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Career considerations: a day in the life of a Project Manager

22 June 2020

Today, we’re catching up with Abi Thompson. Abi has worked her way up from a junior role all the way to Project Manager at SMD, a large independent designer and manufacturer of subsea remotely operated vehicles.

Very few of us know what career we want to pursue while we’re still in school. Yet, it’s one of the most commonly asked questions for students approaching that fateful time of leaving: where do you see yourself in five years’ time? What do you want to be? 

Some people might have had their heart set on a career from a young age, but for many, there are a whole host of career options they never knew existed. Instead of picking a career you already know about, consider your own skills and talents first. Then, research which careers match your style. This is certainly more beneficial. To that end, we’ve put together a series of articles that explore some career paths you might not have considered before. 

Today, we’re catching up with Abi Thompson. Abi has worked her way up from a junior role all the way to Project Manager at SMD, a large independent designer and manufacturer of subsea remotely operated vehicles. Let’s find out what being a project manager entails, how she got there, and whether this might be the career path for you too. 

What are the daily duties of a Project Manager? 

A project manager acts as an umbrella to a whole operation within a business, making sure the process is accurate and correct every step of the way. A big part of this is ensuring there is communication at all levels. Throughout a project, you’ll see a Project Manager interacting with everyone involved, from sales to delivery to trials and testing. If there’s a problem, the Project Manager will be looking for a way to fix it! 

A good Project Manager needs to be able to draw up a plan. A great Project Manager needs to be ready for that plan to change! 

"You start off with an initial plan at the beginning, and it just changes all the time,” says Abi. “You're always coming up to obstacles, and you've always got to think of solutions."

Project management is all about being able to plan, adapt, and problem-solve on the fly. 

How did you find yourself at SMD?

If project management sounds like it might suit your skills, you may be wondering what qualification you need to get there. Should you pursue an academic route through college and university, or head for an apprenticeship? According to Abi, there is no right or wrong answer for building a career path towards project management. 

"With project management, you can almost come from anywhere,” Abi advises. "For me, I was finishing my apprenticeship, and there was a junior admin post coming up at SMD. So, I got in through that and just worked my way up the ranks with hard graft. 

“Of course, building a network of connections can help. But it’s the hard graft really makes you stand out.”

What is the most fulfilling aspect of being a Project Manager? 

"The most rewarding thing is when you see the project going through production. You see everything start to come in, all the work you've put in at the front end starts paying off – the materials are right, the parts are right, it's slotting together, and you start seeing something being physically built,” Abi says. “You've built something and it's something really intelligent and smart, and your clients come in, who are experts in the field, and they're really happy with it; that's one of my favourite parts of the job."

If you could tell your school-age self to pick one subject to study hard, which would be the most beneficial for becoming a Project Manager?

According to Abi, common sense is an important part of project management. Plus, as we mentioned before, there are many ways to get into the career. 

Abi answered our question with some amazing advice for any aspiring career hopeful: “The main thing is that you need to be organised and have problem-solving skills. I left school with no GCSEs, but I still ace it every day. You just have to work hard and know the contract and the project inside and out.

"Two years ago, I was very shy and nervous, and speaking to clients was very daunting for me. But because I've been practising and working hard at it, I'm so comfortable with it now."

Now, Abi is doing a Business Management foundation degree part-time through SMD and with an extra year, her qualification will become a full degree.

Are there any upcoming projects at SMD that you’re excited to be a part of? 

SMD has recently won a project which has the potential to be the biggest ROV they’ve ever built. Abi worked on the concept herself, which included trips to China to help manage the project. 

Could project management be the career for you? Are you well-organised and a natural at communication? It could be the career path you never knew you needed to pursue! 


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