How does an engineer transform into a project manager with an eye on what a business wants? Or drive a project to solve a major environmental issue?
I wouldn’t be where I am today without my background in electrical engineering, but it was the business management side of my double degree that propelled me into project management. This move got me thinking about the commercial aspects of engineering and what drives businesses to invest in a particular project.
My first engineering position was at ABB, a pioneering technology leader. ABB gave me the opportunity to gain a solid foundation in engineering and also exercise my business skills. Not only did the broader scope add more value to my role, it also made me realize I wanted the autonomy to shape the direction of projects – and the way to do that was to become a project manager.
My initial exposure to project management courses was fairly low level. It helped build a certain amount of knowledge, but I never had the full picture. That’s why I chose to study and certify in PRINCE2® Foundation and become a Registered Practitioner independent of my employer. The course didn’t disappoint and gave me the complete overview I was looking for.
The emphasis on practical examples was particularly helpful in making the transition from theory to application in the real world. But the main thing I took from the course was the importance of project governance; why it is vital that an independent team manages quality and the use of a stage/ gate process to ensure the project continues to be aligned with the overarching business strategy.
Getting certified certainly ticks a box from an employer’s point of view. It shows them that you have achieved a certain standard and level of knowledge in managing time, people, resources and so on. More importantly however, I also gained a complete understanding of the project management approach, which I could subsequently put into practice with confidence, rather than relying on bits and pieces of information.
There are many things I find enjoyable about my job. One of the most positive aspects is the opportunity to help people in their careers whilst achieving project targets. As a project manager, you have the resources and budget at your disposal to make decisions which have a significant impact on others. Understanding what individuals in your team need for their development, giving them the opportunity to step up, and then seeing them and the project hit goals is hugely rewarding - particularly if they thought it might not be possible at the beginning.
So too is making a positive difference in the wider community. This is particularly true for my current project at CitiPower Powercor which is focused on bushfire mitigation in Victoria, Australia. We are implementing a world-first technology designed to tackle the risk of bushfires being started by fallen power lines. The successful implementation of this new technology here may also benefit other vulnerable regions globally, such as California.
The people factor
It is also exciting to work with people from different backgrounds and tap into their wide-ranging experience in the industry. I value what everyone in my team has to say and have personally learnt a great deal from speaking to the people doing the field work. It’s not necessarily a requirement of my job but by understanding project issues from their perspective, the solutions I bring to the table are effective and practical. That would never happen if I only had one narrow view and wasn’t willing to empathise, change and adapt to the situation. Yes, there must be an element of control in guiding the project to the strategic goal, but it’s also about being willing to consider others opinions and views with an open mind. Constantly adapting in this way means you can keep making improvements and achieve the goal.