Building Trust as a Product Manager

Why relationships are important and how you can invest time in building them with your team, stakeholders, and leadership

Zakir Tyebjee
The Startup
9 min readFeb 11, 2021


Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Product management is a lot about selling your vision and working across teams to execute. With so much of your day-to-day work dependent on others, relationships become crucial for success. Each teammate, stakeholder, and leader plays an important role and provides a unique perspective towards your product. Your job as a product manager is to find the best opportunities to leverage others, often through influence instead of authority.

Through this post, I’ll walk through what it means for PMs to earn trust, how to build that trust through relationships, and how to approach each of those relationships to grow yourself, your team, and your product.

What it Means to Earn Trust

Great PMs have strong ownership (i.e. being a subject matter expert of their product space), a relentless bias for action (i.e. moving fast and never saying “that’s not my job”), and the ability to execute with high impact (i.e. delivering results for the customer and business).

But beyond those core skills are two of the most important soft skills: communication and stakeholder management. PMs need to build trust through influence, and trust certainly needs to be earned, not given. PMs can earn this trust by investing time in building strong relationships. Good PMs will limit these relationships to just their core team, while great PMs will extend cross-functionally to build bridges with other teams.

This ability to “earn trust” is also defined in one of Amazon’s infamous company leadership principles:

Leaders listen attentively, speak candidly, and treat others respectfully. They are vocally self-critical, even when doing so is awkward or embarrassing. Leaders do not believe their or their team’s body odor smells of perfume. They benchmark themselves and their teams against the best.

- Amazon Leadership Principles

While the leadership principle itself does not explicitly mention relationships, PMs are typically measured against this principle based on their abilities to connect with others, work cross-functionally, and build accountability with their peers. And especially as PMs grow in their careers, earning trust becomes crucial to becoming a leader and being able to galvanize others, both through influence and ultimately authority too.

How to Build Trust through Relationships

Oftentimes, PMs will go broad in building relationships during their early months at a new company or on a new team. They’ll load their calendars with intro chats and informal conversations with a variety of stakeholders, but seldom follow-up in continuing to meet regularly afterward. Over time, their main interactions with these stakeholders end up being more in group settings instead, and relationships run the risk of becoming transactional rather than organic.

To prevent this from occurring, PMs should prioritize their schedules on an ongoing basis to incorporate chunks of 1:1 time throughout each week. They should start by building relationships with their core team or squad, leverage that foundation to broaden their relationships with stakeholders, and ultimately level up to include senior leaders over time.

Making Time for 1:1s

To build relationships, you need to make time for 1:1s. Below are some tips for how to get started:

  • Determine what proportion of your weeks you want to allocate to 1:1s — you’ll want to keep a healthy balance between 1:1s and group meetings. If you need to make more time, substitute some of your group meetings for asynchronous mechanisms, or ask the meeting host to send recap notes, so that you don’t always have to attend to be informed.
  • Create a list of all teammates, stakeholders, and leaders that are important to the success of your product space. Set up weekly, biweekly, or monthly 1:1s with each, depending on what works best for each relationship.
  • Add a collaborative, running notes doc to each of your 1:1 meeting series. Throughout the week, add topics to the list that are ‘important but not urgent’. During your meeting, update the doc with notes and topics that you discuss. This doc then becomes a running log of important information for each of your 1:1 series.

Maximizing Value in 1:1s

Once you’ve carved out time for your respective 1:1 conversations, you will want to ensure you use the time effectively. Below are some tips for doing so:

  • Share extensively and provide context — Share your vision for your product space, your top priorities for the month, how you approached a particular decision, and more. Great PMs can inspire others by bringing them along for the ride — walk through the context for some of your recent decisions and explain the “why” rather than the “what”. Over-share information and maintain modesty in doing so. The more context you can share about your thought process, the more you can drive your vision, and the stronger you can build relationships that help you execute.
  • Listen attentively — Maintain a two-way conversation and listen to what your peer has to say. Ask about their biggest challenges, what they’re most excited about, and how you can help them move faster. Any successful relationship needs to be symbiotic, so try to balance your agenda with theirs.
  • Offer praise and ask for feedback — It’s always easy to get caught up in discussing tactical decisions, but ever so often, find time to offer appreciation for a recent project or interaction with that peer. Explain what you liked most and what was valuable to you. And vice-versa, ask for feedback often, so that you can ensure you are growing and adapting to the needs of your peers.

Last, but not least, don’t forget to be human. While this may seem silly and obvious, it is oftentimes underestimated and glossed over in the day-to-day pressures of being a PM. Small talk also offers an opportunity to introduce some spontaneity into an otherwise structured agenda. Talk about more than work, get to know one’s interests, try brainstorming an idea or opportunity. You’ll find that humility and authenticity goes a long way in building trust.

