how to become a product manager (2024 Guide)

What Skills Do You Need to Become a Product Manager?

BrainStation’s Product Manager career guide is intended to help you take the first steps toward a lucrative career in product management. Read on for an overview of the top skills needed for a product management career.

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To become a Product Manager, you will need to develop a number of key skills, including:

  • Strategic and creative thinking
  • Empathy and an understanding of user experience
  • Superior communication and collaboration skills
  • Technical expertise (particularly if you are working at a tech company)
  • Business sense in your given industry

What Does It Take to Become a Product Manager?

From the soft skills of negotiating the dynamics of a team to the hard skills of analytics and prototyping—and quite a few things that fall in between—Product Managers are expected to have a wide range of aptitudes. This speaks to both the involvement Product Managers have in the lifespan of a product, which begins before development and continues even after launch, as well as the breath of responsibilities that it takes to bring all the pieces together across multiple stages. Here are five categories of skills you will need to develop to become a Product Manager.

Strategy and creativity

So much of Product Management is about ideas: identifying pain points and brainstorming solutions for them, inventing new products or features to deliver those solutions, preparing for and responding to the problems that might arise along the way, devising a roadmap to bring your product to market, and knowing how to position it once it launches. All of these require problem solving and critical-thinking skills—and there’s very seldom a template you can follow, so creativity and innovation are key. Many of these abilities stem from a familiarity with the digital landscape and the process of developing a product itself, so while they can’t really be taught per se, they can be learned, simply through exposure and experience. Curiosity will get you far—just remember to keep an eye on your organization’s larger business goals.

Empathy and UX

While empathy might seem like an odd requirement for someone working in tech, it’s at the heart of a Product Manager’s obsession with understanding the way users think. In that way, it’s much like the discipline of user experience (UX) design itself, which begins with interviews and research to lay the foundation for knowing the user’s wants and needs at an intuitive level. There’s a certain level of abstraction here, of course; what might begin with face-to-face interviews evolves into analytics and models that synthesize user feedback into usable prototypes, which are then expanded and refined through design thinking.

Communication and collaboration

As the leader of a team of people quite likely spread across multiple departments or locations—and as a primary liaison between these departments, company leadership, and external stakeholders—Product Manager is a highly collaborative role. It is also, ultimately, a supportive role, which means making connections and fostering understanding across different departments. On any given day, you might be called upon to mediate issues between team members, help renegotiate a project’s priorities, or offer leadership during an all-hands meeting, so your diplomacy and interpersonal skills will need to be well-developed. And, of course, as with any role that involves direct and indirect human interaction and collaboration, this draws on excellent communication (and listening) skills.

Technical expertise

A Product Manager needs to have a clear bird’s-eye view of a product’s future course—but much of the time, that high-level oversight depends on expertise with all the minute technical details that go into product development. These include the ability to write user scenarios and flowcharts, delve into product analytics to trace user issues back to their underlying causes, create and utilize wireframes and prototypes, maximize SEO, conduct A/B tests, build out the product’s technical specifications, and understand software development lifecycle methodologies and how the product works at the level of code itself (while you may not necessarily need to learn how to code, you’ll definitely need to know about code). Even if a Product Manager doesn’t perform all these tasks personally, without a good sense of how the technical elements come together in the final result, their overall vision will quickly steer off-course.

Business administration skills

All of the above skills come together when a Product Manager knows how to prioritize tasks and lead a team effectively and efficiently—which is where top-level administrative skills come in. A Product Manager must be exceptionally detail-oriented and organized. This will ensure that complex project phases like user testing and quality assurance go smoothly, that the functional specifications the Project Manager puts together are clear and effective, and that the entire team delivers on time and on budget.