Leveling Up From Product Manager To Product Leader

I have previously written about why it’s so hard to jump from a senior product manager to a product leader. Here is what I wrote:

The catch is you can’t advance to the next level (becoming PM lead) just by doing what you’ve done up to now in a more complex/bigger scale. As a product lead you fundamentally need a different skillsets that you haven’t invested on acquiring.

In that post I provided strategies to prepare you for this transition and even though those strategies are still relevant, I attended a talk by Jules Walters on Industry Conference this April on this very topic that made the advice crisper and better. When Jules got promoted from a Senior PM to a Product Lead in Slack he struggled to keep up with the new job. He eventually realized he needed to make these key transitions to become a successful product leader.

From direct to indirect Execution

Product managers at every level are expected to demonstrate leadership but as a junior product manager you are certainly tasked with more execution than leadership. When you become a product lead “people management” aspect of job becomes much more prominent. Now you need to allocate your time to hire people, set goals and and manage your team to deliver results which means you have less time to manage products directly. To transition from a direct to an indirect execution you need to identify people who are willing to take on more and mentor them so you can delegate. It also means to create a system to share context with others (a consistent way to describe the problems we’re solving, why we’re solving it, the solution outline etc) so they can make the right decisions.

From team-focused to cross-functional Leadership

When you are a (senior) product manager your focus is your team or teams you’re working with however when you become a product lead, building trusted relationship with teams becomes ever more critical because at this point your product is understanding and finding solutions to the needs of other teams across the company. You need to understand align with them in order to resolve dependencies and pushing forward. To transition to a cross-functional leadership you need to develop mass communication to keep everyone on the same page and provide context by telling simple and memorable stories.

From Consuming to Influencing Company Strategy

Understand other areas of your company and explore ways to influence them. At this point your focus should be to understand the business and how the product contributes to the business deeply. When you have a clear grasp of the business your goals will be aligned with the CEO. Set aside time to think strategically to come up with big picture projects and goals and get buy-in from other teams to execute them.

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