Education and qualifications:
MSc Building Technology and Organisation, Faculty of Civil Engineering, Cracow University of Technology, Poland
Principal Project Manager
Norman Rourke Pryme
What inspired you to become an engineer or pointed you towards an engineering career?
Seeing other women, like my mum who is a land surveyor, certainly meant I considered technical subjects and engineering a natural (not to be confused with the only!) choice, and is why I also believe having role models is so important.
I also always had quite a technical mind and liked problem solving, and I think engineers do just that, solve issues, improve the environment around us and provide solutions. So, engineering (and now project management) seemed like something I would enjoy. And I can say now that I certainly do.
Please describe your role or position within your workplace.
I am Principal Project Manager, with a background in traffic engineering and traffic modelling as well as highways design and transport planning.
I collaborate directly with clients and stakeholders as well as others, including senior management, on multidisciplinary projects. I lead design progress, design development and other meetings with multiple stakeholders. I proactively participate in board meetings, workshops and focus sessions.
My work includes Low Traffic Neighbourhood (LTN) and Liveable Neighbourhood projects, which aim to create more attractive spaces for residents and visitors, with safer, greener streets. I am currently undertaking a senior project manager role on two projects, including a New Engineering Contract (NEC) project management role, and a lead project management role on the Liveable Neighbourhood project in London. I’m also involved in drafting the Term Service Contract for two London Boroughs. I play a key role in project delivery and have successfully supported client and design teams in accomplishing project goals. I assign and manage tasks and I report to directors and programme managers.
Can you describe a typical working day?
I usually start my day by checking the calendar for the day ahead, as well as the week and month ahead. I make sure I am prepared for meetings, and this includes reading, circulating but also seeking information to ensure it is available in time for the meeting to enable informed decisions to be made. I often have to produce documents such as Board Reports, financial reports, notes, engagement letters, programmes, and presentations to internal or external stakeholders; I draft bids, reports and briefs for others to respond to. Procurement of services, arranging and leading meetings, reviewing the work of others and site visits to check progress or discuss issues are also part of my job. So, no two days are the same.
Despite all the planning, various matters often arise on the day, and I have to prioritise work to accommodate an urgent site visit, attendance at a meeting I am called to, or preparation of information/documents at short notice. So, my typical day is actually never that typical other than being filled with meetings, phone calls, responding to emails and drafting and checking documents; which is probably the best description of my job and a ‘typical day’.
Are there any particular challenges or unusual aspects to your role?
What I find challenging (and frustrating at the same time) is not the issues on site, challenging discussions with demanding stakeholders, unplanned ad-hoc tasks that I need to accommodate in an already busy day, as these things seem to be an inevitable part of work. It’s the lack of passion, lack of drive and sometimes simply lack of will that I find most challenging when I sometimes come across it. In a dynamic and already challenging environment this attitude makes the challenges more difficult than they could be, and is something I constantly find difficult to understand and sometimes overcome. Being able to adapt language and build relationships with others is therefore a key part of the job that helps with these specific challenges.
What do you find most enjoyable about your job?
Seeing the tangible difference I can make to people’s lives drives me and motivates me. Along with my engineering background and experience, I am also a project manager, which to me is very much building on what I have learnt as an engineer, and helps me deliver better outputs.
The problem solving challenges that make us better and more experienced, as well as a dynamic environment, also mean I love what I do.
After attending an evening talk (while I was still on my career break taken to raise my children), I was very impressed with the project presented and the team involved that had had to overcome many challenges in order to successfully complete the project. At that point I thought to myself that the title "engineer" really is something to be proud of. It means a lot.
Is there a great professional achievement or high-profile accomplishment that you would like to tell us about?
Having had quite a substantial career break (over six years) my biggest professional achievement is becoming a Chartered Engineer (CEng) with the Chartered Institution of Highways & Transportation (CIHT). When I first decided to go back to work (initially only on a part-time basis) I had low self-esteem. Moving from arranging playdates and planning dinners to arranging drainage repair and planning on multimillion-pound projects is an absolutely huge professional achievement for me.
To then work from home through the Covid-19 pandemic, with two children at home (who have thankfully been home-schooled mostly by my husband), achieve chartered status and also the CIHT Outstanding Performance at Professional Review Award, are beyond what I could ever imagine. It is something that I am very proud of on a personal and professional level.
What contributed to your decision to become professionally registered?
Becoming a CEng has always been my dream and an aspiration. It is personally very rewarding to be able to demonstrate to yourself and to others that you have gained experience, practical skills and knowledge at a certain level. I want to be able to continue growing professionally, and being a CEng is certainly an enabling factor in that journey. I have heard clients expressing respect when talking about others who are CEng. So, this achievement is great on so many levels, including the recognition and the acknowledgment.
In what ways has registration benefitted your career?
After successfully passing my professional interview with CIHT, I have been promoted to the position of Principal Project Manager. I will continue working hard to become an Associate Director, managing a small team that I hope not only to manage, but most importantly to inspire and lead.
How does your employer benefit from your professional registration?
In a similar way that I gain a certain level of recognition, my employer has gained an employee who has a professional registration which can instantly be recognised on paper.
Is there any advice you would pass on to someone considering professional registration?
For me, it has always been obvious that I wanted to become chartered. It was never a question of ‘if’, but ‘when’. It took longer than planned due to the career break, but for that reason I was even more determined to ensure the time I spent working and learning (both in terms of my MSc, but also the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) throughout my career) is recorded and recognised.
Having CEng status adds value to your practical experience in a similar way that an MSc (or other formal qualification) does. It always increases your profile and also your own self esteem.
Where do you see yourself in your career in five years’ time or what are your future ambitions?
I see myself leading a small team of people. I would like to have a greater role in shaping the business and making it a success in terms of building (on) the relationship with clients and helping to source ambitious, hard working and creative people, that can help maintain and grow the business, and be the bones of it.
I hope to also be a mentor to others planning to become chartered with CIHT, and I am already discussing this with someone I am working with on a project, who after hearing about my successful interview, asked me for information about becoming chartered with CHIT, including the process itself. It is already very rewarding, and exciting at the same time, being in a position to help others to achieve their CEng status. I can’t wait to be able to tell myself that I have helped someone else successfully achieve this milestone.
Outside work, is there any activity you enjoy doing in your spare time that relates to engineering? For example, do you participate in mentoring, volunteering or membership of other engineering groups?
Having two young children and very intense job, it is not as easy to dedicate personal time to work. I do however contribute as much as I can in other ways.
I have offered mentoring to younger colleagues and I have also just been accepted as a Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) Ambassador.
I strive to ensure women’s voices are heard. I lead the Women Committee at Norman Rourke Pryme and actively encourage others to contribute to this initiative, but also to benefit from it. I actively promote female and male role models, both at work and in my personal life.
Do you identify as disabled, or as a member of a minority or under-represented group? Would you like to comment on what impact or influence you feel this has had upon your career?
Having a Polish background (and accent), I have been on the receiving end of nationality-related comments and jokes. Luckily, these were isolated incidents from a few people, and I mostly meet amazing people who recognise the value I can bring to projects and the organisation. They appreciate my strengths (including being bold, determined and creative) and have received many comments about my qualities and the help I was able to offer to the clients. These are the comments that give me strength and I am grateful to those who could see past my nationality and accent.