Most kids don’t grow up dreaming of becoming a project manager. It’s the type of profession that seems very technical and difficult to define, but in reality, it’s a hugely growing field that is relevant to most industries.
For Sue Ann McKenzie-Smith, now Head of Customer Service and APAC Professional Services for Intelledox, a leading software solutions company, there were many roads that led her to her eventual career in project management and IT.
“When I graduated from university, I had an opportunity with a graduate program based in Canberra, and I went to work with the Department of Defence. I was patriotic about what I wanted to achieve by working for Defence.”
Sue Ann was rotated through a number of different areas within the large organisation, and soon realised her passion lay in information technology. What started as an initial spark of interest turned into a long career in IT for a wide range of industries; spanning from Defence to mining, to animation and even working within the Brisbane Treasury Casino, before she found herself working in the engineering support team for an aerospace giant, Boeing.
“My career really took off with Boeing,” Sue Ann says. “I went in there more as a support person to their engineering systems and was promoted within the first three months to leader of the engineering support team.”
This rapid progression is testament to Sue Ann’s recognisable prowess as an independent thinker, problem solver, and leader. It wasn’t long before she was promoted to leading the project management team, rolling out major Boeing IT projects across the country.
“I guess I like the business of IT,” she explains simply. “It’s quite fast-moving and I am passionate about projects. I am passionate about following the right way to do things, and there is a bit of a formula in the way to achieve the best outcome for your clients, and if that’s all followed, it comes together and has a great result.”
Whilst her career has spanned numerous industries—mining, Defence and aerospace– there is a thread of commonality between them: they’ve all been male-dominated. But Sue Ann strongly believes this is something that has helped her to harness unique opportunities.
“In some cases, being a woman in a male-dominated industry can work to your advantage, because you offer a different perspective and that’s appreciated. I feel quite comfortable in those situations.”
Interestingly, it was during her time out of the workforce raising newborn twins that proved the most useful period for Sue Ann to reflect on her career and think ahead to what she wanted to accomplish in the future.
It was this deliberation that led her to apply to become a Chartered Manager through the Institute of Managers and Leaders, with Sue Ann explaining there were three main reasons that compelled her.
“It offered me an opportunity to do a review of my career for myself, and really explore my experience as a manager. The other reason I did it was because I wanted to stay engaged with what was happening in the world, and what was happening with leadership and teams.
“And also, I liked the different areas that you covered as part of doing the accreditation, that help to better identify your skills as a person. So, for me it was like, ‘yes, I have achieved that’, but also acknowledge I had achieved it through an independent process.”
In undergoing the interview process as part of the accreditation, Sue Ann was gratified to realise that in many ways, she had more experience than she necessarily gave herself credit for. Importantly, it also reinforced her confidence in returning to a leadership role when the opportunity next arose.
“It definitely gives you a level of deeper confidence in your skills and abilities, especially in each of the areas the Institute has identified as being important for a strong manager.”
There’s no doubt that Sue Ann has the skills and the experience to keep making strides in male-dominated industries, as a leading women and qualified manager.