You’re Not In Charge, But The Team Will Follow Your Actions

Scott Gartenberg is an NYC product manager with PracticePanther, a legal practice management software that allows law practices to manage their work. This article originally appeared in Scott’s Working in Product newsletter. We’re sharing it to explore the best practices and philosophies that drive product managers today.

Whether you are a PM at a seed stage or publicly traded company, you are not responsible for anyone’s paychecks. You do not have direct authority over anyone that you work with. I outlined the general responsibilities of all the members of the product development team in a previous post. This post is about highlighting a truth that I really believe is the case for PMs.

A good PM has the respect of his/her engineering and design team. Where does that respect come from? A good PM also plays an integral role in setting the culture of the product development team within a company. But how does a PM actually do that if they aren’t in charge of anyone?

Here’s the answer: the nature of the PM role makes you a person that others turn to for questions and support. Your ceiling is up to you.

What other function within a company has the level of visibility that a PM does? I would argue none. It is this visibility that gives PMs a degree of credibility and trust within an organization. But don’t get it twisted — that credibility and trust has to be earned. By being a PM who is on the ball, active, works hard, asks the right questions, offers to help in difficult moments, and has a good pulse on the state of the company and industry, you become someone that others turn to.

It is this visibility that gives PMs a degree of credibility and trust within an organization. But don’t get it twisted — that credibility and trust has to be earned.

Again, this all has to be earned. Once it is, I think the team really values your input and trusts that you are thinking feature requirements through and prioritizing the roadmap properly. The engineers that I work with care about working on high value activities — they want to know how their work corresponds to business value and understand why Product thinks that we should be working on something in the upcoming sprint. It is very much the PM’s job in sprint planning to make that clear. When they do, the team understands your thought process and how much work you have (or haven’t) put into product planning. This is important in maintaining a high functioning team that takes pride in what they do.

Beyond this, a well-intentioned and diligent PM has a ripple effect for product development teams. In a perfect world, everyone is 110% accountable for the work they do and cares deeply about the work they are doing. But that is not always reality. The fact is that a PM who cares and has established credibility has a positive impact on others. This is human nature. There’s a school of thought that says that working with others who really have pride in their work results in everyone else around them having the same. So even if you don’t have any direct reports and aren’t “in charge” of engineers you work with, you better believe that the way you act and the quality of your work has an impact on the work of others

I hope this helps those out there who are considering a PM career path in understanding the scope of the role and how much of an impact you can really have.