Qualifications, skills and experience required for a project management career
A career as a project manager requires a variety of skills and experience, and you can enter the industry in many different ways. For Chloe French, Associate Director at Faithful+Gould, the pathway into project management was not the typical one – in fact, some could say it was rocky. That’s because Chloe moved into project management after an extensive geology career. She spoke to us about her change of profession, what it takes to be a great project manager and why she loves what she does:
“I started out in ground engineering then spent 14 years working in the UK and overseas on multi-disciplinary projects”
A chartered geologist by trade, Chloe started her career working in ground investigation, using ground investigation data to inform civil engineering design. This extended into multidisciplinary design bigger and bigger civil engineering projects. Chloe’s work history includes spending more than two years working on a parallel oil and gas line in Russia, as well as working on mining infrastructure in Australia. These experiences helped to shape her professional career, exposing her to relationships with clients, stakeholders and contractors with different backgrounds, cultures and working styles. The communication and stakeholder management involved in these more client-facing roles gave Chloe a taste of project management, and she became increasingly passionate about business development, stakeholder management and team building – all of which are major parts of a project manager’s role. She increasingly found herself drawn to planning and executive delivery and empowering teams to achieve delivery of projects, making her a perfect fit for project management.
After returning to the UK just over five years ago, Chloe took up a role at Atkins working in ground engineering before transferring to Faithful+Gould to pursue her project management dream.
“My technical background gives me an advantage when dealing with clients and contractors”
Chloe’s technical experience and methodical approach to tackling projects have helped her transition into the project management space, where she can speak the technical language of her clients and really get to grips with processes and requirements. She’s had the opportunity to build up her part of the business and develop relationships, picking up new contracts and ensuring her team can not only deliver projects successfully, but really understand what it is their clients want. Her ability to translate technical jargon into simplified explanations is a key component of Chloe’s role, and she believes her ground engineering experience has been instrumental in her success as a project manager.
Working alongside other disciplines as a geologist has helped Chloe to gain a broad overview of the project lifecycle and how different disciplines work together. “It’s rare in ground engineering to ever purely work on ground engineering projects, and you’re always interacting with other infrastructure,” she says. The ability to work as a team is also a bonus, and Chloe says her colleagues at Faithful+Gould and the wider SNC-Lavalin Group are part of what makes her job so enjoyable.
“A good project manager is genuinely passionate about the project”
Regardless of the discipline and industry you’re working in, Chloe believes that you need to be genuinely interested in the projects you’re working on. While you won’t be doing the technical work yourself – producing drawings, creating specifications or performing construction tasks – you need to take an interest in it and understand how it fits into the wider project puzzle. Chloe believes that the best project managers may have pure project management training and experience, but will combine this with a curiosity about the projects they’re working on, asking questions of project engineers and contractors to help inform the conversations they go on to have with clients and stakeholders. In addition, Chloe believes a practical, logical and structured approach to work is instrumental to her success as a project manager. She loves being able to track a project at every step, marking key milestones and ensuring the whole process runs smoothly. Clear, consistent communication is key for this, and Chloe points to her background working in different countries alongside different working styles as being integral to this element of her job now.
Are you interested in a career in project management?
Chloe’s journey to a project management career is just one of the many different pathways you can take. There are different qualifications and methodologies that can help in the industry, including APM, PRINCE2, Six Sigma, Lean and Agile, and some project managers working in construction have qualifications in construction and the built environment. A degree or postgraduate degree can be preferred but isn’t strictly necessary, with some project managers working their way up from a support role or junior project manager position.