Leading without Being the Boss: Tips for Product People

Roman Pichler
3 min readDec 6, 2022
Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels

As the person in charge of the product, you have a rewarding but challenging job. A key challenge is leading the stakeholders and development teams without being their boss, without being able to tell people what to do. In this article, I offer my advice on how to overcome this challenge, guide the individuals, and create value together.

🎧 You can listen to the audio version of the article on my podcast: https://www.romanpichler.com/podcast/

The Need for Guidance and the Lack of Transactional Power

Product success is not something you can achieve on your own as a product manager or Scrum product owner. Instead, you rely on the contributions and the support of the key stakeholders, the development team members, and possibly other product people who help you manage a large product. For example, the marketer has to create the marketing strategy, and the development teams have to design and build the product.

What’s more, all deliverables must fit together to achieve the desired outcome. For instance, the marketing strategy, the user experience (UX) design and technology choices have to align to successfully acquire new users, increase conversion, or meet another product goal. Consequently, the stakeholders, development teams, and product people require guidance and alignment — they must all move together in the same direction and work on the same overarching goals, as the picture below illustrates.

On top of everything, you are usually not the boss, and the individuals in the picture above don’t report to you. You therefore lack transactional power: You cannot tell people what to do and make them follow your decisions, and you typically cannot offer a bonus, pay raise, or other incentive. To make things worse, some of the stakeholders might be more senior than you. How can you then effectively guide and align them?

Influence and Trust as Leadership Building Blocks

Effectively leading others requires that they trust you. To trust someone means to have faith in the person, believe that their intentions are good, feel safe in their presence, and be comfortable to speak one’s mind.

Once you have earned someone’s trust, the person will be open to your suggestions and advice. This, in turn, enables you to influence the individual and help them achieve the desired product outcome.

If the opposite is true, and someone doesn’t trust you, then they are unlikely to follow your lead. They will be inclined to do what they believe is right. This may result in people moving into different directions and producing deliverables that don’t create the desired value. Gaining the trust of the stakeholders, dev teams, and other product people is therefore vital so you can effectively align and guide them and achieve the desired outcomes.

It’s important for me to point out that effective leadership must be based on the intention to support the people you want to lead, not on the desire to control or manipulate anyone. The influence you exercise should therefore be a positive one, see my article Should Product People be Servant-Leaders?

What’s more, there is not one right way to lead. For example, groups that haven’t worked together require a different leadership approach compared to those that have developed into a closely knit unit, as I discuss in more detail in the article How to Choose the Right Product Management Leadership Style.

Read On …

To read the rest of this article and access the remaining tips, please head over to my website: https://www.romanpichler.com/blog/leading-without-being-the-boss-tips-for-product-people/

Learn More

You can learn more about effectively leading in product management by attending my product leadership training and by reading my book How to Lead in Product Management.

How to Lead in Product Management

Source: https://www.romanpichler.com/blog/leading-without-being-the-boss-tips-for-product-people/



Roman Pichler

Product management expert. Author of “Strategize,” “How to Lead in Product Management” and “Agile Product Management with Scrum.” www.romanpichler.com