Institute of Product Leadership
Close this search box.

Building Product Management Skills: Tips from an Industry Expert

By Swapna Bapat – Vice President of Products, Palo Alto Networks

Product management demands a blend of strategic thinking, leadership skills, and technical acumen. At its core, product management involves overseeing the entire lifecycle of a product, from ideation to market launch and beyond. However, one aspect often overshadowed in discussions about product management is the managerial role inherent in the title of “product manager.” In this blog, we will learn the significance of the managerial aspect of product management.

Key Takeaways:

  • In product management, the role of a product manager goes beyond oversight; it entails managerial leadership from the outset, driving strategic direction and team cohesion.
  • Product managers must take ownership of the product’s success, making critical decisions and steering the product towards its objectives with confidence and authority.
  • Building a robust network within the organization empowers product managers to collaborate effectively, influence decision-making, and take support for their initiatives.
  • Establishing credibility through expertise, reliability, and integrity is essential for product managers to garner trust and support from both team members and stakeholders.
  • Product managers must invest in continual learning and development to stay ahead of industry trends, sharpen their skills, and drive innovation within their organizations.
In this article
    Add a header to begin generating the table of contents

    What is Product Management?

    Product management is a multifaceted discipline, encompassing various roles and responsibilities. However, a crucial aspect often overlooked or misunderstood is the managerial component inherent in the term “product manager.” In this structured discussion, we delve into the significance of the managerial aspect within product management.

    Understanding the Managerial Role

    At the core of being a product manager lies the role of a manager, a term that distinguishes it from other positions within a company. Unlike starting roles such as engineers or product operations personnel, product managers inherently carry the title of manager, indicating a level of responsibility and leadership from the outset.

    Ownership and Decision Making

    Product managers take ownership of the product’s success, both internally within the team and externally in the market. This ownership extends to decision-making, where product managers are tasked with making critical decisions to ensure the product’s success.

    Challenges and Strategies

    Product managers face various challenges in their roles, particularly in justifying resource allocation and navigating complex decision-making processes. They often encounter situations where they must advocate for resources and justify decisions, emphasizing the importance of effective communication and persuasion skills. These challenges underscore the need for product managers to articulate the rationale behind their resource needs and decisions convincingly.

    Building a Network as a Product Manager

    The first crucial aspect of professional growth for product managers is building a network. It underscores the significance of networking as a vital soft skill essential for success in the role.

    Networking emerges as a cornerstone of a product manager’s skill set. Unlike other professions where networking is often discussed in general terms, for product managers, it is deemed the most critical soft skill to acquire. The ability to establish and nurture a network within the enterprise is pivotal for success.

    Initiating the Networking Process

    Starting the networking journey can be daunting, as there is no prescribed platform or formal structure for doing so. The initial step involves understanding the stakeholders within the enterprise who play key roles in the success of the product. These stakeholders encompass various groups and individuals vital for product success.

    Mapping Stakeholders

    An example elucidates the importance of understanding stakeholders. In a product organization, stakeholders range from those involved in defining the product to those responsible for its marketing and sales. Identifying and understanding these stakeholders’ roles is fundamental to building a network effectively.

    Building Relationships

    Building relationships with stakeholders is emphasized as a crucial aspect of networking. Success hinges on understanding the stakeholders’ perspectives and aligning one’s objectives with theirs. The key lies in articulating the mutual benefits of collaboration and establishing strong bonds.

    Understanding Dependencies

    A deeper understanding of dependencies among stakeholders is essential. Recognizing factors such as workload and priorities enables product managers to navigate relationships effectively. By acknowledging and accommodating stakeholders’ constraints, product managers can foster collaboration and drive product success.

    Influencing Without Authority

    Networking extends beyond traditional notions of authority. Product managers are urged to influence stakeholders by finding common ground and mutual benefits. Collaboration, rather than coercion, is emphasized as the foundation of effective networking and stakeholder management.

    Building Credibility

    The next important skill required by product managers is credibility. Building credibility is portrayed as a fundamental aspect that underpins successful leadership and influence.

    Credibility is emphasized as a cornerstone of trust, essential for product managers to garner support and resources for their initiatives. Credibility is important in gaining the trust of both team members and stakeholders across the organization.

    4 Key Concepts in Building Credibility

    The following are the key concepts in building credibility:

    1. Defining the Problem Statement

    Building credibility begins with clearly defining the problem statement. Product managers must demonstrate a thorough understanding of the problem they aim to solve, instilling confidence in their proposed solutions.

    2. Sincerity in Data Analysis

    Sincerity is showcased through diligent data analysis. Product managers are encouraged to gather and present data meticulously, including market and competitive analysis, to substantiate their proposals and enhance credibility.

    3. Reliability in Decision-making

    Reliability is highlighted as crucial, especially when faced with setbacks or failures. Product managers must back their arguments with reliable data and maintain consistency in their approach, even in challenging situations.

    4. Consistency in Behavior

    Consistency reinforces credibility over time. Product managers are advised to uphold consistent behaviors, such as regularly supplying reports or delivering on promises, to foster respect and trust among stakeholders.


    Ownership is depicted not merely as a title but as a set of proactive initiatives and decision-making responsibilities. Ownership transcends the mere acknowledgment of a title; it includes the proactive assumption of responsibilities and initiatives. Product managers are encouraged to take ownership not only of the product but also of the initiatives and decisions surrounding it.

