I have been lucky over the years to have hired a lot of first time product managers. What I’ve learned is that if I can find people with particular personality traits, regardless of their backgrounds, I can help them become great product people.
Intelligent: A product manager needs to be able to think both strategically and tactically, but more than that, they need to be able to switch between those two modes quickly. A product manager has to be able to identify large, often hidden, problems or trends and be able to see how they fit into the larger narrative of their customers’ world. They also need to be able to then come up with a way of breaking that large problem down into a very real and very actionable set of steps to resolve it.
Empathetically Articulate: The ability to think strategically and tactically isn’t very useful if the product manager can’t get people to both understand the solutions and motivate them to action. A good product manager needs to be able to explain the issue, solution and benefits in a way that is consistent, but unique to each audience. A product manager needs to be able to speak to an executive just as easily as they can to a developer. Product managers lead by influence because they depend on other people and departments to develop, deploy, sell, market, and use their solutions while having no direct control over them.
Insanely Curious: To me this is the most important trait a product manager needs to have. I describe myself as having a “DNA-level hatred of stupid”, but that’s just a different way of saying I need to figure out why something doesn’t work as well as it should. The role of product manager is a difficult one because to be able to identify real problems, you have to first be to identify when the status quo isn’t right. People are great at adapting to their environment, so, more often than not, people will eventually accept “there isn’t a better way” and just go on with their lives. “Curious” people are driven to find a better way. Usually, the bigger the opportunity to make a difference, the longer it takes to change people’s expectations/behaviors and it requires a product manager to be tenacious to the solution. The “insane” part of the curiosity is what helps the product manager get past these challenges, because they get driven to figure out how to get people change as much as they do about the what they are trying to fix (and thus are often described as crazy)
I have been known to make an exception on “curiosity” if I find someone who is “insanely competitive” and put them in a team of “insanely curious” people because the competitiveness to not be “the least curious person” will drive the same outcomes.