Product Management Product Marketing

What Is A Phenomenal Product Manager?

Written by Brian Lawley

What Is A Phenomenal Product Manager?
An excerpt from the new book by Brian Lawley, titled
The Phenomenal Product Manager: The Product Manager’s Guide to Success, Job Satisfaction and Career Acceleration

If you have been in product management for a while you probably have come across a few product managers who seem to stand out. For some reason they come across as being really good at what they do, whereas other product managers seem to have little or no clue. They are the stars – the phenomenal product managers who are clearly on the road to big things in their careers.

Thinking about the product managers that I have known over my career there are a number of characteristics that they seem to have in common:

Vision. The ability to see where the market, competition and industry are going and to create a strong vision for where their product needs to be in order to win the market and satisfy customers. This includes both short-term and long-term thinking, and oftentimes requires defying what others in the company may believe because they do not have as much information or customer and market insight as the product manager does.

Boldness. If you have great ideas but don’t have the guts to stand up and fight for them you will never succeed as a product manager. You are much better off taking a job where you can voice safe opinions. There was a time early in my career where I was somewhat afraid to be bold and it was not pleasant.

Ability to influence. The ability to use both logic and emotion to win over wide ranges of audiences to your point of view as you are implementing the product vision and strategy that you believe in.

Leadership. Being able to lead your extended team without any formal authority. Building enough credibility and respect so that others are motivated to let you be in charge of a product line’s future.

Expertise. Being an expert in both the field of product management as well as the market segments your product is targeted to. If you aren’t an expert about the customers, markets, technology and trends for your product then it is difficult to get others to follow you.

Enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is contagious. If you have a strategy and vision and are enthusiastic you can bring others along with you in your efforts. Note: the opposite is true even more so. If you are jaded and negative you will ultimately fail with both your product and your career advancement. This is a trap that I see far too many product managers fall into – they think that being jaded and cynical is humorous and don’t realize the damage they are doing.

Tenacity. The ability to keep going despite facing difficult people and circumstances.

Commitment to excellence. This includes excellence in both the work you do and deliverables (presentations, market requirements, business cases, etc). as well as the details of the product itself. The product manager is in the center of all aspects of the product. If they don’t own delivering excellence for all aspects of the product no one else will.

This might seem like an overwhelming set of qualities to develop and focus on, but don’t worry. The more you practice them the easier it becomes. Just becoming aware of them gives you a big advantage over other product managers. Additionally, many of these are the qualities that you need in order to advance your career no matter what you want to do, whether you stay in product management, become a senior executive or move on to be a CEO.

Brian Lawley is the President and Founder of the 280 Group and former President of the Silicon Valley Product Management Association ( During his twenty five year career in Product Management he has defined, launched and marketed over fifty successful products. He is the Author of the Book “Expert Product Management: Advanced Techniques, Tips & Strategies for Product Management & Product Marketing.” In 2008 he won the Product Management Excellence Award for Thought Leadership by the Association of International Product Marketing & Management. Mr. Lawley is a Certified Product Manager (CPM) and Certified Product Marketing Manager (CPMM). He earned an MBA with honors from San Jose State University and Bachelors Degree in Management Science from the University of California at San Diego.

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