What is Product Leadership? Top 5 Skills to Master the Role

What is Product Leadership? Top 5 Skills to Master the Role | Leadership | Emeritus

“Product management is dead!” This was the common uproar on social media after Brian Chesky, the CEO of Airbnb, explained in an interview that he got rid of the classic product management function. Chesky later clarified that they are not eliminating the product management role but integrating development and marketing for better accountability. Therefore, while product management is here to stay, it is evolving fast and encompassing other fields too, leading to an increased demand for strong product leadership. According to the State of Product Management Report 2023, product leadership spans various departments, including, product management, design, engineering, operations, marketing, quality assurance, and customer testing.

Here is a complete guide to what product leadership is and the skills required to become a successful product leader.

This blog covers the following:

  • What is Product Leadership?
  • What is an Example of Product Leadership?
  • What are the Four Pillars of Product Leadership?
  • What are the Key Skills Required to Become a Successful Product Leader?
  • Excel at Product Leadership With Emeritus Courses

What is Product Leadership?

While product managers use their leadership skills to build and launch a successful product, product management and leadership are inherently two separate things. The latter has a different set of responsibilities that mainly focus on building and nurturing a product team.

Product leaders don’t have a defined role or skill set. Instead, they perform various activities to ensure smooth and successful completion of a product development lifecycle. In simple terms, a product leader is the CEO of a product. The following are some of the key product leadership responsibilities:

  • Define the product vision and communicate it to the product team and other stakeholders
  • Make strategic decisions to ensure successful product development
  • Use data-driven strategies and techniques for better positioning of the product in the market
  • Hire and build an effective product team
  • Coach and mentor product managers
  • Encourage collaborative, cross-functional partnerships between the product team and other departments
  • Focus on customer-centricity by learning their pain points and seeking feedback
  • Have an open mind and promote a culture of continuous learning

ALSO READ: What are the Six Stages of Product Development? Why are They Important?

What is an Example of Product Leadership?

Fitbit, a consumer technology company, is a prime example of excellent product leadership. The immense growth of the company and the evolving global needs required the company to scale its existing Scrum framework, a popular product management framework. Its leaders adopted SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework) in phases to integrate various teams into the product management framework. In essence, this led to a 33% annual growth of business velocity for Fitbit.

What are the Four Pillars of Product Leadership?

Let’s analyze the four pillars that set the foundation for successful product leadership:

1. Business Acumen

One of the key responsibilities of product leaders is delivering solutions that cater to the needs of the customers as well as the organization. This requires strong business acumen. Moreover, product leadership not only focuses on the growth of the product but how the organization can grow with it. It requires knowledge of market research, sales and marketing, product development, quality assurance, and many other aspects involved in running a business. However, most importantly, the end goal of a product is to offer unique solutions to customers and increase product sales, which ultimately increases profitability for an organization. Therefore, product leaders should have in-depth know-how of business processes and methodologies.

2. Domain Knowledge

Even though product leadership is a broad role with wide-ranging—and not always clearly defined—responsibilities, leaders require domain knowledge to understand the gaps in the market, challenges faced by the customers, and analyze competitors’ products. Moreover, product leaders also manage the end-to-end product lifecycle from product development to its market execution. Thus, leaders need to have basic knowledge of the industry or domain their product is catering to.

3. Soft Skills

The most significant factor that sets apart product leaders from product managers is their ability to lead people. This requires soft skills such as people management, effective communication, storytelling, setting a vision, persuasion, motivation, empathy, and vision setting.

4. Technical Skills

Technical skills such as UI/UX design and even Artificial Intelligence (AI) are essential for product leadership as they drive creativity and innovation. Therefore, while advanced coding skills or engineering skills are not necessary, basic technical skills like the use of product management frameworks and technologies are integral for product vision and communication.

ALSO READ: How to Improve Product Marketing With Storytelling: Top 7 Tips

What are the Key Skills Required to Become a Successful Product Leader?

According to product leadership coach Ken Norton, product leaders are “the implementers of the company vision”. The following skills or attributes help product leaders articulate that vision and take it forward:

1. Innovation

With multiple companies launching their products every day, innovation is key to organizational growth. Product leaders need innovation skills to build unique products and gain a competitive advantage. Innovation also helps them cater to evolving customer needs and adapt to changing business trends.

2. Strategic Thinking and Planning

It is all about strategy. Right from creating a product vision, building a product development team, communicating with the stakeholders, making a plan, and developing the product, every step requires clear and strategic thinking and planning.

3. Resilience and Adaptability

Product launch delays or failures are common phenomena in the product ecosystem. These can happen due to market uncertainty, lack of resources, or changes in priorities. Hence, resilience and adaptability are the two most crucial attributes that product leaders need to navigate complex market challenges and integrate stakeholder feedback.

4. Data Analysis

Product leaders create a vision, think strategically, make data-driven decisions related to product development, adopt a customer-centric approach, and analyze key metrics for successful product development and launch. All these functions require data analysis skills to find valuable market insights.

5. Stakeholder Management

Product leaders are at the forefront of a product lifecycle. They lead the teams and are responsible for managing the expectations of various stakeholders and communicating with them. Therefore, stakeholder management is a crucial product leadership skill.

ALSO READ: Role of Prototyping in Product Development: 10 Key Types and 8 Benefits

Leader and ManagerExcel at Product Leadership With Emeritus Courses

The entire global business ecosystem is running in the digital transformation race. According to the State of Product Leadership Survey 2021 by Pendo, product leaders are paving the way for digital transformation. Hence, product leadership is one of the most crucial executive roles in the modern world. However, this isn’t an easy role. Product leadership involves setting product vision/strategy, design, digital adoption, setting the product roadmap, achieving revenue goals, market execution, competitive intelligence, and a lot more.

Emeritus’ leadership courses help business executives learn the nuances of product management and design and all other elements mentioned above. The ultimate goal is to offer quality training to help you become a skilled product leader. So, explore Emeritus’ online leadership courses today!

Write to us at content@emeritus.org

About the Author

Content Writer, Emeritus Blog
Sneha is a content marketing professional with over four years of experience in helping brands achieve their marketing goals. She crafts research-based, engaging content, making sure to showcase a bit of her creative side in every piece she writes. Sneha spends most of her time writing, reading, or drinking coffee. You will often find her practicing headstands or inversions to clear her mind.
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