Key skills for product leaders

Leadership is the art of inspiring employees to strive towards a common goal. The process of influencing their attitude, conduct, and cognition of others is just as important as leading a group of people or an organization.

Product leadership is the process of managing the organization’s product initiatives. A product leader is someone who empowers others through actions such as vision-setting, mentoring, motivation and decision-making. This gives people direction and a sense of purpose while also making it easier for them to comprehend the long-term plans and objectives of the business.

How do leaders help drive successful products?

  • Leaders with a clear vision can help an organization clearly define its short-term and long-term goals regarding the product.
  • Solid and clear communication skills help to effectively articulate these goals and ideas.
  • Smart decision making to drive the product forward
  • Building relationships to bridge gaps between employers and employees
  • Creating an environment of growth in the organization and motivating employees to work towards the building, development and execution of a successful product.

The biggest challenge that Jorge Mazal, Chief Product Officer at Duolingo, encountered in his position was relinquishing his creative drive as he advanced in the position and shift his attention to people management rather than the actual product or design aspects. However, his expertise helped the company attain 500M unique users and experience high revenue growth. His words of wisdom called for leaders to be aware of their assets and make the most of them, as well as to be frank and humble about their deficiencies and actively try to improve them.

Examples like this reflect how important it is for a product leader to develop crucial skills because they not only affect personal growth but the growth of the entire organization. Depending on the organization the responsibilities of a product leader can vary from recruitment, building team culture, establishing processes, developing budgets and creating product strategies, to estimating timelines, collaborating with executives, and many others.

Skills of successful product leaders

Business acumen

This is the ability to understand and act on business situations, challenge and issues, etc., and can vary from one organization to another. Since product leaders are responsible for making a lot of decisions each day, inculcating this skill is crucial. Being up-to-date on current business trends, and scenarios in a constantly changing market can also help them make better decisions.

Interpersonal skills

This includes a wide range of skills such as communication, collaboration, and conflict resolution, while having a positive attitude, empathy towards others, negotiation skills, and many more. Product leaders engage with different teams and executives and it helps to make sure everyone is on the same page in understanding the company’s goals, vision, and ideas. Also learning when to say “no” is crucial.


Technical knowledge

Being a successful product leader requires having strong technical skills and abilities like programming, data analytics, data mining, etc. Guru Hariharan, CEO of CommerceIQ, believes that AI, ML, and Data Science will continue to reinvent IT solutions and AI is one tool that will determine the path of his sector in the near future. Leaders need to keep up-skilling and staying on top of current tech trends.

Problem solving

Problem solving is an effective way for product leaders to guide their teams toward their goals in a systematic manner. This results in better collaboration between teams and can remove the need to rework. It also helps in the continuous improvement of business and product development.

Decision-making abilities

A product leader’s responsibilities include taking fast, time-constrained decisions and being able to take the right decisions at the right time.

The biggest problem for 55% of CEOs, according to recent research is in raising the next generation of leaders. 63% of millennials think that their companies aren’t developing them as leaders for management jobs. People want to grow, be encouraged and be pushed to greater heights in any firm, and for this to happen, effective leadership is needed—leaders who comprehend both the workforce and the industry at the same time. A lack of these skills can lead to several challenges such as a lack of proper vision, a gap between strategy and execution, ineffective decision-making, communication issues, conflicts, resistance to change, and poor relationships.

Product leadership is difficult and requires a lot of patience, persistence, and hard work. To keep up with current trends leaders need to continually up-skill. Staying up-to-date with market, technological, and commercial trends is a path to progress. However, before putting new knowledge into practice, it’s important to comprehend the context and determine whether the lessons from these various sources apply to you, your product, and the business. One of the most effective ways is to learn and interact with other practitioners and industry leaders. In line with Brian Tracy’s assertion that “continuous learning is the minimum requirement for success in any field,” this statement equally holds true for product leadership.