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Product Strategy

What Makes a Good Manager? 15 Traits and Must-Have Qualities

10 Jan 202010 mins read
Valentin Firak
What Makes a Good Manager? 15 Traits and Must-Have Qualities
By Valentin Firak

How do you feel about your manager and what makes a good manager, well.. good?  

Research reveals:

  • More than 40 percent of workers doubt the amount of hard work their managers do

  • Nearly 20 percent feel their managers have little or no integrity

  • 65 percent of employees would choose a ‘better boss’ over a pay rise 


But here are perhaps the most important results of this study: 70 percent of the workers questioned believe they would be happier at work if they had a better relationship with their managers. In comparison, 60% feel they would be more productive.

So, we can all agree that good management is crucial to maintaining an efficient, productive, and happy workforce.

But what actually makes a good manager? Which traits are essential and why?

what makes a good manager - skills

In this post, we’ll look at 15 key attributes and qualities any good manager should have across both product and project management.

While these two areas may sound similar, they’ve very different — you can read more about this here, but we’ll touch on the essentials below for the TLDR crowd anyway. 


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Traits and Qualities That ALL Managers Should Have, No Matter The Role.

Good management can be a real challenge for even the most seasoned pro. And while certain types of management roles will require specific skills, many traits are universally essential.

Let’s take a look at some of the key must-have qualities of any manager.:

Strong coaching skills:

Part of what makes a good manager is helping people channel their strengths and achieve their best, even when they may not have been aware they had so much to give. 

This is where strong coaching skills come in.

what makes a good manager - coaching

Some workers need a little extra push to give their all and overcome self-doubt. Coaching can be delivered face-to-face or remotely, once a day or once a week. It doesn’t have to be part of a fixed strategy or even an official workplace initiative. But it should be about motivating and empowering individuals to recognize their potential and achieve practical goals.

When it comes to identifying what makes a good manager, being able to identify and cultivate a team member’s skills is a definite advantage.

Caring about employee drive and satisfaction: 

Research shows 85 percent of American workers are happy in their jobs. But what about that other 15 percent?

Anyone who has been in a role they disliked or actively loathed knows how difficult getting up in the morning can be. And this only grows even harder when there’s a lot of pressure to succeed piled on. 

A strong manager doesn’t just focus on bringing a product to market or strategizing the flow of a project. They care about giving employees a challenge they relish and helping to bring out their best. 

With happy workers shown to be as much as 13 percent more productive, there’s real value in paying attention to motivation and satisfaction. Make team members care about what they’re doing, and there’s a good chance they’ll do it better than ever.

A willingness to admit mistakes:

Being willing to admit mistakes and recognize your own shortcomings is an essential part of what it means to be an excellent manager.

Nobody wants to work for a manager who lays the blame at any feet but their own. Not only is refusing to own up to bad decisions or sloppy work bad for team morale, but it can lead to awkward or downright unpleasant situations involving senior managers too. 

How so? Well, if a manager has no intention of being held accountable, it’s up to others to handle it instead. 

Admitting when they’ve done something wrong is a key trait for a great manager. Once they get this hurdle out of the way, they can concentrate on fixing the resulting problems without being burdened by guilt or shame. They’ll likely earn more respect from team members too.

Okay, so we’ve taken a look at some general management qualities. But how can we define good leadership specifically within product management? 

Let’s take a look.


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Product Management Leadership: A Run Down Of The Most Important Traits and Qualities 

A brief recap on what product managers do:  

Product managers are responsible for developing a product throughout its lifecycle,  driving and sustaining its success. 

A product manager’s work, therefore, revolves around defining and understanding the product’s core audience, deciding which features should be built through careful prioritization, coordinating and aligning key stakeholders, and, ultimately, bringing a product’s vision to fruition.

So, what makes a good manager within the field of product management? 

Strong communication skills:

Communication is obviously a core part of what makes a good product manager, especially for someone in a leadership role.

Senior product managers need to convey ideas and goals to team members at different levels, helping others understand important tasks or difficult concepts as simply as possible. They should be as comfortable discussing the results of intensive market research with shareholders as they are exploring concepts with designers.

Communication skills are also crucial for identifying obstacles or issues and pinpointing ways to overcome them. 

what makes a good product manager - communication

And let’s not forget: without the right approach to communication, a product manager will struggle to keep colleagues (both those they directly manage or otherwise) on the right track. Being inarticulate could lead to mistakes and oversights that cost big bucks to fix down the line.

Fortunately, poor communication skills are likely to become clear during the interview process

An ability to prioritize (both features and competing demands):

A good senior product manager should have the ability to determine what matters and what doesn’t, often across a wide portfolio of products. Or, to look at it another way, they should be able to identify the right order to complete goals at a business-wide level.

This means that an effective product manager won’t try to please everyone all of the time: they’ll work out which task deserves to be a priority and which can wait.

But this should be based on a practical awareness of how each task affects the product’s development and success, rather than simply picking and choosing indiscriminately.

Trusting others to achieve goals:

Product managers responsible for more junior staff may find themselves struggling to trust team members, particularly when a deadline is coming up fast.

They might want to micro-manage colleagues to maximize their efficiency and productivity — but this can trigger resentment and frustration.

And while strong leaders should be acutely aware of others’ weaknesses, trying to compensate for them by pushing too hard is a mistake.

As a product manager, it’s vital to trust people to do their best, and one way to make this easier is by providing them with the right tools, resources, and management in the first place. That’s why trust is such a vital skill for a PM in a leadership role.

Identifying knowledge gaps as early as possible can help product managers assign practical training, ultimately prompting team members to unlock their potential.

As a result, they’ll be easier to trust and have more self-confidence to take the initiative when necessary.

Problem-solving skills:

Another aspect of what makes a good manager within product management is the ability to solve problems.

Shepherding a product along to the market and ensuring it addresses users’ pain points is just one part of this.

Another is managing the issues that arise throughout the product’s lifecycle, whether these are of a conceptual or technical nature.

The most effective leaders will have a fluid approach to solutions based on the specificities of each problem.

Using a one-size-fits-all framework is a recipe for disaster: just because one tactic fixed a previous issue doesn’t mean it will do the same for another. 

Again, problems may be caused by team members, the product itself, a shift in the market, or any number of other factors. P

Product managers leaders must be willing to look at each problem for what it is and strategize a unique solution, however complex that may be. 

Able to inspire and motivate others:

Being able to rally a team is a fundamental skill for any manager, but especially those in product management. 

do something great

PM leaders need to unite their team and empower them to complete their part in a product’s success.

This might include collaborating with in-house colleagues and those who work remotely, which can make effective management a little more difficult.

But a product manager can struggle to establish themselves as a figure of authority in the same way a director might.

Certain team members may not take their directions as seriously as they might those given by someone with the power to fire them. 

In this case, it’s down to product managers to inspire and motivate others through persuasion and engagement.

An ability to forge connections with team members and help them see the value in completing a particular task goes a long way in successful product management.

Ability to handle pressure under tough conditions:

There’s a lot riding on delivering a successful product. 

Shareholders are concerned.

Prospective buyers are speculating and spreading seeds of doubt. Product managers know they have to bring their A-game but start to buckle under the sheer weight of the pressure bearing down on them.


Product management can be incredibly difficult and stressful at times. 

product management traits - stress

(Yes, this is the most intense GIF we've ever used :) However, this is how product management feels like sometimes)

That’s why it’s so important that any product manager with a leadership role has experience in a high-pressure environment and — ideally — an ability to thrive with lots at stake.

Otherwise, a product manager who comes apart at the seams with deadlines looming and expectations running high is likely to inspire dread in their team members.

Colleagues will look to them for leadership and reassurance — two things that can go out the proverbial window when the pressure becomes too much to handle.

How does this differ from the traits needed for a leader within project management? Here’s A Look At The Most Important Leadership Traits and Qualities They Should Possess.

A reminder on what project managers do:

Project management is about defining the daily tasks required to achieve a project’s objective and making sure they’re completed.

Project managers empower teams to deliver projects to deadline and within budget, taking responsibility for a project’s plan, development, progress, and — ultimately — its success. 

what makes a good project manager - empower

This involves creating a well-considered plan for a project’s flow based on the work required, the resources available, finances, and other key factors.  


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This means that the key management skills a project manager needs are:

An empathetic mindset:

Project managers deal with people across different departments, undertaking different tasks. Each individual has their own strengths, weaknesses, hang-ups, fears, and personal issues. This means that some will find achieving their goals easy, while others will struggle. 

As a project manager, handling team members without the right skills, knowledge, or confidence to play their part in a project can be difficult.

But showing your frustration is likely to alienate them and affect their abilities to complete the work expected of them. 

Furthermore, project managers should be empathetic to the needs of their own managers, shareholders, users, manufacturers, and anyone else a project’s success affects. It can be something of a plate-spinning act, but this will likely come naturally to someone with an empathetic mindset.

A feel for effective negotiation:

Compromise may be necessary to bring any project to successful completion.

The needs of one individual or team might have to be overlooked for the sake of the entire project, which can lead to interpersonal strife. 

But a good project manager is adept at negotiating with others in a calm, rational way.

Even when the stakes are high and a deadline’s racing towards them, project managers must have the skills to settle issues for the good of the project itself. 

Again, this relates to empathy and being able to see situations from different perspectives. 

Ability to deliver at pace by integrating relevant tools into team workflow

Project management software and other tools play a key part in a project manager’s work. They should either have experience using such software or an ability to learn — fast.

Using a tool like airfocus for roadmapping is a major aid to the successful completion of a project, helping managers keep track and assess progress with minimal effort. 


This may cover a short space of time (a couple of weeks, several months) or a longer period (years, if need be), aligning all departments and providing vital visibility throughout.

Making decisions fast: 

The ability to make decisions quickly is just one part of what makes a good project manager. Of course, anyone can choose between multiple options with all the necessary facts to hand, but only a good project manager can weigh up information properly before deciding what’s best. 

A lot of this has to do with confidence and competence. Project managers need their fair share of both. However, it’s a delicate matter, as arrogance may lead them to assume they know the facts without actually doing their research. And this can cause them to make the wrong decision.

Essentially, what makes a good manager when fast decisions are required is putting ego aside, focusing on what matters, and knowing how to devise an effective plan to achieve the proper result.

Being a team player:

No project manager can afford to underestimate the value of being a team player.

They may be in a position of authority and take responsibility for bringing a project to a successful end, but they need to remember they’re part of the wider team.  They should be able to engage with colleagues at all levels, recognize the worth of each department and individual, and know how to keep teams united in their common quest. 

An approachable manner:

Finally, another key element of what makes a good project manager is approachability.

Team members want to know the door is always open, and they can be honest about their work. 

For example, if someone feels they’re struggling to play their part in a project and needs help, it’s crucial that the manager is accommodating. 

Otherwise, workers may keep their concerns and doubts so private they jeopardize the project’s stability. An efficient project manager makes an effort to check in with team members and ensure workflows effectively. Any difficulties that arise should be handled as a group, with honesty and openness, drawing on different individuals’ skills to resolve issues.

So, we now know what makes a good manager, whether that involves products, projects, or any other form of management.

These 15 traits are all essential qualities in managers who are honest, accessible, inspiring, able to lead, care about their colleagues, and do everything within their power to achieve the target outcome. 

But let’s not forget: management is a learning process. 

what makes a good manager - learn

Managers will have good days and bad days.

Sometimes, they’ll need to ask others for help. They might have difficulties with a new tool or run into motivational dead-ends. Yet, they should always be willing to grow and rise to a challenge.

With strategizing, communicating, solving problems, identifying last-minute changes of direction, and more to consider, management isn’t always simple.

But the right attributes can make it easier.

Valentin Firak

Valentin Firak

CRO @ airfocus
Valentin loves going after opportunities, whether this means saving the planet or getting priorities straight for the company – he's in it to win it. Valentin is the co-founder and CRO at airfocus. ...more
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