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Director of Product vs. Product Manager: What’s the Difference?

Want to learn what differentiates a director of product from a product manager? Although the two appear synonymous, there are some things that make them different. Keep reading to find out!

In a nutshell, product managers gather the needs and want of their customers and convey them to the sales and development team to ensure the delivery of a fully functional product. In contrast, the director of product oversees the product management team though out the entire development life cycle by providing leadership and project management.

This article provides insight into significant differences between the two roles, including their responsibilities, salaries, and what you need to do to get to both positions.

Let’s jump right in!

Product Manager vs. Director of Product: What They Do

Product managers’ primary duties include but are not limited to gathering and prioritizing clients’ needs, confining product features, specifying the metrics for the success of the product, and translating product requirements to software development teams.

On the other hand, a director of product is accountable for overseeing and providing leadership to all levels in the product development process, from requirements elicitation to product launch.

This is just a brief overview of both positions for you. Below is a detailed description of both duties.

What Does a Product Manager Do?

Apart from the responsibilities mentioned above, a product manager is also accountable for defining the product vision and aligning all the stakeholders on board around such vision.

In order to make sure that the product serves the target market’s needs, they should consistently monitor the latest trends in the market and develop competitor analysis. 

During the stages of product development, a product manager must provide continuous customer feedback to the team and vice-versa. Furthermore, the product manager should narrow any gaps if there are disagreements or conflicts among team members regarding the ultimate product goals.

Some tactics to narrow such gaps include creating product roadmaps and having product vision and product features in the entire product lifecycle. 

Now you know the roles and responsibilities of the product manager’s job. Let’s move on with what the director of the product does in detail.

What Does the Director of Product Do?

Compared to a product manager, the director of product’s critical role is to guide product managers and all the product teams on delivering the ultimate product according to the client specifications, within budget, and within deadlines. They often lead by contributing to the product vision and overall product development process.

Some of the other tasks of a product director include collaboration and coordination with the marketing, sales, and engineering team, recruitment of new team members to the product development process, and assessing the critical performance metrics of the product.

Since the director of product has to work in a plethora of disciplines, it’s essential to have the skills and deep understanding of the niche they work in. More on this later.

Now let’s find out the circumstances where a product director and a product manager work collectively.

How do Product Managers and Directors of Product Work Together?

In a typical company hierarchy, you find project directors at the top level compared to a product manager, who often reports to the product director on the product development progress.

Both roles are involved in the management of resources, including team members, stakeholders, and product life cycle. However, the magnitude of work differs by an overwhelming margin. This is due to the fact the product directors involves in a superior level of work such as risk assessments and management.

A product manager, on the other hand, performs hands-on tasks, market research, working on product strategy, and supervising and guiding many cross-functional teams.

Product directors often assist product managers with common goals. They include but are not limited to stakeholder management, product management, fresh product ideas, parameters, and design creation. Furthermore, product directors help to track product goals with product managers and conduct market research to determine the demand for the product.

After reading so far, are you excited about a career as a product manager or product director? Read on to find out more.

Who Earns More: Product Managers or Directors of Product

The product manager and director of product roles are among the best 50 jobs in America, according to the Glassdoor website. It’s because the pay scale is lucrative and offers considerable prospects for career growth.

As per the data on salary websites like Glassdoor, a product manager earns anywhere from $62,000 to $146,000 per annum. Regardless of your industry, the companies set pay scales according to your experience. Thus it is understandable why experienced product directors earn a whopping $231,800 per annum, based on data from websites like Comparably. Others with lower seniority levels start their career as product directors with a starting salary of $174,000.

Becoming Product Manager vs. Director of Product

Let’s dive into the appropriate career path, skills, and, more importantly, the education you need to get there.

Career Path

Following is a potential career path for

A Product Manager:

  1. Junior Product Manager: A College graduate embarks on their journey into product management by entering an organization as a junior product manager. It would be best if you had a college degree with no experience or up to a year of experience. A recognized certification from a reputed industry-certified course provider helps if you have no experience. Most large companies also hunt for fresh university graduates.
  2. Associate Product Manager: With one to two years of experience as a junior product manager, the immediately available position is the Associate product manager. They earn a handsome figure of $82,000 per annum. Some of the tasks of associate product managers include communication with product stakeholders, leading the entire phases of the product development life cycle, and attending meetings.
  3. Product Manager: After you have gained experience for up to 3-5 years, you’re eligible to transition into a product manager role. As you guessed, you are likely to earn a salary beginning with $113,000.The beauty of breaking into this position is that you don’t necessarily have to emerge from the associate product manager. Even if you possess experience managing an engineering, development, sales, or marketing team, you still qualify for this position.
  4. Senior Product Manager: Product managers are eligible to become senior product managers after seven to eight years of experience, starting from the junior product manager. They earn up to $146,000 per anum and are accountable for multiple product management or managing an entire product portfolio.

In contrast, the following are the steps to becoming:

A Director of Product:

Since product management is a prerequisite for a product director, all the above career paths also apply.

  1. Product Director: After more than seven years of experience in product management, you qualify to be a product director. As mentioned previously, their starting salary ranges from $174,000 to $192,000. One of the significant tasks that most organizations overlook is the product manager’s ability to assess and analyze risks, as software development and engineering teams often confront threats. Therefore you need to leave the nitty-gritty stuff for product managers and manage threats on your shoulders.
  1. Chief Product Officer (CPO): At the top hierarchy of a product director, designation is the chief product officer or VP of product. Depending on an organization’s structure, they have one or both roles. They earn more than $200,000 per anum with additional incentives such as annual bonuses and stock options. Their primary responsibilities include aligning product strategy with organizational goals and managing the entire product development process.


Both these roles require exceptional communicational skills, technical skills relevant to software development, the ability to conduct research, and time management skills.

However, here are the unique skills for each position, starting with the product manager:

  1. Documenting technical specs and requirements.
  2. Knowledge of User Experience and its best practices to have higher customer success.
  3. Ability to take the initiative along with leadership skills.
  4. Delegation skills.
  5. Marketing skills.

The product director requires all the below skills and the skills specific to their role:

  1. Comprehensive knowledge and experience working with numerous phases of the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC).
  2. Hiring and firing of employees.
  3. Ability to identify risks and negate them at earlier stages.
  4. Extensive knowledge of the industry’s best practices.
  5. Administrative skills


Certifications allow you to stand out as a product manager from the rest of your peers who are applying for the same position. Here are some of the best industry-recognized certifications for product management:

  1. Product Manager Certification: This course teaches you the fundamentals of being a Product manager and how to stand out in interviews and the recruitment process.
  2. Certified Technical Product Manager: This course is once again ideal for product managers as it covers all the aspects of becoming a technical Product Manager.
  3. Certified Product Owner: In interviews, the primary learning materials include the fundamentals of the product owner role and how to dominate yourself as a product owner.

As far as product director is concerned, the above courses are ideal as you first need to become a product manager before becoming a product director. Then as you gain experience along with these certifications, it’s easier to become a product director. 

Final Thoughts

If you are planning to break into Product Management and then progress into Product development, the tips mentioned above and certifications are ideal. Therefore we recommend you first attempt the certifications courses and gain plenty of experience in product management before looking forward to a lucrative career as a product director.

Josh Fechter
Josh Fechter
Josh Fechter is the co-founder of Product HQ, founder of Technical Writer HQ, and founder and head of product of Squibler. You can connect with him on LinkedIn here.