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5 Top skills seasoned product managers should have

26 February 2021 •

By: Mira Expertise

This week we sat down, virtually, to conduct an insightful interview with one of our senior product managers, Winston, who previously managed the sales division in both hospitality and retail before stumbling upon and transitioning into one of the most sought after careers in tech. 

Our interview focussed on the top 5 skills seasoned product managers should possess, hoping to inspire young creatives to develop their technical and business acumen skill-set to pursue the ‘coach role’ within a cross-functional team. Below is a quick overview of the top skills Winston identified as fundamental to the role, in no order of importance.

Key Skills:

  1. Communication 
  2. Relationship Building
  3. Technical Competence
  4. Negotiation
  5. Business Skills 

Initially, in unfamiliar territory, Winston relied on resources like Google to aid any pending technical questions he had. Unafraid to learn, he would ask questions and continuously make notes to stay abreast of an ever-changing innovative space. 

He focussed on understanding computer systems to ‘talk’ like developers, a skill that has helped guide his approach to what is possible and what may not be possible during ideation workshop sessions, and notably when advising stakeholders during business meetings. 

After making huge strides in becoming comfortable with the technical requirements needed for the role, he dove into the intricacies of financial products and their sophisticated transactional systems working on one of the top Fintech applications in South Africa.

I learned through necessity, being thrown into the deep end, and having to swim.” — Winston 

Winston, who is a die-hard Liverpool Football Club fan, describes his role within the team similar to a football coach who helps devise strategies for his players to achieve their objectives and is dependent upon them, as an agile team to execute their plays.

Football reference aside, these top five skills are game-changers, so mastering these will definitely allow you to grow as a person and professional in a dynamic and innovative space. 

1. Communication 

This is potentially one of the most underrated soft skills that are essential to deliver and understand information quickly and accurately. Mastering communication is vital for a product manager, as stakeholder communication is at the heart of any product manager’s day-to-day life. Poor communication skills can lead to frequent misunderstandings or delays in output, which can cause frustration. 


  • Without effective communication, the pieces to the puzzle would be incomplete. Or worse, they simply wouldn’t fit together.
  • You’ll never be able to lead a team or receive their support if you can’t communicate effectively. 

2. Relationship building 

Building rapport is like exercising regularly. You build stronger relationships the more you interact with others. In a cross-functional team, there are many individuals with key strengths that you can draw upon, ultimately to help discover product enhancements that can scale the product to new heights. Eliminating hierarchy in an agile team especially when workshopping ideas is pivotal to promoting a collaborative space. 

“We’re here for the same goal. And if we’re constantly fighting or not seeing eye to eye, or don’t like each other, we will not achieve the goal. It’s as black and white as that.” — Winston 


  • As a product manager, you need to trust in an autonomous work environment that the work is getting done. 
  • This mindset where ideas are tabled irrespective of position or seniority is the type of culture you want to develop if you want the emergence of leaders to surface.

“The key, however, is providing the right balance between support and freedom for your team to execute requirements.” — Winston 

Team work

3. Technical competence

Although technical competencies will vary from project to project, having the foundation to communicate and instruct engineers constructively can help streamline standups. If you would like to influence your peers or stakeholders, possessing the technical depth needed for the role is a must-have. Transitioning from ‘I do not know what anyone is talking about,’ to ‘I understand everything deeply since I was involved in all technical architectural decisions’ is the challenge young product managers should rise to. 

The technical competence is about knowing the limits of the system, but also understanding the structure. What you need to understand is where that data flows in from. This is how it operates on the front-end that the customer interacts with. This is technically what it’s supposed to do, and all of that. And you need to understand that very well. Because if you don’t, I mean, how are you ever going to make an excellent decision and know what to present to your client as a potential next feature? How are you ever going to make a big decision about whether the team should spend three weeks refactoring this thing?” — Winston 


  • Product management is a dynamic role with many arms, so it’s important to note that possessing the technical aptitude is only one arm required for the role. The other arms include business acumen, product design, user empathy, and data analysis to name a few.

4. Negotiation

In a cross-functional team, there will be disagreements or opposed views for the prioritisation of features. With so many chefs in the kitchen, you need to take a step back and try to see where they’re coming from. Don’t take things personally, always try to separate the people from the problem.


  • Everyone is different, and you’re using that difference to meet the business needs. 
  • Base the negotiation on objective criteria and lead with data to weigh in on the decisions being made. 
  • Allow everyone to voice their opinions without judgement and focus on interests and not the position. Find out why they want and what they are asking for. 
  • Aligning the product against the business goals and reiterating those very goals is important, it’s a compass that drives each initiative closer towards those objectives. 

“You have to make difficult decisions and sometimes have very courageous conversations with people.” — Winston 

  • Make people understand that the product has matured in a certain way where you no longer need their input and need them to focus on what’s more important.

“The team is exceptionally strong and close. We have found an exceptional balance between personality types and ways of thinking.” — Winston 

5. Business

In the attention economy, you need to market your product solution to your prospective customers showcasing quickly how your product solves a problem they have in a way that they’re willing to pay for. The product is the business, and how you prioritise its features has a direct impact on the bottom line. A product manager is essentially the CEO of the product and the voice of the customer; actively keeps their finger on the pulse to ensure they solve their pain points. Traction is the heart of brand awareness, whilst converting those leads is the heart of sales, the combination of the two is ultimately where you want to be. The product manager needs to look continuously at how the product can provide more value to provide a long-lasting positive sentiment to your brand.

“You have to be a good storyteller. Know your audience and know your audience very well to know how to deliver a story that can help them see.” — Winston 


  • It’s crucial to analyse the market iteratively to drive alternative solutions and to see whether your existing strategies have had a positive impact on the bottom line. 
  • Monetisation is king if you’re not seeing viable growth opportunities, then the tactical strategy you’ve opted for needs to alter to position it towards your target market. 
  • Your unique selling proposition needs to develop into forms of value, depending on how customers consume the original product and the changing dynamics of the market.

There are so many key skills worth noting. These are arguably some of the most important to get your head into the game. Don’t be afraid to dive into the deep end and swim. As you learn more about the various aspects of the role, you will leverage your existing skill-set and rapidly learn as you progress. 

“In a football game, you have a certain influence over the eleven players on the pitch. The real question is if you leave will the team still win the game? 100% they can, and that’s why I think I am good at my job. It’s about making sure the team can do what needs to be done without you.” — Winston

We are on the lookout for top talent to join forces with us. If you have the tenacity to work with a leading Fintech application, please view our current openings and launch your career to new heights.

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26 February 2021
By: Mira

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