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Alumni Sam Woods
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5 minutes with Sam Woods

11 August 2017
Managing a career in project management

The transferable skills gained in his project management degree have played an important role in the career success of Sam Woods so far.

By the time Sam Woods had completed his Bachelor of Project Management in 2014, the 23-year-old had already started working within the engineering consultancy industry with leading company SMEC Australia (SMEC).

Amongst the first cohort of students to graduate from the program, Sam ‘s undergraduate degree had provided him with the essential skills needed to understand the dynamics of how projects are scoped, delivered and managed.

He put these transferable skills to good use on a number of projects as part of SMEC’s energy and sustainability team.

Yet the idea of exploring what else was out there professionally led Sam to pursue a career in financial services, via a postgraduate detour to the Business School where he completed his Master of Management.

Sam is now part of the Business Transformation team at Westpac Group, which focuses on internal transformation projects designed to support the business’ vision of becoming one of the world’s great service companies, helping its customers and communities prosper and grow.

We spoke to Sam about his passion for project management, his career transition and how he sees the role of project managers continuing to evolve over the coming years.

Why did you decide to study a Bachelor of Project Management?

I wasn’t quite sure which direction to take in terms of a career when I finished high school.

What I did know was that I had a passion for working with people, and the specific focus on this really stood out to me when I was reviewing the the Bachelor of Project Management degree at the University of Sydney.

What do you remember enjoying the most during your degree?

Definitely the opportunity to work on collaborative university–industry projects with various organisations. This was such a unique experience; entire subjects were devoted to helping organisations find solutions to the real problems they were facing.

Frequently, the deliverables from these subjects were presented to very senior audiences; to get that kind of exposure at such an early stage of your career development is incredible.

What do you enjoy most about your current role at Westpac Group?

I have a passion for working and collaborating with others and at Westpac Group, I’m very lucky to be in a heavily cooperative and innovative team. Over the past 200 years the company has fostered a fantastic culture that supports both professional and personal development, and experiencing this has been a real highlight.

One of the standout points of the project management degree is how it helps you understand what it’s like to lead and work in a team environment. This skillset has really helped with aligning myself to a completely new industry and company.

What has been the most pivotal moment or choice made during your career to date?

Transitioning from the engineering sector to the financial sector was a big career move for me and it involved undertaking further study.

I was enjoying my time with SMEC Australia, helping to provide project management support and deliver insights to clients, but I knew I wanted to explore opportunities in other industries.

To help me understand which area I wanted to focus my career on, I decided to continue my development by studying a Master of Management – again at the University of Sydney.

My postgraduate studies reaffirmed my interest in strategy, innovation and business transformation and late last year I was fortunate enough to join the Westpac Group and have an opportunity to be more involved in this space.

What advice would you give to a young person considering studying project management?

Immerse yourself in the learning opportunities provided to you both in and outside the classroom.

Any opportunities that involve presentations by industry professionals are so valuable and should not be missed. They are more than happy to pass on their knowledge to you and answer whatever questions you have about becoming a project manager or project specialist.

How do you see the role and importance of project manager grow over the coming years?

There are significant changes now happening around how project managers are perceived and classified in a number of industries. Businesses are placing greater trust in young project professionals who are technically trained in project management by giving them significant responsibilities. This change is really helping to accelerate the careers and development of younger project managers, which is great to see.

Traditionally, project management roles were reserved for team members who worked their way up to senior positions, but in today’s market project management is being recognised as a technical skill. This is helping to create more employment and progression opportunities for graduating project management students.

I also strongly believe that younger project managers are bringing innovation and enthusiasm to their roles which is helping shape the future of what project management is and providing companies with great immediate benefits.

Any final thoughts you would like to share to aspiring project managers?

I highly recommend the Bachelor of Project Management at the University of Sydney to anyone interested in tertiary studies. The degree really is a fantastic mix of technical skills and soft skills that will set you apart in the business world. One of the best things about this degree is the transferability of the skillset you will acquire.

Project management is highly regarded by all kinds of employers and industries and this really enhances the number of career opportunities available to students upon the completion of their studies.