Once upon a time, Lavinia Buckley was a mechanical engineering graduate, unsure of what to do with herself. After dabbling in risk management, she moved to the United Kingdom to broaden her horizons.
A friend happened to be leaving to come back to Australia and suggested Buckley replace her at her job. “It was a pretty dull clerical job at a local authority, but at the time I thought ‘well, I’m in my early 20s, I’m on holidays, I don’t know how long I’m going to be here’,” recalls Buckley.
Not long after she started, however, the organisation underwent a restructure and she found herself in the more responsible position of technical services manager, running a transport department of 10 people, and handling half a dozen projects.
“I ended up staying for over three years there and started off running one little project at a time. Next thing I knew, I had a whole suite of them and built up quite a big team. It got to the point where the size of the projects were about £150,000 each, upgrades of little areas around the borough,” says Buckley. “In that environment, once you start successfully doing projects, people start throwing more of them at you.”
Although in those early days she didn’t practise formal project management—”I didn’t know any project management methodology per se, so there was a little reinventing the wheel, making up my own systems”—the role whet her appetite for the discipline, so much so that she sought another project management role after that. The clerical job had turned into a career path, and that path led her to the UK’s famous transport authority, London Underground.
“After I left the local authority, I started working at the London Underground on the Victoria Station Upgrade project, and that was chalk and cheese compared to what I working on before. I went from a makeshift place to where they had everything set up for huge projects,” she says.
“Suddenly there was a £500 million project. I knew I wanted to be a project manager but I really threw myself in the deep end with that one. It was really exciting for me, but every day I would wake up and go to work absolutely terrified for about six months until I got the hang of it.”
Fortunately, Buckley had the support of a mentor who saw her potential and gave her enough responsibility to build her confidence, and manageable aspects of the upgrade to allow her to take ownership of the project.
“I was assistant project manager in that role, but he gave me particular chunks of the project that I could own in my own right,” she explains. “I handled the early works packages, so services diversions, setting up a temporary ticket office, asbestos removal in the existing station; they were my own bits and it was really exciting thing for me as well because they were the first visual things that happened.”
Rushed to hospital
Buckley eventually made it back to Australia and virtually stepped into a role at global engineering and management firm Aurecon. The first project she did for the organisation was The Wesley Hospital East Wing Project, named 2009 Project of the Year at Queensland’s Project Management Achievement Awards. Buckley was one of a project team of five that ran the project from the design phase through to the commissioning.
“The hospital was really great at delivering healthcare, but not geared up necessarily for delivering infrastructure,” she admits, acknowledging some of the biggest challenges: severe space constraints when building the new wing, as well as dealing with a live site.