How to Gain Influence as a Product Manager

Chandra Kalle
Feb 10, 2017 · 3 min read

One of the hardest things about product management is leading without authority. Your success depends on the people around you, and you have no formal authority over them. Recently, someone asked this question on Quora:

I’m a product manager at a large tech company. How do I become more assertive/influential to gain the respect of my peers?

My answer:

I would focus on trust, assertiveness, respect, and influence (in that order).

Trust is the foundation, and 50% of trust is just not screwing up

That means a strong work ethic — detailed stories, good wireframes, giving good context, being responsive, just getting things done efficiently and keeping the needle moving. The other 50% is bringing clarity in thought into conversations in a honest and authentic way. That means digging deep into problems and offering well informed perspectives, establishing good frameworks for decision making and “teaching people how to fish”, and building personal relationships with people and showing them you care. Regardless of the role, one needs to prioritize developing trust in the first few weeks.

Assertiveness is only effective (and appropriate) when combined with well constructed arguments

Being assertive for the sake of being assertive never helps. I would use it only when three conditions are met — a) you need to be assertive to get the outcome you want (and all other options are exhausted), b) you have a strong, well informed argument to make — an argument that would generally pass in it’s own merit absent of other “situations”, and c) you’ve earned some “trust credits” with the audience (i.e don’t do it on day one). As long as you are clear about the intent, use the right words and the right tone, your odds should be good.

Respect = trust + some “quick wins”

50% of it is just building trust. Quick wins accelerate it. Ultimately, every feature is an experiment and no matter how well informed you were it can fail (subtly or badly). If you have too many flops in a row, the team gets nervous and unfortunately the PM can be the easiest scapegoat (even though success is not in your control). But if you get wins, no matter how small they are, the team feels good about it and your credit score goes up. Sometimes you may have a “static” advantage — some part of your background that the team respects, but that’s usually minor. So to earn respect, focus on wins — be relentless about moving the needle no matter how small it is.

Influence = trust + respect + “lots of wins”

To become truly influential and get “thought leader” status, you need to earn trust, and respect, and have lots of wins (or some big wins) and not screw up too much. This starts with some wins, but grows over time. There’s nothing special a PM can do to accelerate this, other than relentlessly doing great things for the product — deep understanding of the problem, market, and users or customers, developing good frameworks for decision making, bringing clarity of thought to conversations, constructing good arguments, and just moving mountains to make things happen.

Originally published on Quora

Chandra Kalle

Written by

Thinker. Builder. Entrepreneur.

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