Sarah Brewer

Senior Clinical Project Manager Director, Quintiles

I became a project manager in 1998, mainly because the small company I was working for at the time was winding down their operations and I wanted a new challenge. I looked for, and found, a bigger job in a bigger company (Quintiles). I viewed the role of a project manager as simply an extension of the work I’d been doing as a Clinical Research Associate (CRA). Today the CRA role is a lot more specialised, but back then (in 1990's) I had a very diverse set of responsibilities.

In Quintiles initially, I was a project manager for a small service-line within the organisation. In 2001 I moved from the UK to Singapore and my new responsibilities as a project manager there, encompassed all of the service lines, so that was called a “Full Service” project manager. I really “found my stride” as a full service project manager.

I am based in Australia…so although Chartered status may not mean a lot to me personally in the future, I can certainly support the idea of raising awareness of project management as a profession as well as raising standards.

Do you have any formal training in project management?

Yes, I have an Associate's Certificate and Project Management Professional qualification from PMI. I am not sure this has particularly helped in my career per se (I have stayed with the company for nearly 20 years and my career progression has been based on a proven track record), however I found the learning I did for these qualifications invaluable.  

Although I am a natural project manager (we are all to a certain extent), I found it enormously helpful to have a formal structure and systematic approach to many of areas of project management. In certain areas, formal project management practices were a natural complement to areas in which I might not be quite so balanced in my skills.  

For example, CRAs require very high attention for detail (which I have), but project managers need to have the ability to zoom out of the details as well as zoom in.  I found formal project risk management a great tool for facilitating the necessary “zooming out” that a project manager has to do, and prevents me from getting “bogged down in the details”.

What advice would you give to someone considering a career in project management?

Remember that you are a facilitator to your team’s great performance.  If you don’t know much about the nitty-gritty of their work be sure you have the necessary communication skills to ask intelligent questions so you can understand, even if only at a high level, what they do.  “You have two ears and one mouth; use them in that proportion”.

What does APM's Chartered status mean to you?

I am based in Australia and to date my exposure has been more to PMI than to APM, but I look forward to learning more.

Finally, what is the one thing you can't live without?

No one thing, but all of these things matter a great deal to me … my sense of fun, the firm belief that you have to be passionate about what you do, my excel trackers.

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