Project-Based Roles Across Industries: What an Art Curator and Digital Project Manager Have in Common
Rachel Heidenry, Former Digital Project Manager Apprentice
Learn how Rachel Heidenry, a Digital Project Manager Apprentice at Viget, has connected the dots between four different career paths.
Newspaper Reporter. Art Museum Curator. High School English Teacher. Digital Project Manager.
These seem like four distinct career tracks—and they are. But they also have a common thread. Each is project-based, managing temporary tasks from beginning to completion. A journalist might spend six months researching and writing an investigative article and, once published, move on to the next story. Likewise, a curator may collaborate with an artist for a year and then jump into a new concept as soon as the exhibition opens. A high school teacher comes up with new lessons and assignments for a fresh set of students every year. And digital project managers are constantly working with new clients to make sure a website redesign or product build is delivered on time and within budget. In reality, all these roles are simultaneously planning or managing other projects, and juggling multiple ideas and responsibilities.
A project is a temporary and unique work unit with a fixed start and end. It could be a writing course, a company rebrand, a feature story, or a public art installation—so long as it has a set timeline or schedule.
If you’re like me and have contemplated a career switch, you might have googled "project management across industries” to discover the most transferable skills for project-based roles. While each of these jobs certainly requires industry-specific knowledge, the work is rooted in skills that translate across professions. These include fundamentals like setting deadlines and assigning tasks. They also involve a more nuanced set of skills that explain how a high school teacher and digital project manager have anything in common. Let's take a look at six examples of commonality.
- Distill Information Skillfully. If you've ever led a development sprint, taught world history, or planned a traveling exhibition schedule, you're probably good at distilling big sets of information into smaller, actionable items. Breaking down complex ideas into precise tasks is a core tenet of project management, aided by mastering handy collaboration tools like Notion, GitHub, or Google Workspace.
- Create Engaging Presentations. Whether lecturing about Shakespeare to sophomores or running a project kickoff meeting with clients, giving presentations is a huge part of running projects. And whether you call them decks or PowerPoints, crafting engaging and thoughtful presentations that capture your audience's attention and leave them feeling more knowledgeable and inspired is essential
- Communicate Effectively. Effective communication is not only a requirement as a project manager; it's arguably the most important skill to have. From writing articles and emails to sharing updates in a phone call or Slack, communicating clearly and succinctly is essential for any successful project to run smoothly, particularly when different stakeholders or audiences are involved. Bonus points for communicating in language that is approachable and accessible!
- Solve Problems Quickly. Newspaper reporters know that information and plans can change at the drop of a hat. Similarly, exhibition calendars or a web design timeline can shift instantly depending on a client's needs. Adapting quickly and creatively is a hallmark of a great project manager. And since you're already a stellar communicator, you'll know how to relay these updates gracefully.
- Manage Risks Thoughtfully. Thinking about everything that could go wrong on a project is never fun. Having the foresight to anticipate challenges is an essential asset for anyone working in project-based roles. Whether having a backup plan in case your internet goes out during an important client meeting or discussing additional security measures to protect artworks during a popular exhibition, preemptive planning for potential risks is vital to ensuring that projects run smoothly—and safely.
- Love Learning New Things. To take on new projects every few months, you have to be passionate about learning. Often, assigned projects pertain to unfamiliar topics. It's your job to become a mini expert in a client's business or educational subject, coming up with interesting angles to teach the topic or better communicate its story. A dedicated interest in learning and a desire for variety in your work is key for project-based roles.
If you read these six points and thought, "Yep, this totally describes me," you'd probably be great at managing projects. No matter your industry, developing and honing core project management skills should be essential to one's professional growth and a meaningful way to stay connected to a constantly changing world.