A product manager wears a lot of hats. The PM is a jack-of-all-trades, and they end up managing other people about as much as they do a product.

What does it take to succeed at all aspects of the job at once? And not only that, but to simultaneously evolve and advance your career?

From my years of working with hundreds of PMs and product teams, I’ve pinned down the most essential Product Manager skills you need to become an excellent PM — and some practical ways you can start using them today.

This list represents not only skills that will help you advance, but also duties you have to your team and your product. In a sense, these skills are not only what you need as a PM, but also what you owe to the role.

Let’s get started!

1. Curiosity

First and foremost is curiosity, which combines the skill of asking questions with the insatiable need for knowledge and earning. Product managers are inquisitive, and they’re good listeners. 

Why is this important? 

This skill supports the most crucial task of product management: talking to customers and teammates to gather necessary insights, in order to build the best product possible that meets user needs.

How to start developing this skill

Get out there and ask questions of colleagues, customers, and whoever else is in reach. This especially includes other product managers! If you aren’t a PM yet, check out skill #6.

2. Process information

In the case of product managers, “processing information” doesn’t just apply to the feedback and inputs you’re getting. It also applies to the processes and methods you use to do your job. Great PMs are flexible when faced with a challenge, and that requires quick info processing.

For example, the best PMs I know don’t stick to one specific framework all the time. They have an encyclopedic knowledge of all the different frameworks, and adhere to none. When facing a problem, these PMs can draw from their knowledge and create their own way forward that fits the situation, the context, and the people at hand.

This skill is closely linked to several other Product Manager skills on the list (connecting the dots, discernment, building a playbook), which we’ll get to in a minute!

Why is this important?

Put simply: after asking all the questions, you have to be able to use people’s answers.

PMs should be able to take the most important insights and set irrelevant stuff aside. Plus, a good chunk of the job is validating and prioritizing ideas — especially if you’re a product owner who takes care of grooming the product backlog. You have to process a lot of information!

How to start developing this skill

To hone your information processing as a product manager, start with practicing some techniques for making sense of user feedback

3. Connect the dots

Product managers sit in the intersection between various parts of the company. To thrive in this unique position, PMs must make connections across different disciplines.

Also, you should be able to connect your work in the roadmap with what’s happening outside of it. For example, how is your product strategy connected to overall company objectives? 

Why is this important?

You’re in the best position to field and validate ideas that are coming from all directions. You have to manage a lean roadmap and justify it to higher ups. “Connecting the dots” helps you answer questions such as:

  • What’s duplicated? 
  • What’s counterproductive? 
  • Maybe two requests or initiatives that seem at odds are actually pursuing the same outcome? 
  • How will a new feature impact customer onboarding?

How to start developing this skill

Practice thinking “globally” when it comes to your organization and the business. By that I mean, don’t just think within product and development. When you hear about a new business development initiative, think about how it could affect marketing, and how that might influence the product, and vice versa.

4. Disseminate the information to others

Product managers should be storytellers. You don’t just pass along information, you need to communicate a vision and purpose that aligns the rest of the team.

This is a product manager skill you can learn by trying different techniques and learning what works within your organization. Because of course, the other people come into play, too. You might need to explain your roadmap or justify a decision in different ways: one way with the developers, and other with the marketing team.

Tailor your communication to address the goals and concerns of the group(s) you’re talking to. Knowing what context to include, based on your audience, is a key part of disseminating information in a way that brings people on board and builds trust.

The 8 Product Manager Skills You Need to Supercharge Your Career

Why is this important? 

Understanding, buy-in, participation. Ultimately you want people to feel like they’re part of the process (because they are!), rather than that the process is happening to them. 

How to start developing this skill

5. Discernment, or Listening to your gut

A product manager’s intuition is invaluable. If you have a hunch, explore it. If you have a doubt, explore it. And of course by “explore” I mean test and validate it! Algorithms have nothing on a PM’s gut feeling.

