Which is higher up, a senior PM or Principal PM?

Relatively new to the PM role and currently a senior PM. My company also has Principal PMs. Which one is higher up?

I eventually want to be Director of Product and manage PMs. Is a senior or principal closer to becoming Director?



Principal is usually a PM track for people who don’t want to be managers. So basically the highest IC PM role you can get. A director is not a IC and managers PMs.


Principal is usually a PM track for people who don’t want to be managers. So basically the highest IC PM role you can get. A director is not a IC and managers PMs.


Yeah all seems org dependent.

Senior manager in one org was title for the executive level.

Whereas senior manager in another was equivalent of a team leader level.


This. Typically directors and principal PMs are on the same level, but principals are ICs and directors are people managers.


I’ve also seen Principal be the PM role that gates into People Manager roles like Staff, Manager, Director with Senior steps in between.


Senior PM is the highest level before going through a cross road between IC and people management track.

On the individual contributor track, Principal PM is the highest level (one level above Senior PM).

On the people management track, next level above Senior PM is the Group PM, Director of Product, VP of product, Head of Product, and CPO. Companies may not use some of these titles and have their own organizational structure.


Principals are the ones who have seen it all. Like an old salty sea captain who isn’t surprised when the kraken shows up. Been there, killed it with a shoe oddly enough. Usually missing a limb or an eye and mumbling. (Proud principal)


@Naomi, Salty sea captain is the most accurate and vividly hilarious description ever. :smile:


@Angela, Superb. This response should be Pinned and added to Wiki.


Feels like this should be available information in your org? Is the career track that undefined that you’re unsure which of you has seniority?

How new are you? I’m curious how new you could be to the discipline but already be at a Senior level and how that reflects on the relative “levels” at your org?


Either way, as most have said, Principal is the IC track and one of the options from Sr., but a lot is org. dependent.


Principal is higher, but, typically the products principal’s work on aren’t as fun (to me). They’re typically very intricate and tedious when it comes to changes. However, in my experience senior PM’s get to work with newer products that aren’t successful yet and have the ability to run some more 0-1 motions. To me this is incredibly fun. Obviously, this isn’t the same everywhere… but in the past four companies I’ve been at, this is how things go:

  • management track - making slide decks and strategy docs
  • principle - working with intricate products that lean really heavy on quantitative data to make feature decisions
  • senior - work on 0-1 products and features (this is the most like being a founder because you are doing everything)
  • PM - probably having your work reviewed in some way or it’s going through a filter

Principal = We need to find another level for a senior PM to gravitate to, while not allowing him to become a director or vp of prod (aka still shovel the shit while not paying them more).

The entire “principal” concept is dumb, especially for product management. Principal, generally means one (or highest) and I’ve seen companies with multiple “principal” PM’s and it’s just another way to keep you from true leadership.

The principals I’ve interviewed are many times no better than 3rd to 5th year PMs and they seem to just be focused on one area and haven’t been very flexible… many times they were the only product dude/dudette at their org. Calling them principal was a designation to keep them in the game.

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If things are not clear then sorry to say but it seems your org is not so mature from a product sense. I worked once for a company that gave principal titles to some that never worked in product just to reflect it in the salary as the pay was bad. But in reality they did the exact same job (no strategy, no discovery)….

Its nice for the title but I would figure out how much you really learn and if there is a difference in responsibilities. Only by this you will move into a director role.

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@Jeus, Check my comment, I agree 100,000%. The principal thing is just a snooty title & most that have it don’t deserve it, so it’s more of a red flag to me than a sign of true prowess.

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