Elizabeth Harrin

Programme Manager, Spire Healthcare

I joined a graduate trainee scheme in financial services when I left university and we did various placements in different departments. I ended up being placed for 3 months in Business Re-engineering. It was a lively and interesting team, and prior to that I had no idea that project management was even a thing.

My role on the team for that short time was mainly organising meetings and travel for the project managers but I gained an insight into what the job could offer. Plus it spoke to my personal style of managing with lists, being an organised person and ticking things off as complete – all things I did naturally! I was delighted to find that someone would pay me to do that.


 

I’m keen to support raising standards and professionalism in project management but I’m not sure yet how Chartered will affect me personally.

Who was your first employer?

American Express, although my first proper project management job was after I left the graduate trainee scheme and went to work as a Business Change Analyst as AXA PPP Healthcare.

What are your career highlights?

  • Delivering a presentation in front of the whole customer service division at my last company and making them laugh – and having someone say to me that they didn’t think I would have been like that on stage (it was an offhand remark but it stuck with me as a compliment! Thanks, James!). That showed me the importance of presence at work and communication skills.
  • Having the CEO ask my opinion about the next steps for my project when we found ourselves evacuating the building down the fire escape at the same time. I don’t know whether he really cared about my answer, but it was a highlight for me that he knew who I was and what I was working on!
  • Being shortlisted for a Women in IT award for work I did on a major ERP project, alongside a colleague.

I’ve delivered big projects and small ones, worked on successful ones and disastrous ones, but the career highlights for me are always about the people and the interactions that make work a nice place to be.

I once did an exercise on a training course to come up with 20 things I was proud of and I came up with about 50 professional achievements I could confidently say made me happy. Other people on my table really struggled, and it amazed me that they didn’t have the confidence of conviction in whether their achievements were ‘worthy’. If you write your own list, and, with no intention of sharing it with anyone, can be honest about your achievements and are disappointed, then it’s time to find a new challenge. Life is too short to be stuck in a job that doesn’t make you happy and proud at the same time.

When did you become a member of APM and what are the main benefits for you?

I applied straight for Fellowship and was granted that status in 2011.

I applied because although I have two degrees and a selection of certificates, I have no formal academic project management qualifications. I believe that the FAPM designation is held in high regard and that it cements my credibility as a practitioner as well as someone who has made a contribution to the profession. I strongly believe in professional development and feel that FAPM designation was the next step for me at the time.

Second, I believe that women are underrepresented at senior levels in our profession, in public speaking and publishing, in academia and in the workplace (still). I had the idea that if I was successful at achieving Fellowship, I could use it to continue to promote project management to young women looking to make career choices. I hope I do that; I expect I could do more.

How important, do you believe, are professional project management qualifications?

After becoming a Fellow I went on to do APMP (now APMQ) so I do think that qualifications are important! Having said that, they aren’t everything. I feel strongly that although there are many excellent project managers, we need to reach out to the wider management community to share our expertise with ‘accidental’ project managers.

Only when project management approaches are embedded in organisations will we start to see better results and more projects being deemed a ‘success’.

What keeps you interested in project management?

My community! I run a Facebook group called Project Management Café. I love talking to people about how PM is evolving. I’m enjoying seeing how we’re slowly moving towards an understanding of strategy execution and the link this has to projects.

There’s elements of business change weaving themselves into how project managers see their roles and I still feel that soft skills are significantly lacking in project management education – that’s how we’re going to make the difference in the future when risk assessments and scheduling are all done by AI.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in project management?

Link what you are doing to the business context, always. It’s no longer enough to deliver on time, on budget and on scope. You have to understand the rationale for the project and be able to speak about your work in a way that resonates with the people paying for it. Stakeholders don’t care about milestones, issue logs or what project management software they use. They want results, and they want you to help them get there. There’s always a business driver for the project: you have to uncover what it is.

Who has been the most influential in your career?

My mum, I think, although I’ve had a lot of wonderful mentors over the years – men and women (mostly men) who have given me time and the benefit of their experience, whether they knew it at the time or not.

My mother ran her own company and I’m sure my organisational skills and work ethic come from her. She’s retired now, but still incredibly busy, packing a lot into her days.

What does APM's Chartered status mean to you?

I’m keen to support raising standards and professionalism in project management, but I’m not sure yet how it will affect me personally.

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