Why is this important?

In my experience, more often than not, when a PM ignores their intuition, the team ends up working on the wrong thing.

How to start practicing this skill

One of the best things you can have as a PM is… experience as a PM. Actually being in tough situations makes you smarter about how to resolve them, or avoid them altogether! You will mess up, you’ll make decisions without information, you will make the wrong call.

Just persevere and keep learning. Humans are basically supercomputers and our gut feeling improves over time. That said, the more inputs you have, the faster you’ll learn, right? The next Product Manager skill will tell you how.

6. Seek guidance and surround yourself with PMs

Otherwise titled: Build up your playbook.

If you don’t have years of experience under your belt, a shortcut to developing your product intuition is to learn from other product managers. Find a mentor or join an online community, and absorb the experience of other PMs. You can learn so much!

The 8 Product Manager Skills You Need to Supercharge Your Career

Why is this important?

There often isn’t an exact right answer in product management. There’s no singular playbook; instead it’s an infinite number of playbooks that you could potentially follow. So the more playbooks you’re able to read, the better equipped you’ll be for any situation.

Product Manager skills: A note from my personal experience:

When I started out, I was totally winging it. Even when we launched Mind the Product, an online product management community, we still didn’t know what we were doing! I was in my second job as a PM and knew I was messing up.

So how did I get better? By listening to other PMs share how they were messing up, too. With each story, I took away a little nugget of wisdom. Even much later in my career, I’d recall these old stories. I’d end up in jams or forks in the road that were new to me, yet also familiar because I’d heard about it from other PMs. I could still recall their setbacks and successes from when they were in a similar position. Then I could take their advice and improve on it. 

7. Humility 

In a PM role, humility is the ability to say “I don’t know” and “I screwed up.” Taking accountability of your own missteps or dropped balls creates a safe space for other people on the team to do it, too. You encourage honesty and accountability in others.

This is also linked with the #1 skill: curiosity. Don’t assume you have all the answers. Look outside yourself for answers and input. Get curious about other people’s perspectives, experiences, and ideas. This will help you understand the product space better. Not only that, it encourages more proactive contributions from the team around you, and more collaboration will lead to better innovation. 

Why is this important?

Humility is a key element of creating psychological safety among the product team and wider organization. Psychological safety is an environment where people feel safe to ask their own questions, voice doubt or ideas, and give honest feedback.

In addition to unpleasant or straight-up toxic vibes in the office, a lack of psychological safety leads to groupthink. Groupthink leads to terrible decision making. So this spells failure for your product and the company.

8. Empathy and compassion 

As a PM, you need to be able to put yourself in anyone’s shoes. The user, the buyer, the developer, the account manager, anyone! Having empathy for their experience will help you in almost every element of your role.

Beyond that, if you’ve practiced humility with your team, then you’ll also practice empathy and compassion when people do come to you with problems or mistakes! Just like you are learning now, everyone else is in their own learning process.

Empathy and compassion are important Product Manager skills

Why is this important?

Compassion helps others feel seen and heard, and probably helps you get through frustrating times without having a heart attack.

As I mentioned above, psychological safety is hugely important to any product team (and company in general). When people trust that they’ll be received with empathy, they’re more likely to come forward when something’s wrong. And they’ll bounce back better because they feel supported.

The ultimate way to practice these Product Manager skills

Start creating. Put pen to paper to prototype something. Create apps (even no-code apps) on the weekend for fun, to solve your own problems. Test a little thing on the weekend, and get feedback from people. Throw a Typeform link in a Slack group.

This is practice PM work. It shows that you can do the testing and prototyping processes and develop your Product Manager skills as a product person. It builds up your portfolio and CV for when you actually apply for a job. Having done some product management-type work on the side, you’ll be better prepared to talk about it in an interview.

Other than that, join us on Mind the Product and meet some peers. Or stick around on our blog and check out other essential skills for the product manager role.

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