Product Manager Skills: 15 Essential Hard and Soft Skills To Develop

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 25 June 2021

A product manager plays an important role in any business that creates and sells a product. Product managers are responsible for the entire process of developing a product, from brainstorming ideas and researching new technology to gathering consumer information, through to marketing and delivery. Product managers often oversee multiple departments, manage relationships between different teams and liaise with customers and external stakeholders, all of which require a wide range of skills. In this article, we share 15 essential product manager skills to develop to thrive in this varied and challenging career.

What are product manager skills?

The skills needed to be a product manager may vary depending on the industry you are working in and the type of product your team develops. However, there are many skills that are essential requirements for working as a product manager in any industry. For example, a product manager will usually need to have at least some level of technical expertise, to understand the products they work on. Soft skills such as communication and decision-making skills are also essential for a product manager.

Essential hard skills for a product manager

Working as a product manager requires various hard skills, the most important of which are technical skills and the ability to effectively manage people and resources. Important hard skills for a successful career as a product manager include:

Technical skills

The level of technical expertise a product manager needs depends on the industry, company and product. Product managers working in highly technical fields or on complex digital products will need a high level of technical knowledge to understand the product they develop and talk about it credibly with customers.

All product managers need to be technically adept enough to work with engineers and designers to identify and fix bugs and optimise the product's performance, design and usability.

Related: Technical Skills: Definitions and Examples

Leadership and management skills

Product managers are often responsible for hiring, training and supervising staff. They, therefore, need to have excellent skills in leadership and management, which allow them to inspire those working under them. While leadership skills are generally developed over many years, product managers often begin learning about effective management as part of a degree in a business-related subject.

Related: Top 9 Leadership Skills to Develop

Business and industry knowledge

To effectively develop a product strategy, you will need to understand concepts such as profit, budgeting, cash flow and profit and loss, along with the roles each of these play in the development of a product.

You'll also need to develop an in-depth knowledge of the industry you work in, to fully understand the products you develop and the customers that use them, and to identify gaps in the market that could be profitable.

Research skills

Product managers perform extensive market research to determine where their company's current products (and their competitor's products) fit into the market. They look for gaps in the market and gather data from customers about problems they have with existing products or features they would like to see in the future. These research skills are essential to a product manager, as they enable them to develop products with a good chance of financial success.

Related: Research Skills: Definitions and Examples

Analytical skills

As well as conducting research, product managers analyse the data they gather to make sound decisions on future products to be developed. This means that they must be able to effectively use data to reach conclusions, and use those conclusions to conceive and develop successful products with a real place in the market.

Related: Analytical Skills: Definitions and Examples

Marketing know-how

Product managers are responsible for making their product as marketable as possible to consumers. This means being aware of the changing demands of the market and reacting to them, and developing effective and innovative marketing strategies for product launches to ensure maximum exposure. Again, these are skills that can be developed through experience in marketing, but a business degree including marketing would certainly be an advantage to an aspiring product manager.

Strategic thinking

Product managers are required to oversee a product's development from conception through to delivery and need to be able to make strategic decisions at every stage to ensure the eventual success of the product. They need to have a solid understanding of the product lifecycle, the product management process and sales forecasting. They also need other skills which are closely linked to analytical thinking, such as problem-solving, risk management and goal orientation.

Related: Project Management Skills and How to Improve Them

Essential soft skills for a product manager

As well as in-depth knowledge of your product and industry and the hard skills mentioned above, which may be learned through education or work experience, working as a product manager also requires a number of soft skills. To succeed as a product manager, you will need:

Related: Ten Valuable Soft Skills That You Need to Succeed in Your Career

Communication skills

Much of a product manager's work involves communicating in one way or another. They have to provide effective guidance and direction to the teams working under them to ensure that the project is on track and the end goals are clear. They have to communicate with clients about their goals and expectations about the project, and with potential customers to learn about their experience with existing products. They may also have to present product development plans or budgets to higher management or clients for approval. For all of this, strong skills in both written and verbal communication are essential.

Related: What Are Communication Skills?

Interpersonal skills

Along with communication skills in general, good product managers need to have excellent interpersonal skills, which allow them to get others on board with their product vision and ultimately help their products to succeed. Interpersonal skills product managers use on a daily basis include active listening, negotiation, and collaboration with engineers, other managers and stakeholders.

Related: Interpersonal Skills: Definitions and Examples

Decision-making skills

Although product managers work closely with engineers, marketers and other professionals, they usually have the final say on decisions at various stages of the product development cycle. A good product manager can make sound, logical decisions that are backed up with research, and take responsibility for those decisions, even when things go wrong.

Effective delegation skills

A product manager oversees multiple team members, often across different teams. For this to work, they must be able to effectively delegate tasks. This involves understanding each team member's skills, knowledge and ability and delegating tasks accordingly. Good delegation skills for product managers include the ability to clearly communicate the desired outcome of each task, resisting the urge to micromanage team members, and checking in with them regularly to determine what worked well and what didn't during a project.

Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence (also commonly known as emotional quotient or EQ) is the ability to understand and use your own emotions as a way to relieve stress, understand others and achieve desired outcomes. Within the context of a product manager's work, having a high EQ means that you will be able to understand your customers' needs and pain points to effectively develop and market a product. A high EQ also means you will be able to develop strong working relationships within your organisation.

Relationship management

A product manager often works as a middleman between company management, clients, end customers, external stakeholders and engineers. This means that good relationship management is an essential soft skill for a product manager. By developing authentic, trusting relationships both internally and externally, the product manager inspires their team to do their best work and can rely on support from other parties when things go wrong.

Prioritisation skills

A good product manager is not only able to prioritise their own tasks, but also to make sure their team are effectively prioritising too. This way, team members concentrate their efforts on the most urgent tasks to make sure that goals are reached and deadlines are met. The product manager should have an overall view of the tasks to be completed at each stage of the product's development, but should also be adaptable according to the requirements of the project.

Self-awareness

Product managers will often spend a lot more time with the products they are responsible for than their end-users do, which can lead to different pain points developing. Good product managers remain objective and avoid projecting their own needs and preferences on a product's development, which requires self-awareness. Although it's natural for product managers to have their own opinions on the products they develop, it's vital that they have the necessary skills to listen to and understand customer feedback and put their customers' preferences first.

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