How to Approach Each Relationship

PMs work across three main groups: (1) Their core team (i.e. the ones who are directly responsible for the product), (2) Their stakeholders (i.e. the ones who are indirectly responsible for the product’s success), and (3) Their leadership (i.e. the ones who support the growth of the product over time). While it’s important to prioritize relationships with all three of these groups, each builds off the other and each has their own nuances that define a successful relationship.

Your Core Team

While building a relationship with your core team is table stakes, it’s important not to take anyone for granted. Establishing a strong bond with each member of your core team will provide you with a foundation for going broader as you build stakeholder relationships.

  1. Engineers — While good PMs partner closely just with their engineering manager or lead, great PMs take the extra time to be present for each of their engineers too. You don’t necessarily need recurring 1:1s with each engineer, but you can use feature development opportunities to work with each engineer more closely. If an engineer is building towards a tight deadline, be there to support them. If you foresee an upcoming obstacle, be proactive and shield them. If you sense confusion on requirements, spend time to clarify them. Without engineers, none of your vision can be executed, so building bonds with your engineers goes a long way in ensuring your product’s success.
  2. Designers — PMs and designers go hand-in-hand to represent customers and their requirements. You should meet frequently with your designer and include them in your key business decisions. Help your designer understand your vision (and in some cases partner with them to craft it). Discuss the problems you are trying to tackle and any data you’ve analyzed about customer behavior. An effective PM-designer relationship can ultimately result in double the product firing power.
  3. Data Science & Analytics — PMs need to be able to make data-driven decisions for their product. To do so, you should involve your data science and analytics partners in your team discussions, particularly when trying to determine the value in a new feature or when exploring a new experiment opportunity. Be proactive, rather than reactive, and use insights to drive decisions — you’ll be able to identify key problem opportunities earlier and build a more impactful roadmap as a result.

Your Stakeholders

Once you’ve formed your core team bonds, you’re ready to broaden the impact of your relationships. Meet 1:1 with stakeholders often, share context on your product space, and leverage each other to drive the product forward.

  1. Customer Support — The support team is first on this list because they are the closest to customers and should be a PM’s closest partner for building strong customer empathy. Shadow associates on customer calls, meet regularly with customer service managers, and establish mechanisms for you to get insights on both positive and negative customer experiences. Also, be proactive about communicating new features, so your support team is always prepared to handle customer contacts.
  2. Marketing — The marketing team is responsible for targeting, attracting, and converting customers. Share your product vision with your marketing team, and help them understand the core features of your product. Meet with your key partners regularly to brainstorm growth opportunities, determine go-to-market strategies, and ideate on how to build a stronger brand. You should be continuously working with marketing to run experiments that attract customers to your product.
  3. Sales — The sales team is a crucial lever for you to convert prospective customers into actual customers. Building a partnership with your sales team will ensure that they are equipped to effectively sell the value prop of your product and that you have a bridge to your customers. Meet regularly with your sales team to get insights on what is resonating well with your customers, while also sharing your team’s roadmap to get feedback often.
  4. Operations — Depending on your role and company, operations teams can be the engine that powers your business. Partner with operations managers to understand their processes and identify opportunities to improve efficiencies. You should consider your customer experience extending into operations too, and you should build empathy by experiencing the operations processes for yourself when you can.
  5. Other PMs — Last but certainly not least, your fellow PMs contribute to the overall success of your organization. While they will most likely have their own product responsibilities, a close-knit PM team will provide opportunities to share best practices, offer advice on new features, and provide growth opportunities for each of you.

Your Leadership

As you grow into more senior product roles, you grow in scope, ownership, and leadership. So, it’s important that you build relationships with the leaders that can help support both your product’s vision and your personal growth.

  1. Your Manager — Hopefully this goes without saying, but you should be in constant communication with your manager, and ensure that you have weekly 1:1s to check in on how things are going, discuss any blockers, and review your career growth. Your manager can be a partner, mentor, and boss all at the same time, so building trust early is crucial to both yours and your product’s success.
  2. Product Leaders — Meet monthly with your skip manager or respective product leader, so that you can calibrate your vision with the larger company-wide product vision. Building trust with your leadership can offer you an open channel to share progress, empower you to explore new product areas, and open up new opportunities to grow.
  3. Cross-Functional Leaders — While you may not interact as often with other senior leaders outside of product, occasional 1:1 check-ins with the appropriate leaders will expand your scope of influence and product thinking cross-functionally. Use your time with these leaders to engage in strategic discussions, brainstorm new business opportunities, and evangelize your product vision.

Remember that each teammate, stakeholder, and leader plays an important role and provides a unique perspective towards your product. Invest time in building these relationships, earn trust through meaningful interactions, and grow your relationships over time to set up yourself and your product for success.

My name is Zakir Tyebjee, and I publish monthly posts on the realities of product management. Comment below or reach out on LinkedIn if you have new topic suggestions — I can’t promise you I will make you the best PM, but I can promise you I will bring a realistic perspective that inspires you to be a better one 🙌



Zakir Tyebjee
The Startup

Product @ Hopin | Former Amazon, Microsoft | Ex-Founder. Publishing stories on all things product management.