Susan Mackenzie didn’t set out on her career path with the aim of becoming a Project Manager. Getting to the position she holds now has been an organic process, expanding on her expertise and personal interests to find the perfect job-match for her skills and experience.
In the more than 10 years Susan has been with Spirit Energy (formally Centrica), she has been promoted several times. Initially starting with roles in HSE before moving over to the Project Management team, the company has continued to help her grow and develop by providing training, new opportunities and mentorship programs.
Spirit Energy also supported Susan in gaining an official project management qualification alongside her working hours, which she feels has really helped to “formalize her project management competence.”
It’s this continual support and the opportunities made available to her during her time with Spirit Energy, which means Susan knows she made the right decision to join the team.
The winding route to the top
Susan’s current role has two main facets: managing the regulatory compliance aspects for decommissioning projects, and as Project Manager for four separate projects, each one on a different stage of completion. But Susan didn’t take a direct route to this role, and credits actively looking for and being open to change for her career progression.
Susan started out as an environmental scientist in the civil industry, before moving in the same role to work in the energy industry. Building on her environmental capabilities, the role then expanded to cover the wider regulatory compliance for decommissioning. Her responsibilities then broadened further, first to managing a specific discipline within a project and then to the management of projects in their entirety. Susan says:
“I didn’t set out a long-term plan to be a Project Manager but have always had the drive to improve. The route I have taken to get to the role I am currently delivering hasn’t been direct, but has built the skills to allow me to effectively manage and deliver complex projects.”
#1 Staying calm in the face of challenges
However well-planned and however capable the team, projects inevitably come up against challenges all the time. It’s essential to keep a clear head to resolve these as quickly as possible so that the project can advance with minimal impact to the schedule and budget. Susan says she finds a “calm, stepwise approach to manage the challenges” is the most effective way to cope with changes of any kind.
#2 Being a good listener
We all know that there are many ways to get the job done. In a role in project management, where you are working and liaising across many different elements of the process simultaneously, Susan reveals it’s often more about listening than talking. Although Susan is always “open and sharing,” she thinks “people would be surprised how little talking I do balanced with how much listening.”
#3 Know how to build a good team
Susan believes that “the strength of the business is in the capability of those delivering the roles.” It’s down to the people on your team, so the “careful building of the right team”, one that is “competent and focused” is vital to successfully achieve the objectives of each project.
#4 Get organized
With so many different elements to keep a track of across multiple projects and time frames – often spanning over several years – Susan confesses that her personality type is one that appreciates “things being organized and planned”. As a working mum to two children, Susan is no stranger to organization and time management, and balances the demands of her family with that of her working life.
#5 Think like a scientist
At school, Susan wanted to be a scientist and although she suspects her high-school self may initially wonder at her job now, she’d like to reassure her younger self that her role is very much like that of a scientist! Although she doesn’t spend her days in the lab analyzing data, project management is “very similar to the objectives of research – you set up an objective and work through the plan, reacting to results and amending the plan as the work progresses”. Susan sees her role as using those same skills she developed in her scientific background when working through the challenges and obstacles of complex projects. “It is a similar skillset, applied to a different problem set”.
Advice for anyone starting out in their career in project management
“Work hard and look for and be open to new challenges and changes in direction.”
With this attitude front and foremost, Susan hasn’t been afraid to follow her instincts when it comes to taking on additional responsibilities and exploring new professional opportunities. This approach has rewarded Susan with great credibility and respect amongst her team, within a career she finds interesting and challenging every day, and in which she can feel proud of her achievements.