PRODUCT MANAGER CAREER PATH: POSITIONS, RESPONSIBILITIES, AND HOW TO ADVANCE

John Mansour
6 min readFeb 27, 2023

Product management is one of the hottest careers in high-tech right now with tremendous career growth. If you’re considering a career in this profession, you’ll need to know exactly what’s expected of you in a product manager role. We have all the insights you’ll need to succeed.

In this post, we’ll look at the nuances of the product manager career path and how to stand out in your role so you can advance in your field.

What Does a Product Management Career Path Look Like?

A career in product management can be fast-paced with ample growth opportunities. As more and more SaaS/cloud companies launch every day and existing companies move to subscription-based product models, the need for product managers is skyrocketing. As long as you can prove your skill and worth as a product manager, you’re looking at a highly fulfilling and prosperous career.

However, because product management roles are so sought after, you’ll likely face a great deal of competition. In order to succeed as a product manager and advance your career, you’ll need to have a strong understanding of what product management entails and how to deliver products that meet the needs of your customers.

Product Management Titles and Roles

Product management job titles, roles, and hierarchy can be a bit complicated. We’ve broken down the basics for you below so you’ll know exactly what you’ll be getting into as a product manager.

For a more in-depth look at product management roles, check out our guide on Product Management Hierarchy and Job Titles.

Entry Level Product Management Roles

Associate Product Manager

As an entry-level product management role, Associate Product Managers have limited, but nonetheless important, responsibilities. In this role, you will be collaborating with other APMs or PMs, executing tasks as they’re delegated or assigned to you, and communicating status updates with stakeholders and managers.

Junior Product Manager

As another entry-level role, Junior Product Managers typically have a bit more experience or education in product management. Junior PMs might take point on a smaller product within a portfolio and will report to a Senior PM.

Basic Product Management Role

Product Manager

The Product Manager role is a broad umbrella term that describes a wide range of experience levels, responsibilities, and skills. The role of Product Manager can be a catch-all for some organizations where it describes someone who works on a team with other PMs, takes lead on a product, or oversees an entire portfolio.

Typical responsibilities include basic vertical and horizontal market segmentation for a portfolio of products that serves common markets and customers.

Learn more: Product Manager Job Description

Tenured Product Management Roles

Product Lead/Principal Product Manager

To be promoted to a Product Lead, experience as a product manager is required. Whether you’re being promoted within your organization or applying for a new role, you must have stood out while working as a product manager as the go-to person for your product.

Responsibilities typically include orchestrating the entire process of product management, including go-to-market activities, leading other PMs, delegating tasks, prioritizing product investments, and more.

Senior Product Manager

A Senior Product Manager typically oversees a team of other PMs or supervises a major product within a portfolio. Senior PMs typically have tenure and a successful track record under their belt. It’s common for larger organizations with multiple products to have at least one Senior Product Manager, whereas smaller companies with a handful of products may not need this distinction.

Leadership Product Management Roles

Product Director

As one of the first tiers of product management leadership, prior experience in leadership is not usually required as this role can be an introduction to a management role for many. Experience as a product manager is a must-have for this role.

Responsibilities include managing a team, staffing, overseeing the execution and delivery of products at every step, often overseeing one or more portfolios at a time, and more.

Vice President of Product

This leadership role is less involved in day-to-day product management and is instead responsible for managing PM teams. The primary strengths sought after in a Product VP are well-developed skills focused on leadership, communication, conflict resolution, and more.

Chief Product Officer

The Chief Product Officer sits in the C-suite of an organization. The CPO oversees multiple teams and portfolios and is responsible for making decisions that align all product initiatives to the company’s overall strategy. In some cases, the CPO may also be responsible for product development and engineering.

Learn more: The Leadership Side Of Product Management — What Does It Really Mean?

How Lucrative is a Career in Product Management?

Product management roles are highly lucrative and highly fulfilling. According to Glassdoor, salaries for product managers can range from $77k-$200k depending on your role and experience.

Working as a product manager can also bring personal satisfaction because you’re dedicated to creating products that make people better at their jobs and organizations better at their businesses. Instead of creating a product designed solely to make money, you’ll be designing multiple products that are geared toward helping a wide variety of people in multiple industries.

Additionally, your work as a product manager is pivotal to the success and growth of your organization. After all, a company is only as successful as the products it creates.

The #1 Skill You Need to Succeed

If you’re going to blaze the trail on the product management career path, there’s one skill that will get you ahead faster than anything else. Make sure you understand the business of your target customers from the top down better than anyone else in your organization. That’s what keeps you in the driver’s seat and out of reactive mode (most of the time).

Clear answers to the following five questions are critical before you do anything to your product and all but guarantees you’ll consistently deliver value that can be quantified from the top down or bottom up.

  1. What are they trying to accomplish (an outcome) from the top down?
  2. Why are those outcomes critical to their success?
  3. What’s stopping them and why?
  4. What happens if they don’t eliminate the obstacles?
  5. How will they measure success?

How to Advance as a Product Manager

A career in product management has a great growth trajectory, versatility, and opportunity. So, how do you take advantage of all a career in product management has to offer?

In order to succeed as a product manager, the number one thing to remember is that you must keep the customer at the center of everything you do. Make customer outcomes the starting point for everything. This involves staying up-to-date on market trends and researching your target customers’ needs. Always listen out for obstacles your current and potential customers are facing and design products based on their desired outcomes. By staying focused on customer outcomes, you’ll quickly become the “go-to” person for your product or portfolio.

Level up with a 501 Advanced Portfolio Management Course from Product Management University, a course crafted for product managers looking to advance into leadership positions.

Launch Your Product Manager Career Today

A career in product management is highly sought after and can be both long-lasting and fulfilling. Whether you are ready to start your career as a PM or want to bolster your skills, PMU has everything you need to have a successful career in product management. Check out all our course offerings for more ways to advance your career.

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John Mansour

Eliminate inconsistencies in how customer value is defined with personalized hands-on training courses for B2B/B2B2C product management & product marketing.