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Career lessons from APM’s Project Professional of the Year

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Jimmy Nguyen is a project manager at Turner & Townsend, where he worked on the Bromford & Castle Vale Flood Risk Management Scheme for the Environment Agency. He was praised by APM’s Awards judges for his successful dealing with stakeholder pressure, garnering support from the local MP and forming a high-performing team to deliver the project for the overall benefit of the local community. Here he shares the secrets to his career success… 

How did you get into project management?

I did a Masters in chemical engineering and got on the graduate scheme with Severn Trent, working on water and wastewater projects involving different infrastructure projects. I liked the business side of things and working on projects that were just dealing with the people, so I knew very early on that I wasn't going to stay in engineering. After I became a chartered engineer, I took a couple of APM courses and really enjoyed it. Two elements always stuck out, which were the stakeholder elements of it and the leadership element. I told myself very early on that if I really focused on these two and made them a key skill, perhaps that would make me the best project manager. I've just kept those two at the forefront and it's served me well. After that, I joined my current company… I've enjoyed it because I know that I'm doing something that benefits not just me or my company but there is a wider societal benefit.

So, what motivates you in your work?

It's about working for a company and different projects where I know that I'm making a difference… By and large you are building things that people will be using for generations but particularly on the project I'm working for, I know that it is going to improve the environment around me and have a direct impact on people… I always wonder what I can learn from other people, and how I can share that with others and improve on things from a personal level and also from a project level. I really enjoy mentoring or line managing people and learning from senior managers trying to share that.

What advice do you have for people looking to get ahead?

Focus on yourself and try to be the best version of yourself, and that for me is through learning, and taking pride in trying to be the best. I always ask myself how can I improve? I say to my project team or the people I'm managing that I want to get them to be better than I am. I think that helps break down barriers because they know that you're not just doing fulfilling a job, you're trying to go out of your way to help others. I've got to where I am in my career because people have opened doors for me and networking is such a big element of project management. It's not about how many people you know but how many people you can introduce to others, because it's better to focus on how you can help others.

Maybe have a bit of empathy — it all comes down to collaboration. If you understand where the other person's coming from, you understand where you can help them, and also they can understand your point of view and the longer term benefits of what we are trying to strive for and improve, such as inclusivity and diversity. That starts with just having conversations and understanding the other person. 

If everyone tried to work on those elements, I think projects will be delivered better, collaboration will be better and it will help organisations achieve whatever long term strategy they're looking for. 

What did you learn from the project you were nominated for?

I adopted a very open approach and what I mean by that is no matter where you were or who you were within the projects and the organisation across the client, consultant contractor, I would be approachable to them and I focused on just making sure that we were one team, because if one of us failed, everyone fails. I said if we don't deliver this together, none of us would get the success.

From a process point of view, I was trying to document and share lessons. If we had a challenge on a particular project, we put it down on paper, and whenever there's success, we put it down as a learning. You can just do that by having a one pager saying we had this problem, this is how we dealt with it; this is the success. We just shared that across the business. 


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