How to influence without authority as a product manager
Updated: Sep 8, 2020
Product managers have a arduous task of navigating through layers of bureaucracy and working with numerous teams and individuals on a daily basis. There are so many engagements and conversations to be had with people all across the organization and at all levels. In some cases the PM is fortunate to have built relationship over the years, where credibility has already been established, making it a bit easier to get things done. Often this is not the case as there are so many people movements with new faces coming in and old ones stepping out of their roles. A lot of the times the most difficult conversations are with your immediate stakeholders who the PM needs to engage to get stuff done. This can be stressful for PMs as in most cases the PM works alone and needs the co-operation of everyone else to get the job completed, without having the authority.
The art of influencing is not talked about a lot and very little training is given on this topic. Many PMs have establishing their credibility over the years and as such they manage to get things done purely based on relationships and not necessarily based on day to day influence. The ability to up your game in influencing others is a skill which you can develop over time if you invest some time in building up your brand and doing a stakeholder analysis.
In this podcast we will discuss some ways through which you can improve your ability to influence. These tips are by no means a panacea to overcome the difficulties overnight but they will put you in good stead over time and improve your circles of influence. So lets get into the tips which will help you move forward.
Build your brand, show integrity and trust
There is a saying that to be successful in a career one must get comfortable with selling. A classmate of mind mentioned this to me in university and its stuck with me since. Till date I have never done a sales job, but I have realised that in my twenty years in product management the art of the sale is as relevant as ever. To build your brand your need to put yourself out there - people need to know who you are, what is it you do and how you go about executing and managing your products.
One way to start selling your brand is to communicate your product vision this will enable you to show case how your think and how well you understand the market place. It will also help to capture the imagination of other people in your organisation who want to be part of that journey and want to collaborate with your. They will be able to see how the fit into the picture. Try to be a team player in whatever you do and be open to collaboration and working with people from different background and culture. This will allow you to show how open and connected you are with other teams.
Communicate regularly - the good and the bad
There is no such thing as over communicating in product management. Build up the process to share news about your product on a regular basis through management updates, project updates, commercilisation updates, newsletters, snapshot videos, demos and even customer events and in house demo days. The more updates you give the more visible your product will be and this communication process will soon be second nature. Owning the narrative is paramount for a product manager and there is no shying away from this responsibility.
It can be tempting to not communicate bad news, even this needs to be communicated atleast to to the audience which needs to know about this. Bad news could take the shape of delays, hiccups, challenges, drop in market share, customer complaints and even competitor updates which impact your product. the more open and transparent you are the more credible you will be. Remember communication news is also sharing the risk of the product with the others. You are bringing items to the attention of management, they may actually be able to help you overcome the challenges. Do not look as it being a personal failure. There are other executives in the organisation who are equalky invested in your product and its their job to als provide you the air cover and assistance to help you succeed.
Treat others fairly
Someone once said "Treat people how you want to be treated instead of how they treat you". I cannot emphasise how important it is to treat others fairly. Our professional life and work community is smaller than you think it is. Word does get around when people are not treated fairly and this can be your achilles heel if you have a temper, attitude, lack of empathy and treat people unfairly. The work place is becoming a more sensitive place - behaviours of a decade ago are no longer accepted in the workplace. Large organisation now include behavioural aspects into their employee scorecard.
As a product leader you want to build a legacy of wanting people to work with you and work on your projects. You should want people to fondly rememeber you and the time they would have spent interacting with you even as you may move onto to other roles. If you are having a tough time at work with your colleagues and team members it may be an area which may require you to examine. Fear not you can always improve your habits and build new habits over time.
Respect other peoples time
No one likes to be waited on, Its probably the most irritating thing when you turn up for a meeting and the host is not there and takes thier own sweet time to get there. When you run your meetings be there on time and end on time. Manage your time and help your collegues by not setting up wasteful meetings which may not be required. Many people thrive on imposing themselves on others by scheduling last minute meetings, having meetings late in the night or early in the mornings - forcing others to reschedule. If your delegating work or actions give people a fair amount of time to get it done. Remember as a product manager many of the people who you work with do not report to your directly - this means they have their day job as well and you do not own 100% of their calender.
Build your product vision through a consultative process
A product vision is also the organisations vision to compete in the market, its not just the vision of the product manager. Take the opportunity to craft it out through an iterative process of discussing it with the various stakeholders in your organisation who have a say in your product. This is a great way to understand their way of thinking and also for your showcase your though process. The connection and understanding which would be formes through this collaborative and consultative process will enable you to have access to these people later on. You will be comfortable to go to them for advice or any suppor that you would need.
Share the success with your collaborators
There is a joke where some people say they did all the work and someone else stole the credit. It happens so often in the corporate world. Dont let that person be you, share the credit of a milestone succeess or achievement. Its not just your sweat which has made something successful bit also the collaborative sweat of all your team mates who have helped you get there. Share the credit, there is enough for it to go around. This can be help other people to get the recognition which they deserve and will also help them in their year appraisals and give them the opportunity to take on more responsibility or even get promoted.
In closing I have an exercise for you to consider which should take no more than 20 minutes. Are you ready? Think about a project which you are currently engaged in and map out your circles of influence. The objective here is to see who you have a direct connection with and put an indicator of your strength of influence with person. You can expand on this exercise by also plotting how you can influence this person by going through to the person with someone else. Another way to think of your level of influence with this person can be if you can candidly answer the questins - will this person give me advice and take 30mins off their day to have a coffee with me!