Product managers have a wide range of responsibilities. They conduct research, create a vision for a product, allocate project resources, solve problems with the production process, and communicate with stakeholders and the CEO. Because the job is demanding and no two projects are the same, imposter syndrome in product management is common.
Product managers can feel stressed, anxious, and incompetent, which are just some of the signs of imposter syndrome. But what is imposter syndrome? If you have it, how will it affect your chances to become a successful product manager? In this article, we will explain the syndrome and share some tips for overcoming imposter syndrome in product management.
What Is Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter syndrome is the experience of feeling like a phony or fraud. This syndrome makes you feel like you don’t belong in your role and that you only got there through luck. It can make you believe that you do not deserve success or even a career. These negative sentiments can leave you doubting your skills, questioning your abilities, and anxious about your worth.
Is Imposter Syndrome Common in Product Management?
Yes, imposter syndrome in product management is incredibly common. In an annual report on the state of the field, the product management software company ProductPlan found that around 40 percent of product managers experience imposter syndrome, and only eight percent have never experienced it.
How Imposter Syndrome Affects Product Managers
Trying new things and branching out in your career is scary and can make you doubt yourself. As a product manager, you can experience self-doubt when you begin work on a new product or start a new job. Even the best product managers have this feeling regularly, but they overcome it by being curious and welcoming the opportunity for constant learning.
Imposter syndrome overwhelms people with feelings of anxiety and stress. Product managers with imposter syndrome face the pressure of deadlines, and they experience anxiety and stress when they fall short of expectations. The most successful people in product management are able to use their anxiety as motivation to improve.
Because product managers need to have expertise in various areas, many of them think that they should never make mistakes. For these managers, nothing short of perfection is acceptable. While some think that this trait leads to better results, perfectionism can impede a product manager’s performance when it inflates their expectations.
What Causes Imposter Syndrome?
People with extremely high expectations are prone to holding themselves to impossible standards. These high achievers are susceptible to imposter syndrome because perfection doesn’t exist. Comparing yourself to the ideal typically leads to disappointment.
When you take on a new project, new task, or new responsibility, you may be surrounded by people who know more than you do. You might feel like they know everything, and you don’t know anything at all. In these cases, many product managers can be overwhelmed by fear of failure. So taking different approaches and adapting to new circumstances is key.
According to psychologist Albert Bandura, self-efficacy is a person’s belief that they will succeed at a given task. Product managers with low self-efficacy often feel like they aren’t doing the job right even if they provide good results. They will devalue themselves and view their success as a coincidence instead of feeling accomplished about the work they have done.
What Imposter Syndrome Looks Like in the Workplace
Project managers face a lot of pressure and high expectations in the workplace. Their colleagues and superiors tend to look at them as if they have all the answers, and they expect them to have current knowledge and an informed opinion on nearly every subject. All of these things can cause feelings of doubt and incompetence, clear signs of imposter syndrome.
It’s important to note that product managers are the ones who have to say no to stakeholders and clients. They also have to represent the development team in conversations with the CEO. While product managers have a lot of responsibilities, there is, unfortunately, no universal measure of success. This is why they tend to blame themselves when things don’t go well.
Can Imposter Syndrome Be Cured?
Yes, imposter syndrome can be cured. Because it’s not a mental health condition nor a recognized psychiatric disorder, it’s highly curable. It all boils down to your awareness. If you know you have it, there are concrete ways you can overcome it. In the next section, we share some strategies for dealing with imposter syndrome in product management.
Overcoming Imposter Syndrome in Product Management
Identify the Problem
The first step toward overcoming imposter syndrome is to acknowledge that you have it. If you are overwhelmed and start doubting your product vision or are wondering if you have the proper technical knowledge, you should ask yourself whether these thoughts are preventing you from working effectively. If the answer is yes, then you have imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome is closely related to perfectionism. If product managers don’t achieve perfection, they might start feeling incompetent and fraudulent. Unfortunately, perfection in the product development process is impossible. So instead of aiming for perfection, focus on progress, and remember that no product idea is perfect.
Self-confidence is what separates a successful product manager from one with imposter syndrome. No product leader knows everything, but the self-confident ones don’t let their knowledge gaps make them feel like frauds. You can cultivate self-confidence by focusing on how to make an amazing product rather than dwelling on what you don’t know.
