We live an increasingly global existence with worldwide activities affecting our economy, our environment and our society. Given that international issues can influence even the most local of projects, this leaves project managers with a global identity to contend with. Or does it? Is there such a thing as an Australian project manager anymore, and does it matter?
According to Jacinta Whelan, managing director of Resources Global Professionals in Australia, Australian project managers do have a global profile, and it is positive. “The feedback that we get is that the standard of Australian project management is very high, that Australian project managers are known to get things done or to make things happen. Most people usually like having an Australian project manager on their team,” she reports.
Key to this is a breadth of experience, born out of the smaller scale of Australian projects, which means Australian project managers are more likely to be multi-skilled and have cross-functional experience. In some cases having breadth rather than depth might be seen as a weakness but Whelan believes it means flexibility, which allows Australians to turn their hand at different types of projects and varied roles within them.
On the other hand, Brett Smith, managing director of engineering and project management company Ausenco, sees project managers as more closely identified by industry rather than geography. “There may be some things that appear to be nationalistic but it may be because there’s a concentration of that type of industry in a country,” he explains.
“There will also be a lot of other attributes and influences that are related to the industry they work in, their global experience, the organisation they work for and its culture, so you have to look at all of those things before generalising about nationality.”
However, he does describe Australians as possessing a comparatively strong awareness of both industrial relations management and a significant culture of safety. “That industrial relations awareness results in much better management of the resources employed on the project than someone who doesn’t have that sensitivity,” says Smith. “Certainly our culture to have good safety, good environmental plans, IR, people management plans, and the ability for us to transfer that internationally is a positive attribute of Australian project delivery. That rigour and attention serves us well when working in other countries.”
Another aspect to examine is the flat hierarchy noticeable in Australian project management. “Some people say ‘this is my way, this is how we’re doing it, don’t question me’. Australian project managers are quite open to asking ‘why?’. They’re okay to challenge the status quo,” notes Whelan.
This isn’t a drawback, but will need addressing in international projects, she says: “Different cultures have different approaches on how you question or challenge. The first thing a project manager needs to realise is what culture they’re in and how they have to lead that team. It’s something you learn along the way.”
Fortunately, Australians are used to working with different cultures, both in Australia and globally. Due to our multicultural society, and the comparatively small number of projects in Australia, our project managers are used to delivering worldwide. “Because of the size of our market, because of the cyclic nature of our market, our resources in the project delivery sector have had to go offshore at certain points in their career and have developed that international experience,” says Smith. “That has allowed them to work more easily overseas than someone who has only ever focused in a domestic market.”