Use code "EARLYBIRD" at checkout for 10% off Accelerator & Changemaker packages. Offer expires Sunday Feb 14th.
Cart
0
Book a free coaching session
How to become a leader in product managementHow to become a leader in product managementHow to become a leader in product management

How to become a leader in product management

At The Product Refinery we're lucky to work with talented and motivated product people at all levels of their product careers, coaching them on a variety of topics and through a wide range of challenges. Many clients come to us to progress their product management career and a common sticking point they often come across is in bridging the gap to secure their first product leadership role. And that's the topic for this article – how to make the jump and become a leader in product management.

Is product leadership for you?

If you're interested in becoming a product leader, you'll already need to be an experienced, successful product manager, likely a senior product manager with a relatively wide range of experience. If not, take a look at our article on product management skills to identify what you need to work on to make it as a senior product manager.

You also need to consider your motivation for becoming a product leader. If you love hands-on product management work and are looking for better remuneration or responsibility for a larger portion of a product but don't like line managing other people, product leadership might not be for you. There are other career paths in consultancy or as an internal expert where you can stay hands-on with the product, take on more responsibility but not have to manage other product managers that might be better for you to explore.

But, if you're looking for a product leader role such as Head of Product, Director of Product or Chief Product Officer, and are excited about managing other product managers, then a career in product leadership might be right for you.

How to progress in a Product Manager career

As a senior product manager, you'll likely have knowledge of modern product management practices, the product development process and the product management role. However, it's often the case that senior product managers get stuck in a chicken-and-egg scenario when they want to make the step up to leading product management. They need evidence that they have the skills to be a product leader, however, they need to be in a leadership position to gather that evidence.

There are plenty of product management certification programs out there but product management leadership training programs are few and far between, and they generally don't give much actual evidence that alumni are ready for the realities of a product leadership position. And that's the key word for making progress in a product management career: evidence.

In the rest of this article, we'll look at the most common gaps product managers have when trying to secure a leadership position, and how to start building skills and gathering evidence to fill those gaps.

Leadership traits of a Product Manager - The common gaps

In our work with clients, we've found that there are five core areas that tend to hold people back from making the jump from senior product manager to a product leadership role. Let's explore them now in more detail

Strategic thinking

Product managers are encouraged to think strategically from the early stages of their career, aligning their work with product strategies, spotting market opportunities and creating proposals for a viable product.

The gap that senior product leaders need to bridge is in not just seeing market opportunities but figuring which of those opportunities, many of which might be viable, align best with business goals.

Build and showcase your strategic thinking skills

Review any documentation you have on your company's business goals for the year. Review your own work over the past year and evaluate which has contributed most to the goals of the business. Review your CV and for each previous role you've had, articulate your achievements in the context of how they contributed to the goals of the business.

Soft skills

Soft skills are amongst the fundamentals of product management. However, what differentiates potential product leaders from their colleagues it that they are not just able to get buy-in from individual stakeholders, they are able to get buy-in at an organisational level, bringing the whole company along with them.

This means they are able to come up with a strategy for getting buy-in and have the communication and interpersonal skills to execute on that strategy, adapting and refocusing as circumstances change.

Build and showcase your ability to get buy-in across the organisation

Interview a selection of people from your organisations about their current understanding of your work in product. Identify where there are misunderstanding or is a lack of buy-in then work on a plan to remedy that, documenting what worked and what can still be improved along the way.

Confidence

Another trait that helps potential leaders stand out in a product team is confidence. That doesn't mean being arrogant, rather appearing secure in decisions and having adequate evidence to justify them if challenged.

Confidence also means being honest with yourself about when to ask for help. People who lack confidence sometimes make decisions on their own for fear of being challenged or being undermined, when they could have made a more effective decision with by involving someone else.

Build and showcase your confidence

Being prepared is often the best way to build confidence. If you have a high-pressure situation where you know you are unlikely to feel confident, try role-playing it with a friendly colleague. Have them ask progressively more challenging questions to prove to yourself that you know your stuff.

Domain knowledge

Generally speaking, a skilled product manager should be able to get a job in most industries regardless of their domain knowledge of that industry. In fact, one of the joys of the product management function is that it means product people can move across industries and types of products in order to experience new and interesting challenges.

But equally, in some circumstances lack of experience in an industry or market can also be a barrier to securing a product leadership role. If you're a product manager looking to be promoted internally, you should know the industry and customer inside out. And if you're applying for a product leadership role in a new industry, you'll need to know enough about the industry to articulate how what you've learned elsewhere translates to this industry and how you plan to quickly acquire the industry and customer knowledge you'll need for the role.

Build and demonstrate your domain knowledge

Running a brown bag session or a lunch and learn is an ideal way to show you know your stuff on your industry. You'll be forced to do the research and your colleagues will benefit from the results. Taking this a step further, you could take a speaking slot at a conference or meetup, appear on a podcast or write an article. There are plenty of communities for product people and event organisers are always on the lookout for interesting content.

