The Most Underrated Product Management Skill: Influence Without Authority
Product managers require a diverse set of skills to excel at their role, including design, technical, analytical, communication, and more. Yet there is one skill that I find is often underrated but critical for the success of a product manager. And that is the skill of influence without authority.
Product managers have a unique challenge in that they own the product, yet do not manage any of the people who are directly responsible for executing on the product. While I agree with this organizational design to ensure separation of concerns and specialization of skills, it leads to product managers needing the ability to influence others to help them achieve their objectives without the direct authority to do so.
There are four distinct constituencies within an organization that a product manager is required to influence without authority in order to ensure the success of their product:
1. Engineers, designers, and testers on your product team. The most critical to influence are the other members of the product team, including the engineers, designers, and testers directly responsible for designing, developing, and testing your product features.
2. Other product teams to drive integration scenarios. In order for your product to be successful inside of your ecosystem, you often have to work closely with other product managers running other product teams to ensure your product integrates deeply across your company’s product suite.
3. Other disciplines to leverage shared resources. Beyond your core product team, there are often shared resources across other disciplines that you’ll need to leverage to ensure your product is a success in the market. This includes marketing teams, customer support teams, business development teams, and more.
4. The executive team for continued resources and prioritization. In order to ensure your product continues to get the level of priority and resources needed to be successful, you’ll need to continually ensure executive support for your product initiatives.
There’s no simple playbook for successfully influencing these four constituencies. And it’s as much an art as it is a science. That said, I find the following three tactics invaluable for being successful at influence without authority.
Inspire others to share your vision
The number one tactic you can use to influence without authority is to get others behind your product vision. When others deeply understand the motivation behind your product, the expected impact of your product offering, and how critical your product is to the company’s success, it’s much easier for them to be in support of your product initiatives. This is absolutely critical for ensuring top performance out of your own product team. When taken to an extreme, your vision becomes a true calling for your team, enticing them to go well beyond what is expected of them to help achieve your goals.
Make their problems your own
A high degree of empathy is also extremely important for success in influencing others. This involves deeply understanding other’s motivations, their struggles, and their own objectives. And then finding ways to help them address those in alignment with your product goals. For example, within my product team, I often find ways to align the career development goals of individual engineers and designers on my team with the overall product goals. And in doing so, find unique ways to ensure they can achieve those goals through projects in support of the product. This ensures a win-win for the individual’s career aspirations and the product objectives. When working with other product manager’s, I often try to understand the metrics they are most motivated to move the needle on. And determine how an integration with our product will help them achieve those objectives. By making their problems my own, I’m able to help achieve our shared objectives.
Invest in relationships
There is no substitute for investing deeply in the relationships of people you work most closely with. By spending the time to get to know your teammates as individuals, you build trust and shared respect that will go further than any other tactic in ensuring others are eager to help you achieve your own goals. While it’s often difficult to find the time to invest in relationships, it’s important to proactively do so. I find simple goals like scheduling a weekly lunch with a different member of my team an important way to ensure I take the time to focus on relationships.
In short, influence without authority is a critical skill for any product manager to master to ensure they can execute on their product through the many people that are required to make it successful.
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Feb 19, 2013