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The latent project manager: do you have the hidden skills to succeed in the role?

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The current COVID-19 pandemic lockdown has provided an unprecedented opportunity for many project professionals to pause, recharge, reset and plan for a new uncertain post-pandemic world. I’ve personally used this time to reflect on a decade working in projects and all my achievements. It’s reminded me that I never set out to work in projects – I didn’t even realise whilst at school or university that it was a recognised job or profession! That’s why I initially felt I was an accidental project manager, who got lucky to fall into the role. However, I’ve come to realise I actually possessed the latent skills required to thrive in the role, so luck wasn’t such a factor and rather I naturally gravitated towards a profession that suited me.

With hindsight I first demonstrated these latent project management skills during the mid-2000s when I re-formed my old school rugby team, persuading former pupils/team mates (some of whom I’d not seen for years and based all over the country) to play regular games against established club teams back home in Bristol. Without knowing it at the time I was displaying key project management skills such as leadership to inspire a team to work to a defined objective (playing and winning a rugby match), developing a team (by collectively improving) as we played more games together, doing this within defined timescales (the date of the games) and within a limited budget (to procure kit, player insurance, etc). It was my enjoyment at organising these rugby games that convinced me to change from the more traditional ‘business-as-usual’ job I was initially doing to pursue a career in project management, a move that’s brought great success, enjoyment and one I’ll never regret.

To detail the journey and all the successes in this blog wouldn’t do it justice but in summary it stemmed from securing a place on the Network Rail graduate scheme, where I was sponsored to study an MSc in Project and Enterprise Management at University College London in 2009. Whilst studying there I produced a dissertation that researched the concept of emotional intelligence (EI) and how it facilitated collaborative working in project teams. The research used filmed footage of project staff during meetings working on the King’s Cross Station Redevelopment Programme in London to analyse EI competency related body language and behaviours. The success of this research led to a CIOB International Innovation & Research award nomination and I presented the findings at the 2012 CIB ‘Management of Construction: Research to practice’ International Conference in Montreal as I attempted to publish the research in an academic journal.

The dissertation research also led to my first recognised project management role working on the King’s Cross Station Redevelopment programme, for a project redeveloping the historic Western Range station building and constructing the new Western Concourse. I’ve since been fortunate enough to deliver several other types of large multi-million-pound engineering/construction infrastructure projects including; schemes to renew the signalling assets along an 80 mile stretch of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s historic Great Western rail line running out of London Paddington, as well as providing the new infrastructure to enable the introduction of additional train services through Cornwall.

I’ve also gained recognition from my project management peers over the last decade, through winning the Association for Project Management’s (APM) prestigious Project Professional of the Year award in 2016, judging their 2017 awards, being part of the APM’s first group of Chartered (ChPP) professionals, becoming an APM Ambassador, speaking at international project management conferences and being invited by the British Army to present/share project lessons at their Andover HQ (something I was honoured to do).

I’m therefore encouraged that 10 years on from when I started working in project management it is now a more recognised profession and respected career choice for any aspiring professional. This has been aided greatly by the APM recently gaining chartered status, as well as a multitude of qualifications they offer for those seeking a solid grounding in project management theory and basics. Now – unlike 10 years ago - you are also more likely to hear about project management at school (through the APM ‘Making it Happen’ campaign) or at university career fairs. A wealth of online resources (such as the APM Learning hub, webinars, blogs, Project journal), the APM Body of Knowledge, thought leadership research reports/papers (such as the APM Projecting the Future series) and many national networking events and conferences have also helped grow the profession.

I’m personally excited to see how the profession continues to develop and I’m certain it will continue to attract other talented latent project professionals to join the journey.


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