If you struggle with imposter syndrome, it’s of the utmost importance to feel good about every accomplishment and acknowledge all your successes. There are always problems, and product managers are quick to blame themselves when they are not solved promptly. If you can’t even give yourself a positive performance review, you are likely to suffer from imposter syndrome.
If you feel like a fraud because you are not confident in your skills, it’s a good idea to improve them. You can sharpen your skills and learn new tools by reading product management blogs, enrolling in an online product management course, or joining a bootcamp.
How a Coding Bootcamp Can Help You Get Over Imposter Syndrome
Imposter syndrome can affect both beginners and experienced product managers, and both groups can benefit by joining a bootcamp and upskilling. Bootcamps are perfect for anyone looking to jumpstart or advance their careers. Learning the skills you seem to lack can make you more confident as you pursue different types of product manager roles.
Product managers in the IT world are the glue that binds together the engineering, design, operations, marketing, and sales teams. So if you are interested in learning more about the product development process, you can benefit from a project management bootcamp or a subject-specific bootcamp in any of these other areas.
Can Imposter Syndrome Be a Good Thing?
Yes, imposter syndrome is a good thing when it helps you see yourself more clearly. While it can cause high anxiety levels, feelings of inadequacy, a fear of public speaking, and even cognitive dissonance, these negative effects can be used constructively. Below are some ways in which people in product or project manager roles can either benefit or suffer from imposter syndrome.
Why Imposter Syndrome Is Good
- It can make you a more empathetic person and an active listener. Working as a project manager requires you to understand the needs of your team and your clients. Feeling that you haven’t done enough can make you put more effort into understanding others’ needs and be more compassionate. Empathy is one of the most essential soft skills a project manager needs for a healthy professional life.
- It can make you ask better questions. Insecure product managers often doubt their abilities. However, doubting your abilities can lead you to ask questions instead of assuming you know everything. Managers who ask good and engaging questions come up with better solutions because they learn more about the product.
- It can motivate you to upskill. Product managers sometimes get the feeling that they don’t know enough. So to improve, they develop new and better technical skills. This uncertainty motivates them to become better at what they do.
- It can lead to better results. If product managers seek training, ask good questions, and show a capacity for empathy, they will have better results.
Why Imposter Syndrome Is Bad
- It can lower your confidence. Product managers typically work in several different domains. The lack of skills or experience in a certain area can lower your confidence and cause your self-doubt to fester.
- It can make you question if the product is good enough. Sometimes imposter syndrome can give you doubts about your product. For example, when Reddit launched in 2005, it had zero visitors. But the Reddit team didn’t give up on its product, and it is now is one of the largest community networks.
- It can make you suspicious of your own success. Some accomplished people don’t get enough credit for what they do. They think that they are simply lucky or that anyone can do what they do. They do not acknowledge their achievements and devalue themselves.
- It can decrease your motivation to work. The feeling that you are not good enough, especially while others excel, can decrease your motivation. When thoughts of inadequacy affect your mental health in this way, it makes you worse at your job.
Don’t Let Imposter Syndrome Hold You Back
If you are a project manager, you know the stress and anxiety the job brings. The data shows that a lot of people feel the same way. According to peer-reviewed research, around 70 percent of people experience imposter syndrome at some point in their lives. If you can remember that you’re in good company, you will feel better prepared to overcome imposter syndrome.
Like most professions, product managers have constant doubts and insecurities about their abilities and skills. To overcome these feelings, you need to be aware of imposter syndrome, avoid perfectionism, acknowledge your successes, and upskill regularly.
Imposter Syndrome in Product Management FAQ
If imposter syndrome is a lack of confidence and self-efficacy, then the opposite is the Dunning-Kruger Effect. In a famous article published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, David Dunning and Justin Kruger explained that some people overestimate their values, skills, and accomplishments. Some psychologists refer to it as meta-ignorance.
Product managers experience imposter syndrome because of the demands of the job. You need to be an expert in various fields, know all the answers, and solve all the problems regarding the product you’re working on. You are also accountable to your boss, clients, and stakeholders. So to become a successful and seasoned product manager, you need to overcome these problems.
To manage imposter syndrome at work, your company can do several things. It can validate and encourage product leaders when they do a good job. It can find out what motivates them and teach them to trust their own successes. Finally, it can help product managers build confidence by paying for educational opportunities.
You can prevent imposter syndrome in product management roles by giving yourself credit for landing the job, learning to look at your professional achievements in a positive light, identifying what triggers your feelings of imposter syndrome, and developing an upskilling strategy to get better at your new job.
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