Delegation

Possibly the biggest jump on the journey to product greatness, and the one that's hardest to make for those interested in leading product management, is the gap between being an individual contributor and using leadership skills to effectively delegate work to others.

A lot has been written on the best way to manage product teams, comfortably allocating work to others and being clear enough not to micromanage. In fact our Coaching for Product Leaders program is entirely dedicated to this topic.

Demonstrate your people leadership skills

Demonstrating your leadership skills is tricky when you don't have line reports. One way of doing this is volunteering to mentor or coach junior product managers or prospective product managers from other departments who want to learn more about the product management process. You could also volunteer to lead projects with a charity or product community, gather evidence of your product leadership skills and help people along the way.

How a coach can help future leaders in Product Management

Some companies are better than others when it comes to the development of product managers. If you're really lucky, you'll have a manager who mentors you in the finer points of product leadership. The reality for most product people, though, is that they have to find the answers themselves, through a mix of online resources, online courses, and finding mentors with deeper knowledge of product management.

A coach provides a shortcut to this process, helping you understand your career progression goals, analyse your skills then co-create a personalised learning journey including links to learning materials and downloadable resources. A coach can also support you in articulating what you've worked on clearly so you can use it as evidence for your career progression.

If you'd like to find out more about your current skill gaps and what you could do to make the next step on your career path book a free consultation call with one of our coaches.

Introducing Super Blog

Lorem Ipsum is simply dummy text of the printing and typesetting industry. Lorem Ipsum has been the industry's standard dummy text ever since the 1500s, when an unknown printer took a galley of type and scrambled it to make a type specimen book. It has survived not only five centuries, but also the leap into electronic typesetting, remaining essentially unchanged. It was popularised in the 1960s with the release of Letraset sheets containing Lorem Ipsum passages, and more recently with desktop publishing software like Aldus PageMaker including versions of Lorem Ipsum.

Create and manage your personal blog

Lorem Ipsum is simply dummy text of the printing and typesetting industry. Lorem Ipsum has been the industry's standard dummy text ever since the 1500s, when an unknown printer took a galley of type and scrambled it to make a type specimen book. It has survived not only five centuries, but also the leap into electronic typesetting, remaining essentially unchanged. It was popularised in the 1960s with the release of Letraset sheets containing Lorem Ipsum passages, and more recently with desktop publishing software like Aldus PageMaker including versions of Lorem Ipsum.

Easily customize your posts

Contrary to popular belief, Lorem Ipsum is not simply random text. It has roots in a piece of classical Latin literature from 45 BC, making it over 2000 years old. Richard McClintock, a Latin professor at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, looked up one of the more obscure Latin words, consectetur, from a Lorem Ipsum passage, and going through the cites of the word in classical literature.

Discovered the undoubtable source. Lorem Ipsum comes from sections 1.10.32 and 1.10.33 of "de Finibus Bonorum et Malorum" (The Extremes of Good and Evil) by Cicero, written in 45 BC. This book is a treatise on the theory of ethics, very popular during the Renaissance. The first line of Lorem Ipsum, "Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet..", comes from a line in section 1.10.32.

Share your stories to the world!

Lorem Ipsum is simply dummy text of the printing and typesetting industry. Lorem Ipsum has been the industry's standard dummy text ever since the 1500s, when an unknown printer took a galley of type and scrambled it to make a type specimen book. It has survived not only five centuries, but also the leap into electronic typesetting, remaining essentially unchanged. It was popularised in the 1960s with the release of Letraset sheets containing Lorem Ipsum passages, and more recently with desktop publishing software like Aldus PageMaker including versions of Lorem Ipsum.

The quick, brown fox jumps over a lazy dog. DJs flock by when MTV ax quiz prog. Junk MTV quiz graced by fox whelps.
Unordered List
  • List 1
  • List 2
  • List 3
  • List 4
Ordered List
  1. List 1
  2. List 2
  3. List 3
  4. List 4
Robin Zaragoza

Founder and CEO at The Product Refinery, Robin has been working in tech for 20 years and delivering product for the last 15 of those at companies of various sizes, from early stage start-ups where she was the first product manager, to large publicly traded companies where she led teams of product managers.

More articles

What’s a Rich Text element?

The rich text element allows you to create and format headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, images, and video all in one place instead of having to add and format them individually. Just double-click and easily create content.

Static and dynamic content editing

A rich text element can be used with static or dynamic content. For static content, just drop it into any page and begin editing. For dynamic content, add a rich text field to any collection and then connect a rich text element to that field in the settings panel. Voila!

How to customize formatting for each rich text

Headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, figures, images, and figure captions can all be styled after a class is added to the rich text element using the "When inside of" nested selector system.

Featured