    5 Key Attributes of Ownership

    The following are the key attributes of ownership:

    1. Taking Initiative 

    Ownership entails taking proactive steps beyond assigned tasks. Product managers are urged to take initiative by identifying issues and implementing solutions, rather than solely assigning tasks and moving on.

    2. Decision-Making

    Product managers are called upon to make tough decisions. Whether it’s reallocating resources, changing strategies, or altering market approaches, decisive action backed by data is essential for effective ownership.

    3. Problem-Solving 

    Challenges are inevitable in product management. Effective ownership requires product managers to adeptly navigate and solve problems as they arise, ensuring the product’s success despite obstacles.

    4. Critical Analysis

    Ownership involves critically evaluating every aspect of the product lifecycle. Product managers are tasked with self-reflection, process critique, and solution-oriented thinking to continuously improve product performance.

    5. Systems Thinking

    Beyond individual products, ownership demands a holistic view of the organization and its ecosystem. Product managers must adopt a systems thinking approach, considering how their product fits into the larger enterprise and customer landscape.

    Product Participation Life Cycle

    The participation life cycle emphasizes the active engagement and involvement of product managers at every stage of a product’s evolution.

    Understanding Product Participation Life Cycle

    • Conceptualization to Market

    Product managers are tasked with more than just defining a product; they actively participate in its entire journey, from conceptualization to market launch. This participation is integral to shaping the product’s trajectory and success.

    • Active Involvement

    Product managers engage in various aspects of product development, including collaboration with software and hardware engineers, supply chain management, and product design. Their active involvement ensures alignment with organizational goals and enhances their influence.

    • Critical Phases

    Every phase of the product life cycle demands the presence and participation of product managers. Whether it’s decision-making on chipsets, navigating supply chain challenges, or optimizing product design for end-users, product managers play a pivotal role in shaping outcomes.

    The Role of Participation in Influence

    Participation in the product life cycle empowers product managers to wield influence, even in the absence of formal authority. By being present and actively engaged in key decisions and processes, product managers build credibility and establish themselves as indispensable contributors to the product’s success.

    Conflict Management

    Conflict management and feedback integration are essential skills for successful product managers. Let us delve into the insights provided by an experienced product management professional on navigating conflicts and leveraging feedback effectively.

    Understanding Conflict Management

    Conflict is inevitable in product management, stemming from differing perspectives, goals, and priorities. Key points include:

    • Conflicts arise across various roles, especially in product management.
    • Conflict resolution requires setting aside egos and focusing on professional dialogue.
    • Effective conflict resolution involves:
    • Presenting data to support arguments.
    • Active listening to understand opposing viewpoints.
    • Engaging in constructive conversations to find common ground.

    Budget Approval and Justification

    Securing budgetary approval for product initiatives is crucial. Insights include:

    • Budget approval involves justifying initiatives based on company maturity and market conditions.
    • Presenting data effectively is pivotal in influencing stakeholders.
    • Understanding stakeholders’ perspectives and addressing potential objections is vital for successful budget negotiations.

    Seeking Feedback from Customers and Stakeholders

    Feedback plays a pivotal role in product improvement. Key strategies include:

    • Actively engaging with customers to understand product usage and pain points.
    • Soliciting feedback from various stakeholders, including sales teams and partners.
    • Preparing pointed questions to extract actionable insights from feedback sessions.

    Professional Development Resources

    Continual learning and development are essential for product managers. Resources include:

    • Courses are offered by platforms like LinkedIn and Udemy.
    • Participation in product management forums and workshops.
    • Engaging with recommended books and online resources for in-depth knowledge.

    Overcoming Prejudices and Building Confidence

    Navigating biases and building confidence is critical for success. Tips include:

    • Focusing on confidence in communication irrespective of appearance or language proficiency.
    • Preparation and knowledge are key confidence boosters.
    • Handling unanswered questions gracefully by committing to follow-up.


    Mastering the art of product management requires a multifaceted approach that includes managerial skills, networking prowess, and credibility-building efforts. By understanding the managerial aspect inherent in their roles, product managers can effectively solve challenges, build meaningful relationships, and drive the product toward success. Through strategic communication, collaboration, and influence, product managers can fulfill their responsibilities and make a lasting impact.

    About the Author:

    Swapna BapatVice President of Products, Palo Alto Networks

    Frequently Asked Questions

    The main skills needed for product management are the ability to build a network, credibility, ownership skills, and conflict management.

    Product management involves a blend of technical expertise and strategic decision-making. While proficiency in technology can be advantageous, it’s not solely a tech skill. Effective product management also requires understanding market dynamics, user needs, and cross-functional collaboration to deliver successful products.

    To upskill as a product manager, focus on learning relevant technical tools and methodologies like Agile and Scrum. Invest time in understanding market trends, user experience design, and data analytics. Additionally, seek mentorship, attend industry events, and engage in continuous learning through courses or workshops to stay updated with emerging trends and best practices.

    The hard skills of a product manager typically include proficiency in data analysis, project management methodologies such as Agile or Scrum, technical understanding relevant to the product domain, market research, and effective communication skills for cross-functional collaboration.

    Product managers often begin by gaining experience in related fields such as software development, marketing, or business analysis. They may then transition into product management roles through internal transfers, networking, or obtaining relevant certifications. Building a strong understanding of market dynamics, user needs, and technical aspects while demonstrating leadership and problem-solving skills can pave the way for a career in product management.

    Our Popular Product Management Programs
    Our Trending Product Management Programs

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *