Debate

Is a Subject Matter Expert a Better PM?

Make yourself indispensable is a common piece of advice giving to those who are just starting out in their careers or trying to carve out a niche for themselves. You’d think that being a subject matter expert is the fastest way to being indispensable, but our poll this week suggests otherwise. We asked which makes a stronger PM: a subject matter expert or one who relies on others?

80% of respondents thought that she who relies on others is more likely to succeed, and both debaters lean in that direction also. Not convinced? Check out our pieces on the full stack PM, T-shaped people, and of course, our Anatomy of a Product Manager. Still think that a subject matter expert is better set for success? tell us in comments or write a piece about why!

Successfully Relies on Others

It’s hard to answer this one black or white either way, but if I had to choose I would start with someone that successfully relies on others in most cases. If a PM lacks that DNA, the likelihood of long-term success if a lot lower in my opinion. Almost every time I have seen a PM fail was when they were a hyper-strong subject matter expert, but lacked the ability to rely on others and lift the team. If they have the team dynamic at their core, they will become a subject matter expert overtime and be a great product manager.

Patrick Tickle
CPO, Planview
Successfully Relies on Others

It is harder to migrate from being a subject matter expert to a product manager with subject matter expertise, and, unfortunately, it is difficult to find subject matter experts that naturally have the self-awareness and desire to rely on others to own and execute efforts that manifest "their expertise" in "their product." While you would wish to find someone who has crossed that bridge and become both, those people are hard to come by and finding great product managers who rely on others is often a path to a faster "time to success" in a world where you can't find that perfect person.

Jeff Coyle
Chief Product Officer, MarketMuse
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