Are you thinking of a career in product management and wondering what the product manager career path looks like?
That’s what our guide explores, so you’re in the right place.
In particular, we look at:
- What the product manager’s role involves
- Their main responsibilities
- Common product management positions
- Tips on how to advance your PM career
Let’s dive in.
- A product manager leads the product management team and is responsible for overseeing all stages of the product development process.
- Typically, product managers are responsible for market and user research, product discovery, feature prioritization, and roadmapping. They also manage the product launch and track product performance throughout its lifecycle.
- Product managers are relatively well-paid. They earn more than developers, astronauts, and even attorneys, but less than surgeons.
- A degree in business, marketing, computer science, engineering, and data science can give you the foundation for a typical career path in product management.
- However, experience is much more important to succeed as a PM. Many product leaders have a background in development, marketing, sales, customer support, UX design, and data management.
- The Associate Product Manager position is an entry-level role responsible for smaller projects and supporting more senior colleagues. In the US, they earn on average around $103k per year.
- The Product Manager is next on the ladder. They have more responsibilities and independence in setting strategy and making product decisions. They earn around $156k per annum.
- Senior Product Managers are in charge of strategic decisions – they set the long-term product vision and strategy. They earn around $201k/year.
- The Director of Product is accountable for multiple product lines and manages product management teams. The average salary of a product director in the US is around $268k.
- The Vice-President of Product is a part of the senior leadership team and they are responsible for the overall product strategy and vision across the entire business. On average, they make $331k a year.
- The Chief Product Officer is the most senior role in charge of the entire product management function. In the States, average CPO salaries oscillate around $377k.
- To see how Userpilot can help you advance your PM career, book the demo!
What is a product manager?
The main goal of the product manager is to build products that fill a market gap, satisfy user needs and wants, and drive business goals.
What are the typical responsibilities in product management?
The product manager job description includes a myriad of responsibilities at all stages of the product lifecycle.
Their work begins with customer and market research to identify opportunities, like customer problems, needs, and desires that other products don’t address.
Next, they lead the product team during the ideation stage. That’s when they work on the best solutions to the opportunities. Their job is not only to generate ideas but also to validate them before they go into development.
After that, product managers create the roadmap with all key outcomes, milestones, and timelines. This involves defining the product releases.
When the product or feature is launched (under their supervision), they track its performance by analyzing user behavior and collecting customer feedback. This is to identify further opportunities to add value to the product and improve user experience.
Performing all these responsibilities requires collaboration with cross-functional teams made up of engineers, marketers, sales reps, and customer success managers, to name just a few.
Is product management a high-paying job?
Product managers are fairly well-paid.
According to Glassdoor, product managers in the United States make an average of $156k. The pay falls between $97k and $162k.
To give you some context:
- Circus performers in the US make, on average, $51k a year
- Content writers or fishermen- $62k
- Pastors – $73k
- Full stack developers – $112k
- Astronauts – $138k
- Attorneys – around $146k, and
- Surgeons – $266k.
How to get started with a product management career?
As product manager is a multifaceted role, there’s no single way to start a career as a PM.
However, having the right education and experience can help you land your first PM job.
Get relevant education
To become a product manager, various educational paths can be beneficial, often depending on the industry and specific company.
A degree in business administration and management will provide a strong foundation for the role as it helps you develop strategic thinking, organizational skills, and an understanding of business principles.
Lots of successful product managers in SaaS hold degrees in computer science and engineering. Technical background can help you understand the product development process and communicate with the engineering teams effectively. It can also help you progress into a specialist role, like the technical product manager.
Finally, a degree in data analysis or statistics could be truly beneficial as PMs need to be able to analyze performance data and make data-driven decisions.
Is it worth doing a product manager course?
There are a few good ones around but the overall consensus is that to succeed as a product manager, you need practical experience more than theoretical knowledge.
Acquire experience in a related field
So what experience can help you land your first PM gig?
Here are a few possible avenues to explore:
- Project management – experience in managing projects, especially those involving cross-functional teams, helps in understanding how to plan, execute, and deliver product initiatives.
- Technical roles – for those aiming to work in tech companies, experience in software development, engineering, or IT can provide a deep understanding of the technical challenges and processes involved in product development.
- Marketing and market research – understanding customer needs and market trends is a core part of product management.
- Sales and customer service – direct interaction with customers through sales or customer service roles can provide insights into customer needs, pain points, and preferences. This is invaluable when building customer-centric products.
- Data and business analysis – experience in analyzing data to derive business insights and a knack for understanding business needs can be crucial for developing solutions that drive business goals.
- UX Design – experience in UX design can be beneficial, particularly for product managers focusing on consumer-facing products.
- Industry-specific experience – depending on the industry (like healthcare, finance, retail, etc.), having experience in that specific sector can be advantageous, as it provides an understanding of the unique challenges and opportunities in that market.
Common product management positions
Let’s have a look at what a product manager’s career path might look like, starting from most junior roles.
1. Associate Product Manager (APM)
An associate product manager, or a junior product manager, is an entry-level product manager job for those starting in product management.
What does an associate product manager do?
Associate Product Managers (APMs) handle smaller projects or contribute to larger ones, working under experienced product managers.
They focus on understanding customer needs, analyzing market trends, and aiding in the development and improvement of product features.
Their responsibilities extend to collaborating with engineering, design, and marketing teams, ensuring product features align with user expectations and business goals. APMs also track and report on product performance, providing insights into successes and areas for improvement.
