What is the one skill that all product manager needs?

Weeks ago I wrote about a product manager does not need to know how to code. During a conversation with a friend, he asked: “if it is not coding skills, what are the one skill a product manager must have”? I was caught by surprise and struggle to give a good answer. I replied something along the line like “product manager requires a broad skill set, there isn’t a definite must have skills.” I wasn’t particularly pleased with my own answer, to be honest.

It is until yesterday, where I saw this Simon Sinek interview that I realize the one skill that all product manager need are LEADERSHIP.

Why Leadership?

Every role required some form of leadership. Saying that leadership is a must-have skill in product manager, I am not implying that other job does not need it. I just feel that without any form of leadership skill for a product manager, there is no way for him to be successful in the job. Below are some of the reason why I feel this way.

Almost Zero Authorities

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The product manager has to lead without authorities. In most companies, the product manager is not the direct superior of the designer, developers or marketer. No one directly reports to him.

We do not have any direct impact on their KPI or bonuses. Yet, we need to work with everyone to ensure the product delivered an awesome experience for its users.

Constantly Breaking the Bad News

Product manager constantly makes decisions that impact the success of the product. We communicate across different operation to plan ahead. Unfortunately, very often things don't often go according to plan.

When a feature is going to be delivered late, we are the one breaking the bad news to the sales or operation and see how we can communicate with our client. When marketing decided to save cost and book the product launch event two weeks earlier, we have to go to the tech team and break the bad news that our timeline got cut short by two weeks.

Making decisions base on gut feeling

When the department is at loggerhead about what to do or build next, the product manager needs to come in and make the decision so everything can move forward.

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This situation usually arises due to not enough data or metrics that can help us make a clear decision. Yet, we need to be able to convince everyone to choose something that they disagree with at the start base on my gut feeling.

Without Leadership?

If a product manager does not have leadership skill, there is no way he can pull these off over a long period of time. We need to be able to consistently build trust and maintain a good relationship. Although we might not be able to make the right decision every time, we take responsibilities for every decision that we make.

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I feel that, without leadership in a product manager, the team will start to lose trust. Communication will start to breakdown and different department start to doubt the decision of the product manager. If it reaches this stage, we not only break a product but we break a team.

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In the day, I am a technical product lead. At night, I am a maker, engineer, and designer. I enjoy learning and building new things about tech, products, and startup. You can find me on Twitter or on my blog.