Inspiring Women in Project Management: Emma Seaton-Smith

Today’s Inspiring Woman in Project Management is Emma Seaton-Smith, who is an award-nominated project manager from the UK. She’s been shortlisted for the 2017 Rising Stars award which involves a whirlwind of social media appearances, and celebration events before the winners are announced, but she took time out of her busy schedule to catch up with me.

Here’s what Emma had to say about how she moved into project management from her early days of jewellery design.

Emma, hello! Like many people, you didn’t choose project management as your first career. Tell me about jewellery design.

I followed an artistic path right through to degree level. My work was quite conceptual and drew a lot from medical objects and imagery. I even used x-ray images in my degree exhibition. I got a First class degree in jewellery design, but I felt that although there was a romantic idea of days spent in creative bliss, the reality was a bit more about pitching to galleries and selling your work.

So you chose to think again about what career path to take?

I had always been good at science and maths and I was looking for something socially and intellectually rewarding.

I originally researched the possibility of doing Graduate Entry Medicine, but I was excited by Radiography and the visual element of beautiful images really attracted me. I wanted to combine these interests and apply them in a very practical profession.

You worked as a radiographer for a long time. How did you get into project management?

I wouldn’t use the cliché of ‘I fell into it’, but there was a gap in the needs of a changing business where I picked up the slack. The medical imaging company I worked for was bought and as a Radiography Manager there, I took on a key role in integrating our Radiology imaging IT systems into the parent company. I also worked through each of the hospitals in the parent company to get them live with our imaging service.

When my role was made redundant, the parent company took me in a project manager’s role. It was a job role I’d seen others doing and aspired to. I hadn’t realised how much my skills were valued, so I was thrilled when it was offered.

Honestly, I still yearned to do Graduate Entry Medicine after my Radiography degree and it wasn’t until I was in this job that I felt ready to let it go!

Let’s talk about training then. Have you taken any project management related courses?

Yes. I completed the PRINCE2® qualification soon after I started my role as a clinical expert within IT project management.

As a new project manager it helped me to become familiar with the elements of a project and formalise my processes and documentation. I learned the language of the profession, which is a fundamental tool in any career.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?

If you had told me I’d be a clinical IT project manager 5 years ago, I would have laughed and if you’d told me I would be a radiographer 10 years before that I would also have laughed…

I’m drawn to opportunities where I can learn and I’m not ruling out another qualification, possibly an MBA. I work hard at what I am doing because I genuinely enjoy the reward of a job well done and I’ve learned to keep an open mind to opportunities.

What advice do you have for women who might be thinking about moving into project management or who have just started?

Plan carefully and be realistic about timescales. Keep accurate documents and ensure it is clear who is responsible for what. Keep your RAID document up to date and report on them accordingly. You may also need the support of the project sponsor to mitigate issues further down the line.

Project management is transferable across so many different industries, so even if you move on, the skills you learn will be invaluable to any job role you do in the future and of course may help you project manage an extension on the house.

Yes, I’ve put my skills to use doing that at home! What do you wish you had known when you started in PM?

What I shouldn’t be doing. It’s not about shirking your responsibilities, but about effective use of your time. If there’s a task that can be allocated to an administrator or tasks that can be managed by implementing a process for others to follow, then invest the time in setting that up.

Finally, I want to hear about the award. What does it mean to you to get this far? What happens next?

I have been shortlisted to the final 10 in my category of technology and I am thrilled.

I was nominated by a previous manager. Following this I had to submit a short bio, along with supporting information about my achievements, how I was helping others and how I thought I could be a role model in my industry.

It is such a confidence boost to get this far in an industry I am so new to. I work outside my comfort zone quite a lot and I like it. It’s important to me that I keep learning, but this also means that there can be some real peaks and troughs in your working week.

The elation of being shortlisted for something like this has really boosted me through the challenging days. The fact that it is about promoting women in business really is the icing on the cake.

I’m attending a celebratory event at Bloomberg for everyone who has been shortlisted and the winners are announced on 19th June.

Excellent! We wish you all the best with that. Thanks, Emma.