14 Must-Have Product Manager Skills: From Essentials to Next-Level

14 Must-Have 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 product managers possess 🚀

Paula Becchetti
14 min read
14 Must-Have Product Manager Skills: From Essentials to Next-Level

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.

TL;DR
  • The product manager is a cross-functional figure, the ultimate caretaker of the product strategy, from ideation to its arrival to the marketplace - while keeping an eye on optimization and product growth.

  • A successful PM must possess a broad combination of soft skills and hard skills.

  • Basic product management skills include prioritization skills, roadmapping, data analysis, as well as communication skills.

  • More advanced skills include technical skills, copy skills, and leadership skills.

  • For being a next-level product managers, you should have self-awareness, passion for storytelling and be someone people could trust.

  • When in doubt, always focus on having an impact.

  • Read to learn the full list of must-have product manager skills in detail.

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 lifecycle; starting with research and ideation before moving forward to the product roadmap, development, and 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

The product manager 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, product managers 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 stem from a successful 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 product manager skillset is born.

What skills does a product manager need? #

A product manager’s resume is an elaborate compound of multiple skills, from technical knowledge to interpersonal communication, all balanced up with a strategic view of the business and management prowess. 

Depending on the company itself, sometimes product managers even have to oversee multiple product paths with their different process ecosystems, teams, and requirements. They also have to reconcile between different groups of people who cross paths with the product. 

Marty Cagan of Silicon Valley Product Group points out that the three pillars for a successful PM are: 

  • Direct access to users and customers

  • Direct access to engineers 

  • Direct access to stakeholders. 

Therefore, a successful PM must possess a broad combination of soft skills and hard skills.

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

Essential product manager skills #

The ABC of product management is deeply connected to the core of the product lifecycle itself—user needs, feature definition, implementation, and improvement. 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.

1. Prioritization skills #

First and foremost, a good product manager is a good manager of resources, whether it be time or otherwise, which means you have to really hone your prioritization skills

For most product teams, there is never enough time to get everything done at once. That is why you need to know what’s more urgent, and what can wait. 

For that, you have to be able to come up with effective strategies and tactics in response to questions such as: 

  • What projects need to be prioritized above others? 

  • What sequence should your projects be in? 

  • What things need to be truly great, and what things can cruise for a while? 

  • What needs your attention immediately, and what can wait?

A product manager who prioritizes well will have more tangible results with outsized impact on the product. 

2. Roadmapping #

Being an excellent product manager is about being able to deliver and execute on what you promised. 

That means you need to be able to take what needs to be built, turn it into smaller packages, and order them in a way that has the most impact as possible. 

Essentially, you need to be able to build a product roadmap

Being able to come up with a thorough roadmap is crucial. It brings everyone together on what the new features will be, what the timeline is, and what the overall product vision is. It gives critical context to all the stakeholders and ensures that the product will be shipped as planned. 

It also lets you have a bird’s eye view of the product’s path forward, which lets you understand better how to assign resources, and know what to focus on. 

3. Data analytics and research skills #

Product managers need to know how to read, interpret, and use data properly. In other words, they need to have good analytical skills. 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 analytical 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. Setting and tracking key performance indicators, 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. 

Not only that, but by being able to do research and analytics on your own, you won't have to depend on your team's analysts who may not be able to spare time for you. Nor will you have to look at existing reports that may contain outdated or out of context information.

Whether it's conducting market research, interviewing customers, or examining the product data, great product managers should be able to go and get the data they need on their own.

💡 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. 

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4. Strategic thinking skills #

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 product-led growth

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 product managers to make the right decisions at the right time, being able to set achievable goals and always pivot when needed.

5. User-centric approach #

There’s no successful product without its users. Product managers 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, Product managers 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. 

6. Communication skills #

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 the sales team, the marketing team, and even the finance team. Plus, let's not forget the clients and customers. 

On the other hand, you’ll be responsible for some very important written material such as technical product specs. So being able to communicate effectively is key to being a great product manager. You are essentially the grease that makes the different parts work together well.

Here are some of the basic communications skills that good product managers should have:

  • Active listening: First and foremost, you need to be able to listen well. It means you have to show that you understand what the other is saying, clearly respond with appropriate feedback. In fact, a product manager needs to listen and observe carefully more than others, so that every single one of your actions are impactful and measurable.

  • Negotiating skills: Resources and time will always likely be tight, and you will have to lay out your case for why your objectives needs investment. For that, you need to be able to negotiate with the other person, whether that is a team member or a superior in order to convince and persuade the other into desired action.

