If I don't want to be a CPO or GM, what future executive role should I be shooting for as a PM?
I see a lot of PMs succeeding in startegy and operaitons roles. I have been tapped a few times for COO / Strategy & BizOps / Chief of Staff types roles because of the product background. Your ability to understand and connect the dots across business and customers, as well as manage stakeholders, is super valuable in all of those roles.
We often say that growth at Asana is more like a climbing wall than a ladder—you can choose different paths, get stronger with each foothold, and truly enjoy your journey along the way. That is doubly true for product roles. You get exposure to so many parts of the business that you may realize you want to go explore next.
It is also great training for anyone who aspires to be an entrepreneur or CEO of a large company. Andew Anagnost, CEO of Autodesk, advises all aspiring executives at his company to become a product manager at some point in their career. That's because it's the only role where you get to learn how to influence people without having any authority over them.
Lastly, it's a great career if you decide you don't want to be a manager or executive. Companies like Asana provide paths where you can achieve great success as an individual contributor. There's a financially rewarding path to becoming one of the world's experts in your chosen area without having to manage others.
PM is one of those unique roles that gives you so much exposure to many sides of the business. You could aim to move into almost any executive role with enough experience.
For example, if you're interested in sales, revenue, and marketing, you could align yourself to growth related products. You'll learn more about the business levers and operating dynamics. Start learning more about the teams, skillset, type of work. Learn more about the leaders, their priorities, their challenges. Volunteer to help out with some non-PM projects to get a better feel. This could set you on a path towards sales leadership, and possibly CRO in the future.
Or, in a similar vein, if you're a PM who loves enabling internal teams to do their best, learn about the metrics that drive that business. What are the levers that can be pulled to impact results? You're probably already thinking about how your product is contributing to that. Get closer to the teams, the leaders, the organizational structure. Meet with the COO and see if that's a path you'd be interested in pursuing.
Also, if you love product, you don't have to leave it. :)
The first question I'd ask is - what element of being a CPO/GM are you looking to NOT do? Second question - What do you like about being a PM that you want to bring along as an executive for the company? Then find a role that can reduce #1 and get you to do #2!
A few options that are interesting:
- Chief of Staff or work in the CEOs office for a variety of 'special projects'
- Chief Strategy Officer
- Lateral moves to COO or design leadership.
- Partner or integration management (fairly technical roles, could benefit from an R&D exposure)
If you enjoy Product, a typical path is either to become a people manager, remain IC, or quit to start your own thing. In big companies like Salesforce, there are plenty of Director level individual contributors (ICs), so if you don't want to manage other PMs, you are better off in a bigger company where you can focus on one specific product.