This role serves as a foundational step, equipping APMs with essential skills for career progression in product management.
Average salary of associate product managers
On average, a US-based associate product manager makes $103k per annum. On top of that, they can count on average additional cash compensation in the region of $10k.
2. Product Manager
A product manager is normally the next stage in the PM career.
What does a product manager do?
A step above the APM, product managers have more responsibility and autonomy.
Their role encompasses overseeing the development and management of a product or product line.
They collaborate closely with engineering, sales, marketing, and support teams to align product development with company goals.
As central decision-makers, PMs are accountable for their product’s success or failure, playing a crucial role in steering the product’s direction and ensuring it meets market and customer needs effectively.
Average product manager salary
As mentioned, PMs in the US make $156k on average.
This is normally made up of a base salary that falls somewhere between $97 and $162k, and additional cash compensation of $31k on average.
3. Senior Product Manager
The senior product manager role comes next in the PM pecking order.
What does a senior product manager do?
Senior product managers oversee complex products or extensive portfolios.
With greater experience, most senior product managers tackle strategic product decisions and often mentor junior product managers.
Their role is deeply involved in shaping the long-term vision and strategy for products, driving their development, and aligning them with overarching business objectives.
Senior PMs play a key role in ensuring products not only meet market demands but also contribute significantly to the company’s strategic goals, which is why they often prioritize key initiatives.
Average salary of senior product managers
Average senior product manager salaries oscillate around $201k. This usually includes additional cash compensation of around $49k on top of their base salaries of $128-182k a year.
4. Director of Product
Directors of Product have a strategic role with a broader scope of responsibilities than individual product managers.
What does a director of product do?
The Director of Product normally oversees multiple product lines and leads teams of product managers, providing leadership and direction.
Their key responsibilities include setting and executing the overall product strategy and playing a crucial role in aligning product development with the company’s larger strategic goals.
They often spearhead cross-functional initiatives, collaborating with various departments such as marketing, sales, engineering, and customer service. This cross-departmental collaboration is vital in driving product success and achieving business targets.
Their influence significantly impacts the direction and success of the business, making them key figures in shaping the company’s product landscape and market positioning.
Average salary of a director of product
With increased responsibility, come higher earnings.
The Glassdoor data shows that the average salary for a Director of Product is over $268k in the States. They can count on a base salary of $155-220k per annum and an extra $62-117k in additional cash compensation (on average).
5. VP of Product
The Vice President of Product is a senior executive role on the company’s leadership team.
What does a VP of product do?
As senior leaders, Vice Presidents of Product are responsible for the overall performance and outcomes of the product organization and are instrumental in shaping the product direction, ensuring it aligns with the broader goals of the company.
They are key in guiding the development, launch, and continuous improvement of products, ensuring each step aligns with the organization’s vision and market needs.
The VP role is not just managerial but also visionary: they have to anticipate market trends, identify new opportunities, and steer the product roadmap to keep the company at the forefront of its industry.
Average salary of a VP of product
According to Glassdoor, a VP of Product can make around $70k more than a director.
The average salary for the role in the US is $331,301 a year. VPs can also make up to $194k in bonuses and extra cash compensation.
6. Chief Product Officer
The Chief Product Officer, or CPO, is the highest product management executive in a company.
What does a chief product officer do?
The CPO drives the organization’s product vision, oversees the development of new products, and ensures that existing products meet the needs of customers.
This role is critical for companies where product innovation and strategy are key to the business. The CPO works closely with the CEO and other C-level executives to align product strategies with the company’s overall goals and objectives.
Average salary of a CPO
Considering how much responsibility sits on their shoulders, it’s no surprise chief product officers are paid handsomely.
A CPO at a US-based company earns, on average, $377k. This consists of a base salary ranging from $160k and $293k a year and additional compensation of $122-229k.
Tips for a successful product management career path
Let’s wrap up with a handful of tips that will help you accelerate your product management career.
Hone both hard and soft skills
As a product manager, you require diverse skills.
Work with your superiors and mentors to reflect on your strengths and weaknesses, and identify opportunities to fill skill gaps.
Develop the right mindset
To succeed as a PM, you need to right mindset.
For example, product managers are efficient problem-solvers who see every challenge as an opportunity to grow.
This requires adaptability and resilience. You need to be prepared to adjust your strategies in response to changing market needs and technological developments.
Build your network
Networking with other product managers and professionals in your industry can provide valuable insights, mentorship opportunities, and career advancement possibilities.
For starters, reach out to other product professionals in your company. Use LinkedIn to connect with product managers, consultants, and coaches, and join Slack communities. Also, consider joining Growth Mentor.
Invest in the right tool stack
Your job will be so much easier with the right tools.
You’re likely to need software for:
- Product roadmapping
- Project management
- Product analytics
- UX design and prototyping
- Communication and collaboration
- Customer feedback
- User onboarding
For example, Userpilot is a no-code product growth platform with advanced analytics and feedback features that allow non-technical users to create personalized onboarding experiences to drive product adoption and account expansion.
There isn’t one product manager career path.
That’s because product managers come from diverse backgrounds and have multiple directions to explore in their careers.
Apart from traditional vertical progression up the ladder, from the junior product manager up to CPO, there are also horizontal opportunities you could pursue. The demand for specialist roles, like technical or AI product managers is increasing.
If you want to see how Userpilot can help you boost your PM career opportunities, book the demo!