Customer Discovery Series Part III: Leveraging the Power of Influencing Without Authority

Influence without Authority - it's one of the hardest things about being a Product Manager.  Recently, Martin Erikkson wrote a blog post titled "Product Managers are not the CEO of anything".  I loved this post because I am a firm believer in that statement and many of the other statements in the post itself.  You can find the post on Mind the Product (it provides great content).

Product managers have to lead the teams they work with, not mandate that teams do the work they say.  A good product manager engages with individuals at all levels of the organization, consistently getting buy-in about product features and functionality.  In his post, Martin writes "Truly successful product leaders... embrace their lack of authority and lead their teams... through communication, vision and influence." By focusing on collaboration, a good PM can bring a team together and work with them to build a successful feature or product.

The ability to influence others is no small feat.  There are many personalities and opinions, and there's no way to make everyone happy.  What is important is that a PM can synthesize all of this feedback, recognize others for the information they've provided and come up with a recommendation based on data-backed information.  Here are some ways you can get more buy-in and build yourself as a leader:

  • Be the SME
    • Talk to your customers.  Why did they buy? How are they using your product? What is the landscape of the market? Who are your competitors?  If you can educate your internal team about this information, you stand to become the subject matter expert on the customer and build a ton of credibility in the process.
  • Create internal partnerships
    • It's okay if you don't jive with everyone you work with - it happens.  Find a few executives, engineers and key sales people that you can build an alliance with.  Support them, get to know them and be sincere.  When it comes to something work related, it'll be easier to get them on your side since you've built a relationship.
  • Own it
    • Be confident and certain, and be willing to admit when you might be wrong.  Accountability goes a long way when it comes to leadership and influencing others.  People are looking for a leader and they want one that is strong and confident.  Step into that role and put others at ease 
  • Fake it 'til you make it
    • If all else fails, decide that you're going to jump into the role head first.  You're not just a product manager but a product leader.  

A few good references:
The most underrated product management skill: influence without authority
Harvard Business Review: Exerting Influence without Authority
5 ways for product managers to influence without authority
Product Managers are not the CEO of anything

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