I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Lisa Hawkins, a professional project manager who joined the project management training team at Parallel Project Training in early 2023. She told me about her early career and how it led to her becoming a project management trainer; and some of her thoughts on project management in general.
A Brief Biography
Lisa’s first degree was in manufacturing engineering and business studies. Initially, she worked for Thorn EMI then Toray Textiles (Europe) Ltd., a Japanese company, for about seven years, as a production planning manager, including a period living in Japan itself.
After a career break to focus on her young family, she returned to a career in project work at Leicester University, supporting technical collaboration projects with academics for 4 years. During and following her time at Leicester University, she completed an MBA via distance learning. Lisa’s MBA thesis was on the subject of women returners to graduate engineering careers following a career break, which she completed with the co-operation and support of the Thames Tideway Women Returners programme.
Subsequently she spent 2 years working at Welbeck Defence Sixth Form College in Loughborough, a selective sixth form college which was a Ministry of Defence institution. The college, which closed in 2021, provided A-level education for boys and girls planning to join the technical branches of the British Armed Forces as officers. Welbeck College was originally established to tackle the decline in the number of cadets continuing to the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, particularly from the north of England.
After stints at NHS England and then as a software delivery project manager, Lisa re-evaluated her career plans and decided to do something she had always enjoyed as an ad-hoc responsibility in previous roles: formal training. As an engineer she had always enjoyed delving into sometimes complex technical details and explaining them to people so when an opportunity arose to become a trainer for apprenticeships in project management she jumped at the chance. After 5 years of training Level 4 Project Management apprentices, she joined Parallel Project Training. Since joining Parallel, Lisa has successfully completed the APM PFQ qualification and is hoping to expand her knowledge into programme management by studying the MSP qualification in the near future.
Lisa already knew about Paul Naybour, the Business Development Director at Parallel Project Training, through his fantastic reputation in the project management community and his well-known podcasts before she joined the company. She is now really excited to be working at Parallel and feels like she’s found her home.
Greatest project success story
While working at Welbeck College Lisa set up the first Women’s Engineering Society (WES) Student group in a UK sixth form college. She organised talks for the young women engineers – all 16 to 18 years old – by high-ranking military staff and also from relevant industries such as Jaguar Land Rover and Babcock.
That has been the highlight of her career so far. She built links with the Women’s Engineering Society, arranged guest speakers and took the students out to industry (at places such as Jaguar Land Rover and the National Space Centre in Leicester) to see engineering in practice in the workplace
Favourite project management tool or technique
Lisa likes the Tuckman model, which is a very relevant tool taught on the APM PMQ course. It states that every team is always in one of 4 stages: forming, storming, norming or performing which helps teams effectively tackle challenges, identify solutions and deliver results.
Project managers need to be able to successfully identify and manage their team during each of Tuckman’s 4 stages:
- Forming: When a team has just been formed they should be encouraged to interact and get to know each another, but also have roles, responsibilities and goals clearly defined.
- Storming: In this stage when conflicts are almost inevitable, the project manager should be approachable but also encourage team members to resolve their own conflicts.
- Norming: During the norming stage, team members settle into “normal” behaviour and are less reliant on the project manager.
- Performing: When the team has developed into a high-performing unit that can achieve goals with minimal conflict.
Important interpersonal skills for project managers
It’s important to appreciate that everyone’s got something else going on in the background, because project management is all about people. You need to be able to connect and empathise with people so that they will help and support you to deliver. The project manager can’t do everything; projects need a coordination process, co-ordinating people as much as tasks so you need that kind of empathy. Everybody’s different but you need to get the whole team on side so they want to work for you, and want to make the project successful. As Simon Sinek says “The great leaders can’t do everything; they are the ones who look to others to help them”. So, the important interpersonal skills for a project manager are having empathy and understanding. Being a leader, but also being a person and just being approachable.
Advice for people just starting out on a project management career
One piece of advice Lisa gives is to just be open to opportunities because you never know, in project management, where it’s going to lead. Some people in the early days of their career are a bit reticent. Maybe thinking they are not qualified enough or not good enough. Just jump in and have a go like Lisa did when she went to live in Japan. It’s the best way to gain the experience you’ll need in addition to qualifications.
The most common problem encountered on projects
Communication. Not planning it, not following up on things, just firing off emails, and assuming that somebody’s read it without following up with a quick call. Always double check that communication has not only been sent, but also been received?
Final thoughts on qualifications for project managers
Lisa is really enthusiastic about project management as a career choice and sees amazing career progress once project managers gain the professional APM PMQ qualification. As a trainer this provides a unique kind of job satisfaction that she relishes, because when delegates pass the exam, she gets a real kick out of that and the impact it has for their future careers.
Sometimes people start a training course but aren’t confident they can pass the exam – because the APM PMQ is known as a difficult exam to pass. Maybe they haven’t sat an exam for 10 or 20 years or have time-consuming work and home commitments, but Lisa is always confident that she can support people through the exam. And enjoys helping candidates to expand their knowledge and exam technique, to enable them to pass the exam. That’s one of the reasons she’s proud to work for Parallel – every Parallel trainer Is an expert in their field, has delivered projects in the past and goes the extra mile to support candidates to achieve the APM PMQ and other qualifications and accreditations.