The beauty of Search Engine Optimization is that a determined newcomer can become functionally knowledgeable in just a few months. Veteran status only takes a couple more years, but the education and training process never ends. There are plenty of fantastic resources for veterans and newbies alike. Most of them are free, but some of the best will set you back less than $100. In terms of access to information, the playing field is about as level as it gets.
So why are some SEO's more successful than others? It's not due to an imbalance of information or resources. Successful SEO's temper their search engine marketing expertise with what I call "The Five P's". When working in-house and with clients, I have found these 5 skills to be nearly as valuable as SEO experience itself. I will even go so far as to say successful SEO is not possible without them.
Any SEO effort is doomed to fail unless it is based on a solid foundation. Start with unambiguous, quantifiable objectives and work backwards, building out your strategies and tactics to make sure that everything you do helps accomplish the objectives in some way. Your success metrics should go beyond just "page one rankings" or "increased traffic". Carry the analysis as far as possible. Can you track online or offline sales by keyword? No? Then you still have some opportunity to improve. Maintain flexibility, because your SEO program will have to adapt to changing marketing conditions frequently. Build in some sort of accountability for anybody involved, including the designers, developers, marketers, consultants or analysts. Don't forget about your site visitors! They should always be your highest priority. Under no circumstances should your plans sacrifice usability or user experience (yes, they are different) for the sake of SEO.
Organic Search Engine Optimization takes time. To use an old cliche, "It's a marathon, not a sprint." Clients and in-house stakeholders should be educated to understand that results don't happen overnight. Good SEO's know there are several factors that can influence how quickly SEO changes can manifest themselves in improved rankings and increased traffic. Even so, we're still talking about weeks, months or years instead of minutes, hours or days. The key is to understand and utilize the levers at your disposal to speed up the process.
Although similar to patience, persistence will come in handy as you encounter obstacles. Don't be afraid to fail, but fail quickly. Each SEO program is different, so you should embrace trial and error. You will be working on multiple fronts, so the ability to multi-task and zoom in on tiny details from 30,000 feet and back out again is paramount. Unlike PPC or display advertising, there is not always a direct relationship between cause and effect. We're not necessarily looking for a 1:1 relationship, but trends will emerge that can provide insight into the success or failure of a certain campaign element.
I approach prioritization from two angles: SEO as a priority within marketing; and individual tactics as a priority within the SEO campaign. Search Engine Optimization is just one subset of online marketing, which is just a part of general marketing. By no means should it be your only source of traffic because your rankings and traffic can vanish in an instant. Weigh the costs and benefits as you would any other marketing initiative, then apply resources appropriately. Within the SEO campaign itself, break large tasks into small tasks to make them more manageable. Set short-term goals with a clearly defined outcome. Don't spend too much time obsessing about any one component of your campaign because there isn't one single silver bullet. The net effect is greater than the sum of the parts.
Unless you design, build, measure and promote a site yourself, the most important part of any SEO campaign might be your ability to persuade an audience. This is especially true for SEO consultants and in-house marketers. Step one is selling the benefits of Search Engine Optimization itself not only to the decision makers, but also to the people that will be implementing your recommendations. This involves working closely with other teams that might be competing for resources or priorities. Polish your communication skills and keep your focus on accomplishing the company's objectives without sacrificing the user experience. This is the path of least resistance to achieving buy-in, approval and support.
Last but not least, always over-deliver on your objectives and anticipated results. That's the best way to advance your career, retain existing clients and earn word of mouth recommendations to new clients.
What non-SEO related skills would you add to this list? Bonus points if it starts with a P.