  • Being able to push back: You need to be able to say no. As with prioritization skills product managers have to firmly be able to express what's important, and what's not as important, and push back when priorities are being scrambled. Moreover, you need to be able to say no to decisions you deem as less effective or simply worse. For instance, if an idea doesn't fit the product roadmap, you have to be able to reject it. Saying yes all the time is not what product managers do.

Advanced product manager skills #

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

7. Forecasting and measuring #

As a product manager, you are responsible for the development and growth of the product. Which means you need to be able to make predictions on where your product needs to go and find the best path forward. 

For that, you need to be able to forecast and lay out a product roadmap to follow. Of course, at first you'll be a bit clunky. There's a reason why this is one of the more advanced product manager skills. Over time as you get more experience with product management and build your instinct for product, you'll get better at forecasting. This brings us to the second part of this, measuring. 

You need to be able to closely measure your product’s development, so that you can adjust your forecast based on the feedback. Otherwise, you’ll basically be driving with the windshield blacked out. 

8. Technical skills #

It’s fair to say that one of the biggest challenges in communication for product managers is the PM-engineer team partnership. And it’s a crucial skill for product success too, as both parties share discovery, product management software, 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 their relationship with the engineering team. 

This doesn't mean that you need to have a computer science degree, but simply a sufficient foundation of technical expertise for you to be able to effectively communicate with the engineering team and coordinate the product development process.

Of course, how much technical expertise product managers should have is also dependent on the industry. If you have a more technically complex product, perhaps you should have more than just basic knowledge.

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 product development team surpass blockers or clarify requirements.

9. Writing effective copy #

Copy is such an important part of your product, because it’s a significant portion of how your product communicates with the customer. 

In just a couple words, engagement can be made or broken. It is a complex task that not only involves creativity, but close attention to the user experience. So it is a huge plus to learn about what copy stands out in your product. 

Of course, it doesn’t mean that you need to be a copy expert. There will likely be a UX writer or a content designer on your product team to tackle such needs. But you’re going to be the one who will look at it all from a bigger context in the product, so you need to have an eye for it and be able to say whether a certain piece of copy works or not, and give directions on how it can be improved. 

10. Emotional intelligence #

Emotional intelligence goes beyond general interpersonal skills and being someone likeable. Conflict is going to happen in your product management career. It’s highly unlikely that as a product manager 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 lifecycle.

This is why you need to possess excellent interpersonal skills. 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, product managers with emotional intelligence not only increase confidence and trust among stakeholders, but have the touch to detect and handle friction with criteria, not only the one that arises during human interactions but also the friction connected to the product itself

11. Leadership skills #

Last but not least, the key ingredient in the essential skillset for becoming a successful product manager is: 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 latter. 

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 skills for product managers #

And now, the cherry on the cake. So far, you’ve gained enough product management skills to rock at what you do. But there’s always room for improvement when it comes to a product manager's ability. If you want to go above and beyond what successful product managers do, these are the skills you need.

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. 

12. 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 team, the product, 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.

13. Passion for storytelling #

There’s nothing like being passionate about what you do. A product evangelist is a person that inspires people with their 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.

Earn trust with others #

If you want to grow as a true product leader, you need to inspire trust. This is important in two aspects. One is trust with your team, and the other is trust with your leadership. 

First, the product team needs to be able to trust you, because they’re the ones who will help you execute on your goals, and they need to be able to trust that you can manage resources for them well enough that everything will go according to plan, and if there are problems, you will be able to solve them. 

But more importantly, your leadership has to be able to trust you. If they don’t, they’re not going to trust you with the resources you need, and that is bad for everyone. The stakeholders have to see that you are a good steward of the product, able to get meaningful results that make the investment of resources worth it. 

So establish trust by repeatedly setting and meeting expectations. Be someone who people can rely on.

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What does the future of product management look like? #

So, after navigating important skills product managers need, 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 product managers before arriving at the top—are also attractive points to take into consideration. 

There’s no doubt why a product manager is so valuable: 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 three things in mind.

Firstly, there’s no real finish line, keep challenging yourself—user 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. 

Thirdly, focus on having an impact. 

According to Ian McAllister, a top 1% PM is someone who is ‘driven by impact, not promotion.’ 

“A 1% PM wakes up each day thinking about how to maximize their impact for the good of the product and the company. Promotion isn’t the fuel that powers them and guides their decisions every day. They don’t do things “for visibility”. Their impact ends up generating the visibility and leads to promotion.”

No matter what you are doing, never lose sight of having an impact for the product and your team. 

We wish you a successful career in your journey into product management!

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