A successful product manager must possess a large toolbox of management, technical, and “soft” skills. In addition, they must strive constantly to keep these skills up-to-date, especially if they’re working with fast-evolving technologies such as machine learning or data science. But when allocating time and resources to study, which product manager skills should you focus on?
The answer to that question depends heavily on your target industry and areas of personal interest. For example, if you’re a product manager who typically oversees mobile software, you’ll want to develop a keen eye for the nuances of user experience, a knack for analyzing relevant customer feedback, and the ability to develop a product vision that’s motivating for your team members and other stakeholders—and that’s in addition to knowing the intricacies of iOS, Android, and their component programming languages and frameworks.
Yes, learning the right product manager skills can be an incredibly complex undertaking. But never fear: with a diligent focus on training, anyone can learn everything they need to succeed.
Which Product Manager Skills are Most Important?
Lightcast (formerly Emsi Burning Glass) collects and analyzes millions of job postings from across the country. That makes it an immensely powerful tool for analyzing the skills that employers actually want. In the context of product management, those skills fall into three categories: necessary, defining, and distinguishing skills. Let’s break each of these categories down.
Lightcast defines necessary skills as “specialized skills required for that job and relevant across other similar jobs.” Necessary skills are the foundation; once mastered, a product manager can focus on learning more specialized skills:
- Product sales
- Customer service
- Business development
- Key performance indicators
- Description and demonstration of products
- Stakeholder management
Because so many businesses want products to translate into revenue, it stands to reason that the most necessary skills for any product manager will include sales, business development, and customer service. With those building blocks in place, a product manager can turn to what Lightcast terms “defining skills,” which are the day-to-day skills they need to fulfill a project’s tactical and strategic goals:
- Product management
- Product development
- Project management
- Market research
- Product marketing
- Competitive analysis
- Market trend
- Lifecycle management
- New product development
- Market strategy
Then we have distinguishing skills, defined as the advanced skills that product managers can use to differentiate themselves in a crowded marketplace:
- Product design
- Business case analysis
- Category management
- Articulating value propositions
- Pricing Strategy
- Business Strategy
- Go-to-market strategy
- User research
- Consumer research
- Consumer segmentation
It’s worth mentioning that Lightcast analyzes product management in all industries, not just tech; if you want to work as a product manager for a technology company, you’ll also need to know the technologies that undergird the products. If you’re applying for a product manager role at a tech company (such as Google), you’ll likely face a technical test during the interview process to evaluate your skills.
Where Can I Learn Product Manager Skills?
If you’re totally need to product management, but intrigued by what it potentially has to offer, you can start by seeking out product managers within your own organization and asking them for their input. Offer to take them out for coffee or lunch, and ask about their career path, what they like about the job, and the skills they’ve learned.
If you’re lucky, you’ll secure a mentor who can help you decide which skills to pursue. In addition to traditional education routes at a college or university, online courses (via online platforms such as Coursera and Udemy) also present a good opportunity to learn the skills you’ll need. (And keep in mind: while roughly 88 percent of product managers have a bachelor’s degree, you also don’t necessarily need a degree to land a position, so long as you can demonstrate you’ve mastered the right skills.)
How Much Do Product Manager Skills Pay?
According to Lightcast, product managers earn a median salary of $93,218. Employers posted some 71,131 job postings for product managers over the past 12 months, and the profession’s projected growth is 10 percent over the next decade—which suggests your product manager skills will remain relevant for quite some time to come. As we mentioned previously, keeping those skills up-to-date is always key, however.