Pete Mercer has worked as a project manager for SOCOTEC for the last 5 years. He started with the company 13 years ago as a graduate engineer following completion of his degree in geology from the University of Greenwich, Pete then moved on to become a grade engineer before being promoted to project manager.
What is your daily routine?
When working as a project manager, the key to the role is to make sure all the operational tasks are fulfilled. It is vital to have your site staff in the right places, make sure arrangements have been made with your clients to gain access to the site, and to manage your site consumables for the work. Back in the office it’s also important to ensure laboratory testing is progressing and reports are being written. Another key part of the role is managing the finances for the job to ensure costs are controlled and the project is delivered to budget. It is very much a hands-on operational role.
Depending on the size of the projects, we would typically be working on up to 20 projects at a time.
On any particular day you could be managing the field work of one project, reporting or lab testing on another, setting up a new project with risk assessments and also closing out accounts on the older jobs, including finalising applications for payments and sorting out any commercial queries that might have arisen. Being able to multi-task is an absolute necessity.
What type of projects do you work on?
It varies from 1 to 5 day sitework projects to 4 to 6 months in the field. The project timescales vary quite a lot but typically our projects run between three to six months. The project manager manages all the tasks from when the project is awarded right through to completion, and while we may not undertake all of the tasks ourselves, we will manage the process, delegating where appropriate, to make sure everything is completed on programme.
The type of projects I work on is very varied, although they are generally all construction-based projects and ground investigation work. Projects are distributed fairly amongst the project managers within the office, based on current workload, however I do take responsibility for working with certain customers to ensure continuity.
The variation of the work is one of the things that I love about this role. It is a job where you have to think on your feet and be decisive and confident in your decision making. You have multiple responsibilities to your staff, financial commitments to business managers and also a customer care focus with deadlines to be maintained. Our clients expect us to deliver high quality technical projects and we must make sure we fulfil their requirements.
The project manager is at the centre of it all and has to pull the resources and information together to make the project a success. You are the key person working on the project and as a result you can be pulled in all sorts of directions and it can be very complex, so it is vital to be incredibly organised and able to prioritise your workload.
What training/qualifications are available?
To help with our personal development within the role, the operations managers carry out mentoring sessions with all of the project managers. These sessions are of great value, the support and knowledge that gets passed on is incredibly useful. It is great to work for a company that utilises the experience and knowledge of its staff to benefit the wider team.
I also completed a 4-day soft skills ‘new line manager’ training course run by SOCOTEC. This course helped me to develop my leadership skills and improve my people management so I could get the best out of my team.
From the Health and Safety and compliance side, I’ve completed an SSSTS and SMSTS course which is a Site Managers Safety Training Scheme. This 5-day training course ensures we have the skill set to be fully conversant with the latest legislation on Health and Safety in the UK.
What are the benefits of working for a company like SOCOTEC?
The greatest benefit you get from working with SOCOTEC is probably the breadth of experience you gain, in terms of working on a variety of the projects. We work on small scale ground investigations up to multi-million pound infrastructure projects
Because we employ a lot of our staff directly and don’t rely on subcontractors that gives us full control over availability of resources and project delivery, which is another huge benefit of working for SOCOTEC and as a result of this we can offer a lot of additional services in house.
SOCOTEC’s training scheme is invaluable in that you are given a range of health and safety, technical and soft skill training courses which really supplement our roles, assist with developing us, all for benefit of the client and the service we offer. The soft skill training is introduced early to the engineers and geologists who start to manage small teams on site which gives them the confidence to direct these teams as well as conversing with our clients and making decisions.
We employ people specifically to manage activities within the project lifecycle, such as resource managers who manage our drilling rigs and kit and equipment and technical managers who manage the technical aspects, and then all that skill is pulled together by the project manager.
What advice would you offer to someone looking to become a project manager?
I have loved my time as a project manager, it is an extremely tough job but at the same time it is massively rewarding when you see your site team delivering projects successfully and to a high quality.
The best advice I could offer would be to make sure you are organised and can prioritise your workload.
Pete has now been promoted internally to operations manager.
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