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Career Considerations: A Day in the Life of an SMD Project Manager

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19 June 2020

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: 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. Research which careers match your style. 

We asked Abi Thompson at Soil Machine Dynamics (SMD) some questions about her role as a Project Manager. Abi has worked her way up from a junior role all the way to Project Manager at SMD, the world’s largest independent designer and manufacturer of work class and specialist subsea remotely operated vehicles.

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 all the way through. 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 answering questions to look 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.

What are the daily duties of a project manager? 
"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.

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? 
"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.

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.
Career Considerations: A Day in the Life of an SMD Project Manager