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Kick Start Your PM Career

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The University of South Wales, Newport Campus, hosted a motivational presentation from the APM Young Professional of the Year 2017, David Cross on the 19 February 2020. Supported by members of the SWWE Branch, David discussed why he had chosen Project Management as a career path and how he had benefited from this over the course of his career. Following these presentations, participants split into breakout sessions to discuss various PM topics. The theme of the event was entitled “Kick-Start your Project Management Career” and was aimed at individuals seeking to embark on a career in project management.

In his welcoming address Paul Johnson, the SWWE Newcomers Representative, set the scene for the evening by explaining the nature and structure of the event along with the proposed agenda. He went on to point out that the branch is one of the most active in the APM covering a large geographical area in the South West with nearly 3800 individual and 42 corporate members. The branch organises around 20 member events throughout the year suitable for all levels of experience. It continues to have extensive engagement with academia and corporate members alike providing many individuals with the opportunity to network with employers across many different sectors of industry.

Paul subsequently introduced David Cross, Rolls-Royce as the guest speaker for the event. David introduced himself as a Rolls-Royce Portfolio executive with their civil aerospace business. David studied Mechanical Engineering at Nottingham before joining Rolls-Royce as a Graduate. He currently lives in Derbyshire with Mrs Cross and their dog. David is currently an APM Finals Judge and was awarded APM Young Professional of the Year in 2017.
David gave a brief overview of Rolls-Royce and their focus of Business (they don’t make cars!):

  • Civil Aerospace
  • Defence
  • Power Systems

He also elaborated on Rolls-Royce’s future plans which are predominantly aimed at enabling Rolls-Royce to become Carbon-neutral; electric flight, small nuclear reactors and energy storage.

The main element of David’s presentation focussed upon him and his career, and how Project Management had supported his progression through the company. Joining Rolls-Royce as a graduate, David learnt the Rolls-Royce business through undertaking Quality, Buyer and Operations/Product roles before landing his first project management role. His role focussed upon the introduction of a new production facility that would rationalise and bring efficiencies to the parts and systems produced by Rolls-Royce. David successfully delivered this project and went on to deliver a number of programmes before being promoted into his current role as Portfolio Exec.

David’s key lesson learnt from this journey was to use the people around you and to continuously learn from them – a PM can’t do everything themselves, but they do need to know and build relationships with the experts that ‘do the doing’!

David finished his presentation by highlighting why, from his perspective, Project Management is a great career path:

  • Challenging – but you don’t need to be a rocket scientist
  • Variation – it isn’t about doing the same things over and over again
  • Personal contribution – you can leave your mark
  • Professionalism – you can shape best practice and support the professional body (the APM!)

After the presentations and lots of questions from the participants for David, Paul split the room into 4 groups to discuss the following topics:

Group 1: What makes a successful project manager - qualifications or experience?

Group 2: What three core 'personal' competences or attributes must I demonstrate to have a chance of success as a professional project manager?

Group 3: What does project success look like?

Group 4: What are the challenges for managing a project which is highly complex and technically challenging?

Following 20 minutes of exploring the questions posed, a spokesperson for each group presented the key points of their discussion to the entire group, prompting further discussion around the groups’ findings.

The keys themes to emerge were:

Group 1 (Qualifications or Experience): Group 1 saw ‘experience’ as the slightly more beneficial leading element on the basis that if you have experience you should have already addressed many of the characteristics and competences that a training environment would offer. However, it was acknowledged that the best PMs have strike a balance between experience and qualifications, and that this balance unique to the individual PM.

Group 2 (3 Key Personal Competencies):
The group identified leadership, particularly the ability to make decisions and delegate, communication and trust as the three key ‘personal’ competencies required to become a successful Project Manager.

Group 3 (Project Success): Group 3 discussed the difficulties in defining success for a project that was aimed delivering intangible/difficult to measure (e.g. people’s well-being) outputs. The discussion also covered how success is within the eye of the particular stakeholder, and that End User success should be seen as a high priority vs spending a bit more money to deliver a successful project.

Group 4 (Complex and Technically Challenging): The conclusion drawn by the group was that understanding the requirement, managing stakeholder expectations and dealing with higher levels of uncertainty are the key challenges for a PM who is managing a highly complex and technically challenging project.

The evening concluded, and members of the APM SWWE branch remaining behind to answer 1-2-1 questions with aspiring Project Managers.

Paul Johnson
SWWE Branch Newcomers Rep


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