Top 20 Skills for Digital Project Managers

Written by Peter Sena | @petesena



If you work in project management today, you are most likely dealing with digital content. Some project managers come from design or development backgrounds, but more often than not, they have little training in the world of digital. As someone who comes from a design and development background, here are some tips and must-have skills that will make your team love and respect you.

1) Content writing and editing skills

Content is and has always been king. Being able to write and edit will make you an invaluable member of your team. Time is super scarce, no matter how many people are on your team. Whether it’s writing a brief for a designer, a blog post for the agency or an email to a client, writing skills are crucial. As are editing skills. Have you ever seen designers try to write? It’s not pretty (usually). A good project manager should be able to transform the words of a designer or developer into something compelling and readable.


HTML and CSS are the front-facing languages of the Internet. If you’ve done anything online, then you are already dealing with HTML. Being able to edit or write HTML is a great skill for helping designers or developers in a pinch. The more you know, the more you are empowered to help others. Sometimes, simple tasks such as being able to format content for the web, adding text, images and the occasional embedded YouTube video will make a world of difference to developers., and w3schools are all great sites for picking up HTML.

3) FTP

File transfer protocol is a common way to connect to servers and file systems locally and on the web. Every project manager understands Dropbox, but having a working knowledge of FTP will set you apart. Picking up and delivering assets is made possible by connecting with a free FTP program like FileZilla or Cyberduck. My personal favorite is transmitfor Mac, which comes with a small but well-deserved price tag.

4) Analytics & Reporting

Data is the currency of the future. Project managers need to understand how to collect that data and interpret it. The most accessible starting point is to learn Google Analytics. The Google Analytics platform is widely accepted as the industry standard — it’s intuitive and well documented. Installing analytics code on sites is easy, and Google’s step-by-step guide makes it almost impossible to screw up. Keep in mind, being able to set Google Analytics doesn’t mean anything if you don’t understand the reporting. Google offers a free online course on how to use their entire platform here. After taking in all of that information, you can also become a certified analytics professional. Being Google Analytics certified carries much more weight in this industry than you might think.

5) Information Architecture

Project managers aren’t expected to be usability experts or spend their days wireframing user experiences, but understanding how to audit and classify information is going to be a greatly appreciated skill. Being able to logically categorize and structure information is a must since the team expects to spend their time designing and developing, not managing information. Remember, it is always a project manager’s job to make sure that every member of the team can do their job effectively. Simple tools like POP, Frame Box or Gliffy can aid in the process.

6) Knowledge of Content Management Systems

WordPress, ExpressionEngine and Drupal are three of the most popular content management systems. For the most part, once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. Understanding the theory behind content management systems is important; some content is editable and some is hard coded into templates. Being able to create, edit and publish content via a CMS is a great skill to have. By being able to input images, copy and other pieces of important content into a system, you’re saving a developer many tedious hours.

7) Social Media

Understanding the various platforms for publishing and managing social media is an invaluable skill to have. Everyone is trying to build a social presence — be it a Facebook page and Twitter profile or a full-blown stack of social properties. Project managers need to know content limitations and what is possible for the various platforms. Many people use additional tools for social media ranging from Hootsuite and TweetDeck to more enterprise software like Radian6 or Virtue. Having a working understanding of these tools is helpful, but truly impactful project managers will know which tools they prefer and why.

8) SEO

Search engines still dominate the digital discovery process. Being able to increase your property’s ranking in search is a great skill to have. SEO is all about creating and connecting great content in a way that helps increase the relevance in search engines. Understanding how coding, content and page linking work together to help drive higher placement in the search engines will benefit any project you manage. Generally, designers and programmers will omit this if not encouraged. If you’re just getting started, SEOmoz is a great site and software as a service (SaaS) tool for learning and optimizing SEO experiences.

9) Keynote/PowerPoint

Telling compelling stories in an organized fashion is the basis of most marketing strategy today. Being able to whip a presentation deck into shape is a great asset to have. The Nancy Duarte book “slide:ology is a great resource for learning this art. Tools like Prezi, Slide Rocket orHaiku Deck are all web-based platforms chock-full of starter templates.

10) Presentation Skills

Being able to deliver an attractive, concise, cohesive story is going to set you apart. Great presentation skills are the differentiator between a leader and a behind-the-scenes manager. Presentation skills can make a mediocre PowerPoint looks great and vice versa. No one will remember how good a slide deck looked; they will remember how they felt about the person presenting the information.

11) Photo Editing Skills

There are plenty of online, easy-to-use editors for cropping, resizing and tweaking colors. Being able to make simple image tweaks or create mastheads helps to greatly improve editorial efficiencies. It also increases designer morale 200 percent.

12) Marketing Speak and Technology Lingo

This might sound obvious, but speaking the appropriate language is going to help you comprehend and contribute more effectively to the conversation. Things like understanding what jQuery is and how it helps increase interactivity on a page resulting in deeper engagement and increased form conversion rates will earn you the respect of your clients and teams alike.

13) An Eye for Detail

It might have you smirking and saying, “well, duh,” but I see so many projects from large, well-respected organizations launching with blatant issues. Issues such as spelling errors, broken links or flawed interactions can easily be caught by a detail-oriented project manager.

14) Organization

Proper housekeeping internally will pay dividends when it comes to the timeline of a project. Simple tasks often take triple the time due to inefficiencies in the file naming and workflow stages. At times, designers and creatives aren’t aware of the bigger picture when organizing their work. It is the project manager’s job to step in and make sure that protocol is being followed.

15) Understanding of Formal Project Management Methodologies

There are entire schools of thought on how to approach projects from a life cycle perspective. Formal knowledge of Waterfall, Scrum and Agile are great skills to have. Projects differ in needs and complexity, but an understanding of the different ways to handle an assignment will make you a hero to the client, your team and agency leadership. Knowing your way around popular tools like Basecamp, Liquid Planner or Pivotal Tracker will increase your value as a project manager as well.

16) Vendor relationships and strategic partnerships

Sometimes you can’t handle everything in-house due to specific skill limitations or simple bandwidth issues. Having the ability to seek out and qualify vendors is a great skill to have. Having a Rolodex of people is even better. Being able to manage external vendors and freelancers is an art form in itself.

17) Knowledge of Modern Technologies and Emerging Platforms

Understanding the possibilities of what can be done is integral to a project manager’s job. Being a project manager in the age of digital means you need to be up to speed on all elements of technology from API’s to SaaS platforms. If technology is foreign to you at first, that’s OK. Get close with your tech teams — they will be your best friends and guides in the digital space. They’re happy to share their passions.

18) Negotiation Skills

Time is finite, and so are deadlines. A great project manager knows how to mitigate risk and work with their team and client to control scope changes and constricting deadlines. A project manager needs to be able to negotiate rates with vendors, timelines with clients and expectations with internal teams.

19) Fiscal Responsibility

Businesses don’t run on great code or pretty designs. They run on the money that those pretty designs and great lines of code bring in. A great project manager understands the implications profit margins and the impact that time has on the bottom-line. This understanding goes into their day-to-day management as well as how they resource and scope projects.

20) Positive Outlook

I’m no motivational speaker or Oprah Book Club author, but a positive outlook plays a massive role in being a great project manager. As a PM, you are the glue that holds the project and the team together. When something goes right, it’s always someone else that gets the credit. And when something goes wrong, it is always your fault. Maintaining a smile in both situations is critical.

If you have someone on your team that you wish had all 20 skills, maybe seeing this in your Twitter feed will motivate them a bit. If you think there is anything I missed, feel free to drop me a line on Twitter @petesena.