real-life competitive solution. It’s equally important later when the time comes for launching, promoting, delivering, and working on customer engagement (before, during, and after purchase). 

πŸ’‘ One great example of how marketing is inextricably related to the whole product life-cycle is user onboarding, here we tell you all about it

Must-have product management skills #

Once you’ve checked your basic product management skills, it’s time to focus on the symbolic equipment you must acquire or possess in order to play in the A-league. Here’s what you need to leave your product manager probation days behind and step into the real deal. 

Communication mastery

This is the backbone of the famous soft skills you’ve probably heard some experts talking about. To be a proper Product Manager, you’ll definitely need to work on verbal and written communication skills. 

On one hand, you are the product spokesperson in the company. Public speaking and presenting skills are essential to pitch and sell your product’s vision and strategy to the ones that can make it happen: the Engineering team, as well as internal stakeholders like Sales, Marketing, and Finance—not forgetting clients and customers. 

On the other hand, you’ll be responsible for some very important written material: your product requirements documentation. 

Tech-savvy

It’s fair to say that one of the biggest challenges in communication for PMs is the PM-engineering team partnership. And it’s one of the most crucial for product success too, as both parties share discovery, process design, decision making, and accountability. Having enough technical knowledge to discuss a product's structure, features, and applications easily is mandatory for a product manager and its relationship with the development team. 

One important note: you also need to understand where your ownership begins and where it ends when it comes to the technical domain. You can understand the code but you don’t decide how to do it, you are there to help your team surpass blockers or clarify requirements.   

Emotional intelligence

Conflict is going to happen in your product management career. It’s highly unlikely that as a PM you won’t encounter yourself under pressure—more than a few times. 

Think about it: you have to achieve agreements among a lot of people with very different interests and opinions, and you’re also the touchpoint for setting the priorities along the whole product life cycle. In a nutshell, you’re obliged to be a wizard of emotional self-management and negotiation, being able to calmly compromise, empathize, and be respectful to others—even when discussions get heated. Most of all, you’ll have to listen to harsh criticism and feedback on your work without taking it personally, but at the same time, be able to stand for your decisions without damaging relationships. 

In the end, an emotionally balanced PM not only increases confidence and trust among stakeholders, but it also has the touch to detect and handle friction with criteria, not only the one that arises during human interactions but also the one connected to the product itself

Leadership

Last but not least, the key ingredient in the essential PM skillset: leadership. 

Product management is not only about being great at what you do but empowering others through collaboration to see them shine too. Being an influencer in your workspace requires humility and a huge load of supporting skills. You need to motivate others by letting them understand their weak and strong points, encouraging the development of the latest. 

Delegation skills are a substantial part: the only way to empower people is by giving them the trust of responsibilities and the resource of independence. The secret weapon? Generate respect with your message but primarily set the example with your actions. 

Next-level product management skills #

And now, the cherry on the cake. So far, you’ve gained all the product management skills to rock at what you do. But there’s always room for improvement, and there’s always room for ambitious believers to be far beyond any expectation. 

As Simon Sinek said, 

“People don't buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe.” 

If you want to go to the next PM level, it’s a matter of true confidence skills. 

Self-awareness

There’s no better proof of self-confidence than acknowledging you’re human and biased.  Your own take on things is crucial, but you need to avoid projecting your own preferences into the product, the team, and its users. 

To be a superstar PM, you need to fight against the so-called “false positive feature validation” and your own single perspective. The worst thing you can do is to prioritize a strategic decision such as a feature development just based on your opinion when all the evidence is telling you not to. 

Storytelling passion

There’s nothing like being passionate about what you do. A famous product evangelist is a real person that inspires people with its vision and strategy, and through great storytelling, gets everyone else excited about the product. If you’re passionate about your product, you’re destined to become a visionary - all you need is being eagerly curious about the state of things, engaging in the main conversations in your field of expertise, and in the market of your product. 

Positive creativity comes along: if you believe in the product and you have all the skills we previously enlisted, the story you’ll tell will be full of sageness but mainly crowded with honest emotion, and that’s the ultimate trigger for getting people’s true attention and loyalty.

Free in-product marketing mini-course

Learn feature launches, upsells, and onboarding from products like Stripe and Dropbox. Get lesson #1 now πŸ‘‡

We use your email to send you new blog posts and product updates.

What does the future of product management look like? #

So, after navigating the perfect project manager skill set, you may wonder what’s next. 

Demand for product managers continues to grow, especially in the tech and SaaS sectors. The high salaries and career possibilities—a lot of big tech companies' CEOs were PMs before arriving at the top—are also attractive points to take into consideration. There’s no doubt why a complete project manager is so valuable and has so much growing potential: if the product is the bombing heart of a company, a PM is its pulse. 

And something really important to consider after reading this article: no matter how skilled you are, keep these two things in mind.

Firstly, there’s no real finish line, keep challenging yourself—consumer habits and markets change as fast as lightning bolts hit. Continuous learning and development are your BFFs. 

Secondly, find the right company fit. As professionals and human beings, we are not interchangeable. Neither are our contexts and ecosystems. As it happens with your personality traits and your inner circles of friends, choose a company whose values and mission inspire you as much as you are willing to inspire others by committing to their product. 

What are your thoughts?

You might also be interested in...

Effective engagement, made easy.