Phenomenal Product Leaders Must Earn Authority—Build a Plan to Earn Yours [+Template]

No Formal Authority?

Product management is a challenging role, and one key challenge is the need for others outside of your direct authority to help you achieve success with your product. One product management complaint that I’ve often heard is “All of the responsibility, but no authority.” While it is true that we do not have given authority over these other stakeholders, such as sales, engineering, manufacturing, marketing, and operations, we can still earn significant authority. Rather than conferred authority that allows you to hire and fire these people, we as Product Managers must earn our authority to drive a product team to success.

Assess Your Influence Skills

When speaking with 280 Group clients, we often find that most new and many experienced Product Managers still don’t feel like they have mastered the full toolset to earn that authority across the organization.

We have developed a template to help guide you in building your earned authority and ability to influence other stakeholders. This is a combination of soft and hard skills.

Hard skills review

The starting point for influencing is working on the hard skills. We’re talking about skills like market research, voice-of-the-customer (VOC), competitive analysis, and prioritization, to name a few. If you haven’t clearly defined your role and built those skillsets, it’s going to be very difficult to earn influence with anyone in the organization. To gain those skills, kick-off your career with comprehensive training and find a strong mentor (your manager, another executive, an experienced friend, or an external coach) to guide you through your skill growth.

Do You Have Stakeholder Buy-in On Your Product Vision?

Assuming you are developing those hard skills, another important area is to define a clear vision and strategy for your product(s). If you cannot communicate a strong product vision for others to align to, one that satisfies customer needs and your organization’s goals, it will be difficult to influence others to follow you. Your stakeholders need to have confidence that you are leading them down the correct path. Guiding them with a clear vision and strategy is one way to gain that confidence.

But, your strategy is only as good as the evidence that supports it. Too often when communicating your vision and strategy, we communicate what we want to do, but we fail to communicate why we want to do it. I recently read an article from Harvard Business Review that clearly stated the importance of communicating the “why.” One of the clear points it makes is that we focus our communications on the “what” and the “how” because we think that is the fastest way to get buy-in. In reality, the only true way to gain buy-in is to start with the “why.” That “why” comes from your expertise about your market, built up using your hard skills. That “why” is based upon a deep understanding of your customers, your competitors, and the trends and forces within your market.

Become Phenomenal Through Soft Skills

Learning the hard skills to gain this understanding and developing your “why” are only half the battle. You also need soft skills that will help you become even more phenomenal: communication, collaboration, negotiation, and influence. As you review your soft skills below and consider ways to enhance those skills, I recommend you read Brian Lawley’s best-selling book “The Phenomenal Product Manager.” It’s chocked full of tips based upon years of experience that will accelerate your path to product management success.

Soft skill review

  • Speaking concisely and clearly. Can you quickly get to the point and communicate your request within 30 seconds?
  • Ensure that you understand the needs and concerns of the stakeholders you are working with. Do you use techniques such as Active Listening to ensure you understand what they are really saying to you?
  • Writing skills – have you evaluated your writing? Do you write at an appropriate level for your audience? Do you use highly specialized terms so that you sound more intelligent, or do you write in a way that a fifth grader would understand? Do you know the level of detail that is right for each of your target stakeholders?
  • Asking questions. How do you ask questions that aim to make the other person feel in control? Very few knowledge workers want to be forced into your way of thinking. Stakeholders want to establish their buy-in on their own. Instead of getting them to say “yes,” how do we get them to feel in control by saying “no”?
  • When you communicate, do you start with the “WHY”? What is your source of evidence (social proof) to support your “why”?

5 Steps to Build Your Influence Action Plan

  1. If you’re serious about becoming a great Product Leader, take a moment to assess your current skillset by reviewing the 280 Group Earned Influence and Authority Tools. Fill in your answers to each of the tools and consider how you can apply each of these concepts in your role.
  2. Prioritize your skills development plan and set goals and deadlines on how you’ll enhance those skills.
  3. If you don’t already have a mentor, reach out to another Product Leader that you respect and trust. Schedule some time to review the worksheets and discuss ways to enhance your product leadership skillsets.
  4. If you don’t already have a strong Product Vision, take some time to build this and get feedback from your mentor or trusted stakeholders.
  5. Before you go into your next meeting with your internal stakeholders, think through your communication plan using these concepts.

The Job is What You Put Into It

I strongly believe that product management is one of the most rewarding and meaningful careers. You can make it even more rewarding by developing and enhancing your skills for earned influence and authority. I encourage you to take these steps today by downloading the 280 Group Earned Influence & Authority Tools. Send me a note in the comments on your progress with the template. I wish you the best of success in your work to become a phenomenal Product Leader!

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About the Author


Tom Evans is a Principal Consultant and Trainer at 280 Group.
Tom Evans is a Senior Principal Consultant and Trainer at 280 Group and is an internationally recognized authority in product management, product marketing, international business, go-to-market strategies, business partnerships, and entrepreneurship. In his extensive experience, he has helped start-ups through Fortune 500 companies create and launch winning products and has led business development efforts in the US and global markets. Tom has been responsible for successfully developing and implementing Product Management & Product Marketing methodologies at multiple companies.

280 Group is the world’s leading Product Management training and consulting firm. We help companies and individuals do GREAT Product Management and Product Marketing using our Optimal Product Process™.

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