6 Potential Career Paths for Digital Project Managers

The Digital Project Manager career path may not be as clear as some other professions, but there are great options.

I love being a Project Manager. There. I said it. I love my job for several reasons, but a big one is that I get to be a generalist. I have experiences that vary widely every single day, and there are always new and different challenges. I know my experience isn't unique. You can see from these articles by Kelly and Emily that the talents and skills we look for in our Digital Project Managers (DPMs) are likely to result in someone that enjoys getting to do a little bit of everything.

Unfortunately, as much as I love being a generalist, it can feel limiting for some folks. Not having a speciality makes identifying the next step in a career fairly murky. DPMs need to be fearless and ambitious and ready to tackle anything...so naturally they are going to look for how they can keep growing.

With every day as a DPM providing a new and different challenge, learning experiences are frequent within the role. However, after years of being in the DPM role, there may come a time to think about what's next. I'm afraid the general lack of understanding of how your career might advance as a DPM could be a deterrent for great people jumping into this role in the first place. To help with that, I've identified five career paths I've seen DPMs take.

Quick aside before we jump in: I see these as natural next steps in a career that started with project management that utilize many of the skills needed to be a successful DPM. These are by no means the only direction a DPM could go. By having exposure to so many elements of the digital world, DPMs are in a great position to pivot careers at any time and maybe explore user experience design, development, or any other role they've interacted with during their career. That's just another great benefit of being a DPM!

Operations

Excellent For DPMs that...:

  • Truly pride themselves (and geek out about) their organization skills.

  • Can make decisions quickly and effectively.

  • Are problem solvers. People that can analyze a situation and find the solution no matter how complicated it seems.

Our VP of Operations used to do some Project Management in Viget's early days. As Viget grew and she was able to specialize a little more, heading up Operations made a ton of sense. In addition to her HR and contract writing/reviewing duties, she also focuses on staffing teams, both near term and long term, as new projects come down the pipe. She also leads our resource planning meeting in an effort to make sure nobody is overbooked on projects. In this capacity, she needs to be able to work with our Directors to get the right people on projects and solve complicated jigsaw puzzles involving a plethora of unknowns and individual project and team requirements. Her work in HR and contracts also requires a lot of attention to detail, tough conversations, and open discussions with new hires. It's a job that requires patience, but a rewarding one that let's you have a big impact company wide.

People Management

Excellent For DPMs that...:

  • Appreciate the "mediation" part of the job, helping others communicate more effectively with each other.

  • Place a great emphasis on helping others to succeed.

  • Enjoy sticking up and fighting for their teams.

It should be no surprise that my manager was once a full time DPM herself. And in fact, that's very typical of Viget - in almost all cases, our managing team Directors are promoted within, having first worked on the team they are now managing. This natural progression is not why I list it as a career though. The reason it's on the list is because the skills you develop and hone as a DPM can help make you an exceptional manager. The communication skills you build, the work you put in listening to team members or clients, and figuring out how to best answer or address their questions -- all of that makes you well-suited to help manage others in their career.

Account Management

Excellent For DPMs that...:

  • Put a premium on cultivating a strong client relationship.

  • Find it natural to think about "what's next" for a website, product, or client.

  • Are looking to focus more on the higher level aspects of an account at an organization level.

A major piece of project management is building and sustaining relationships. If that's what you love most about your job, moving into account management could make a lot of sense. Account Managers focus more on thinking about what's ahead for their clients, and how your company can continue to help. There's an emphasis on helping the client, and providing value for the client outside of one single project. An Account Manager is not in the day to day of a project. They typically are not influencing the direction in which a project goes but are helping to make sure the team is always working to optimize the tools and products the clients use the most and ensure the client is getting value out of their digital tools and properties.  

Business Development

Excellent For DPMs that...:

  • Thrive on building plans from scratch and enjoy putting the building blocks together of how your company can solve the problems of your clients.

  • Consistently question whether a client-suggested solution or problem is the correct one and dig deeper to find the underlying issues.

  • Want to be a part of defining the solution more than being a part of the solution itself.

Business development sounds an awful like sales...and in many ways it is. But at Viget (and many other companies I hope), it's not about selling Viget to every client that contacts us. Most often it's about identifying the problems the client faces and determining if Viget is the right partner to solve those problems. Business development here at Viget draws many parallels to project management, making it a logical career jump at Viget. It's about working with people, building relationships, and setting up internal teams for success. How that is done is different between the business development and project manager roles, but for DPMs that like a quicker pace and interacting with many new and different people, business development can make a lot of sense.

Copywriter/Content Strategist

Excellent For DPMs that...:

  • Have found themselves naturally reviewing and tweaking content used for design comps/copy that's being entered into a CMS.

  • Know it's not just the words they type that matter, but the way those words makes the reader feel -- a critical skill for successful written communication with a client.

  • Naturally gravitate toward strategizing with team members on what copy should appear where on a site.

This may be one of the less obvious options, but I one I wanted to include because I think it can be overlooked. Written communication is one of the most important and most used skills a DPM has. Yes, our interactions with clients and team are most often through a digital, written medium, and honing our grammar and tone is key to success. But looking beyond that, DPMs are also often adept at understanding a client's goals and needs simply by talking with them. With the natural communication skills it takes to be a DPM, combined with an ability to tease out nuanced requirements, DPMs can be in a unique position to move into a role as a Copywriter or Content Strategist.

Digital Project Manager

Excellent For DPMs that...:

  • Love the new challenges that every day can bring as a DPM.

  • Can't get enough of working with a variety of people on a variety of projects.

  • Want to keep working across teams and clients to bring digital projects to life.

Because there is so much variety in the projects a DPM works on, the clients and teams a DPM works with, and the work a DPM does day to day, this is a career that can remain interesting and challenging years down the line. One way many DPMs at Viget grow and challenge themselves further is to take on additional responsibilities in addition to project management. Many DPMs here help with recruiting, business development, company initiatives, and even office management. There's a lot of ways to supplement your work as a DPM that can keep you engaged and happy throughout your career, making Digital Project Manager an excellent career option.

What other paths do you see at your agency for a DPM? What have I missed? Please chime in with comments below!

Becky Tornes

Becky manages digital projects from our Boulder, CO, office for clients such as Duke University, Volunteers of America, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Shure.

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