Authority vs. Influence

LeadershipLeadership is a frequent topic of discussion within the product management community. You won’t find much of a debate on the topic of whether product management is a leadership position, but you will find much discussion on the depth of the leadership. The discussion will span across whether product management should have people management responsibilities, whether they can be accountable for key performance indicators or just generally how to be a better leader.


In a recent webinar , David Locke suggested he though the product manager role was more accurately as titled as Product Leader. Perhaps David can comment as to why he thinks this title might be more accurate. He discusses this in the webinar around the 44 minute mark.


The product management leadership angst generally occurs when it appears like a lack of authority is blocking your plan. The reality is that your powers of influence are probably lacking.


If you know me (actually maybe no one knows this), I love word definitions. I look up one word a day, mostly due the fact that I had a history of not reading very much. I am reading much more now. Anyway, here is how the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines authority and influence. Actually they have a few different definitions for each word (of course they do), but I thought these were closer aligned to product management than the others.

Authority 2a: power to influence or command thought, opinion, or behavior

Influence 4: the power or capacity of causing an effect in indirect or intangible ways

From a product management perspective, I typically get nervous if you are managing a product and people. The people distract from the time that the product requires and not managing people will generally preclude you from the authoritative leadership you might be seeking.

The power of influence is perhaps the most important tool in your professional toolkit. It should be a skill that you are constantly working to improve. It blends in a number of your personal traits including likability, compassion, empathy and understanding. But it also requires that you put the effort on your end to be able to justify anything you might need. People can be more easily led if you use market-, fact-or customer-based evidence for your requirements.

I tell people that product management is 90% leadership and of that 100% will be by influence and supported by all your market sensing activities.

“You can influence lives for a lifetime of success by contributing to the foundation for the journey.” — Ivy Meadors

Again, I defer you to the two experts on the topic of product management and leadership:


Image Source: Bonner Center for Service and Learning

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    • http://twitter.com/evans_anna Anna Evans

      Understanding the difference in Authority and Influence makes all the difference in performance. The relevancy to Product Management can make the difference to success or failure. Thanks for your insight.

    • davidlocke

      In the webinar, I said that maybe the product manager job title should be changed to product leader. I say this because I differentiate between management and leadership. I did that throughout the webinar. I do not believe that a manager is a leader. They might be a leader, but being a leader is independent of being a manager. Managers have authority. Leaders do not need authority.

      Product managers do not have authority, so manager is definitely the wrong word. In a corporation there are three people who lead matrix teams: the CEO, the product manager, and the project manager. The latter two have no authority. Notice that we do not call the CEO a manager.

      The authority issue generates many comments and tweets about how product managers are too distant from their metrics, and lack the means to affect those metrics. That is victimhood that starts with the word “manager.”

      I've seen too many product managers fail to manage and beyond that fail to lead. These product managers focus on their product owner tasks and lose sight of the big picture. These product managers get stuck in the reactive mode and never escape to become proactive. This of late. The product managers I worked with back before the dot boom were proactive, and not reactive. They led. They didn't manage. IT people manage themselves. They need leadership, not management. And, product managers need to get away from the reactive and get on with the proactive. Being proactive reduces the need to be reactive.

    • davidlocke

      My comment about using the term “Product Leader,” rather than “Product Manager,” was not the point of the webinar.

      The goal was to talk about the necessity of leadership, and how to go about gaining influence, so the product manager could lead. We already do these activities. And, these activities are the same activities that we would do when we align our team to strategy.

    • http://twitter.com/chrisboothe Chris Boothe

      In both Project Mgmt and Product Mgmt influence can lead to building consensus. As with any negotiation someone needs to lead from a position of leverage.

    • rcauvin

      David, I think you're the one who is hung up on concepts like “authority” and “manager”. Even if you come at things completely from a “leadership” perspective, you should come to the same conclusions I do.

      Fundamental to leadership is enablement. I.e., the best leaders are those who empower and enable others. Leaders provide people with tools, process, information, cultivation of their strengths, and even emotional support.

      But there is another critical ingredient to enablement. Great leaders themselves need enablement. It sounds romantic to assume that leaders singlehandedly pull themselves up by their bootstraps and overcome all obstacles. The reality is that leaders excel when they are empowered with the same types of ingredients they provide to the people they lead.

      Thus it really has nothing to do with authority or management as some sort of formal, carrot-and-stick power. It has everything to do with a corporate environment that enables product managers to lead. When executives don't understand product management, when they don't understand that the typical departmental structure serves as an obstacle to effective product management, product managers are not enabled.

    • http://www.strategicproductmanager.com/ Stewart Rogers

      Thanks for your feedback!

    • http://www.strategicproductmanager.com/ Stewart Rogers

      Thanks for the comments David and Roger.

    • http://www.strategicproductmanager.com/ Stewart Rogers

      Chris, the word consensus can be troubling to leadership. Margaret Thatcher had some great quotes about consensus.

      “To me, consensus seems to be the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies. So it is something in which no one believes and to which no one objects.”
      Margaret Thatcher

    • http://www.strategicproductmanager.com/ Stewart Rogers

      Thanks for your feedback!

    • http://www.strategicproductmanager.com/ Stewart Rogers

      Thanks for your feedback!

    • http://www.strategicproductmanager.com/ Stewart Rogers

      Thanks for the comments David and Roger.

    • http://www.strategicproductmanager.com/ Stewart Rogers

      Thanks for the comments David and Roger.

    • http://www.strategicproductmanager.com/ Stewart Rogers

      Chris, the word consensus can be troubling to leadership. Margaret Thatcher had some great quotes about consensus.

      “To me, consensus seems to be the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies. So it is something in which no one believes and to which no one objects.”
      Margaret Thatcher

    • http://www.strategicproductmanager.com/ Stewart Rogers

      Chris, the word consensus can be troubling to leadership. Margaret Thatcher had some great quotes about consensus.

      “To me, consensus seems to be the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies. So it is something in which no one believes and to which no one objects.”
      Margaret Thatcher

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