Project Management – The Skills You Need To Succeed

Are you currently in education unsure of what to decide to do with your future? Are you great with people, highly organised and have an interest in construction? If so, Project Management may well be the career path for you. You may have wondered what you need to do in order to become a Project Manager or not know what the first steps to take are, so we spoke to Project Manager Matt Brennan and Associate Director Mark Parker about how they became Project Managers here at Walker Sime, and what skills and experience are essential to succeed.

Matt Brennan (left) and Mark Parker (right).


Matt, how did you end up becoming a Project Manager here at Walker Sime?

Matt: Studying Architecture at college and progressing to Nottingham Trent University where I studied Building Surveying, I opted to complete a placement year in order for myself to obtain experience within the industry, prior to graduating. Searching various job websites and utilising university contacts, I managed to attend various interviews for Building Surveying roles but gradually realised that this area of the construction industry wasn’t for me. After speaking to my lecturer about this, he suggested a Project Management role would suit me better and it was running around a football pitch later that day where one of my team mates suggested speaking to a certain Derek Walker as Walker Sime were intending to grow a Project Management team. After a successful interview I joined as a Trainee Project Manager into a team of 4 PM’s, completed my placement year and returned back to University to graduate with a First Class Honours and accepted the offer to return to Walker Sime as an Assistant Project Manager and regroup with a team of 12 PM’s.

What is your favourite part about the job?

Matt: Making a difference! By successfully carrying out the Project Management role, I can now say I am taking part in building the future of the North West. Whether that is building a hotel, a leisure centre, an office space and even a home! I love the fact that we drive the team to construct developments that will be around to facilitate the next generation for years to come.

Working closely with fantastic Client’s on challenging projects both on and off site, I’m beginning to influence projects rather than just taking part. Finally, I like the organisation and structure we have at Walker Sime provide, in order to ensure the team runs efficiently and pro-actively.

Matt, in your opinion what’s your best achievement to date working for Walker Sime?

Orange Tower, MediaCity UK – Carrying out the Employer’s Agent role for a strip out and refurbishment of existing reception entrance to incorporate co-working areas. Due to the location of the scheme, the project was carried out within a live environment, meaning there was various challenges that were identified from noise levels through to public health and safety. I endeavored to continuously challenge the contractors programme and procurement options throughout the construction period. This led the scheme to practical completion 3 weeks earlier than anticipated and to a high level of quality. This was the first project I had carried out solely and my role involved chairing the meetings and producing the subsequent meeting minutes, administering the JCT D&B 2016 Contract with amendments issuing instructions, payments and certificates. As this was my first project, this will always be one of my favourite projects and one of my greatest achievements.

NGC – After returning back from University and undertaking the Assistant role, Duncan Firth (PM Director) challenged me to attend more networking events and build a bigger network. Whilst attending various events around Manchester, I found it was difficult to meet the right clientele within the same age group. Following this I was put in connection with Lauren at CPUK and between ourselves we created a networking group called ‘The Next Generation in Construction’. The idea was to keep the group small and have 5 core members who would once a month meet up and invite one guest each to breakfast. A few months down the line we have held a various breakfast events with numerous guests and are intending to hold a Christmas event to create a larger networking opportunity and raise awareness of our NGC group. This is certainly a great achievement for myself as hopefully this NGC group will continue to grow and provide networking opportunities for the ‘Next Generation’.

How vital are placement years when looking to enhance your employability?

Matt: I personally think placement years are a fantastic way to augment your employability, if university is your selected approach. By graduating with experience and a degree, this certainly will push your CV up the rankings. I also believe that placement years are a great way to prepare yourself for your final year of University. Working for a year provides you with a more structured approach to work, better problem solving abilities and a greater knowledge of your subject and you can apply all this experience when completing university work. It’s also great to have current construction professionals answering your dissertation questionnaires for you… sometimes it’s not what you know, it’s who!

What advice would you give to students currently looking at getting into Project Management within the construction sector?

Matt: My initial advice would be ‘there is no right or wrong way to becoming a Project Manager’. Our Project Managers have various backgrounds from Building Surveying, Quantity Surveying, Building Services to Architecture. Whether you complete your degree over 5 years (part-time), 4 years (placement year) or 3 years (full time) it is entirely down to your style of working. I would personally suggest a placement year route is best as you are able to fully enjoy the full university experience, progress your social skills, develop character, and build a network with class mates. All of these attributes are large requirements to building Project Manager soft skills . You are able to obtain experience on your year’s placement and I think this certainly improves your ability for final year and can potentially increase grades.

Mark, what skill sets do you think are essential to get into Project Management?

Mark: Organised, respectful, good communicator, motivator and adaptable. It is essential that a Project Manager has the interpersonal skills to understand the team dynamics and motivate individuals to perform at their best to achieve a common goal. Staying nimble as the service line grows will be essential to standing out from the crowd!

How important is networking, as well as the technical skill set?

Mark: Networking is an essential part of the ongoing commitment to understanding the market trends and technologies hitting the market. At Walker Sime we like to stay ahead of the game, or at least the forefront and given we are an ambitious bunch with energy to burn we have lots to offer.

What made you decide to get into Project Management?

Mark: I enjoy the cut and thrust of ‘getting out on the pitch’ and delivering great projects for great people (our Clients). We are very much a people business with common core characteristics – ambition, drive and determination to succeed. It is great to be part of a young service line with an enthusiastic team with the ability to mentor and develop young Project Managers.