What do you do as a product manager when your CEO is really the product manager?

It’s a common occurrence in many companies where the CEO is the one calling the shots on all things product. It’s not limited to small companies either. Steve Jobs comes to mind!

There are really two ways to handle this and it depends on where you are in your product management career. Let’s assume your CEO is a good product manager when it comes to understanding the market, knowing what solutions have value and why companies will buy them.

  1. If you’re a new product manager, this may not be a bad thing because there’s can be a lot to learn. Pay special attention to how your CEO interacts with customers and prospects, the types of questions he/she asks and how people respond. One of the hardest skills for new product managers to learn is facilitating customer conversations without “leading the witness” on product ideas.
  2. If you’re a seasoned product manager and feeling like an order-taker, it’s a much tougher situation because you have to convince the CEO that you can add a lot of value to the process instead of just looking after the details. The easiest way to do that is to find opportunities to demonstrate how a little more structure can take your CEO’s strengths and turn them into repeatable processes that benefit the entire organization. Then he/she may develop enough trust to let others take on more of those responsibilities.

On the down side, if your CEO is not such a great product manager, making all the product decisions and not having much success,  it’s probably time to embark on a career search anyway as the organization’s future may not be bright.

Related Article: Pursuing a Product Management Career: The #1 Skill