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A day in the life of a project manager

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6th Jun GeneralBusiness
Penny Smith, Adlington Retirement Living

Construction project manager

What are the main responsibilities of your role?

I’m part of a team of four project managers who all report to the development manager.

We work with every single team in the business. I’ve heard a lot of people describe us as the glue that binds a project together. We are responsible for the management and coordination of everything connected with the design, build and delivery of a new development.

No day is the same and we have to adapt to the challenges that each site throws our way. One day we might be working with Network Rail, The Canal Rivers Trust or Conservation issues. Another day we might be dealing with the National House Building Council.

We must be really organised and pre-empt each next step to make the build run smoothly. At the same time, we try to bring out the best in the team so the engineers, architects, and the M&E (mechanical and electrical systems) all work well together.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

A project manager has to mould themselves to whatever a project needs, and that flexibility allows us to use different skills. One day you might be talking to a planning officer and the next you’re talking to a brick layer. I love the diversity of it. You feel really involved in the project. Every day is different, and every site is different, which allows us so many opportunities to learn and grow.

One of my favourite stages of the process is the final fit out of the building. That’s when we get it ready for our management team to operate from the new development and our homeowners to move in. We have to think about every last detail before we get to that stage. That’s so important for our customers and their families. It may take 18 months to reach that point and then suddenly, it all comes together, and we turn a building into a stylish new home with modern simplicity.

What attracted you to this area of expertise?

I always wanted to work in the construction industry since the age of 11. My Dad and my Grandad were always building things and I was a bit of a tomboy. I was forever making things like rabbit hutches or little things for my dolls to play out in. My Dad would come home and there would be bricks all over the lawn!

I’ve always liked making things and I just think it’s quite powerful to make somebody a home. I was surrounded by plumbers and builders and the idea of building something for somebody fascinated me, it still does fascinate me.

How did you get to your current role?

I’ve been part of Adlington Retirement Living since it was established in 2009. Before that, I worked for Gladman Developments on the commercial and industrial side of the business. I’ll have been with the company for 27 years in July.

I’m very passionate about what we do because I can see it makes a massive difference to our homeowners and their families. It’s important to give people the opportunity in later life to live a healthy, happy life doing whatever they enjoy. Offering friendship and well-being on their doorstep is key to what we do and our design and build always keep this objective in mind.

I was very close to my grandparents and learnt a lot from them, which I think has helped me to see things from different perspectives. As a society we sometimes dismiss the elderly generation, but I find their stories and experiences interesting. My view is that when you’ve worked hard all your life, you shouldn’t have to worry about the upkeep of your garden or maintaining your roof anymore.

What are the most significant challenges in your field of work?

An important part of my role is connecting with the local residents near a site. During construction we work hard to allay any fears or concerns our neighbours may have and to minimise noise and disruption for them during the construction phase.

COVID has brought its own challenges and has affected almost every area of what we do. Neighbours that wouldn’t normally be affected by our construction works have been trying to work from home and in some cases home schooling young children at the same time.

I like working with the local community because when we’ve finished the development we don’t move away. Our homeowners and management team are there for the long term, so I think it’s vital we become good neighbours, and important for our homeowners to feel part of the local community as soon as they move in.

How do you overcome them?

I openly give my telephone number to our neighbours so that if they have a problem or a concern, they can call me directly and I will do my best to sort it out for them. For a lot of people, if they can phone and talk to somebody directly to discuss any issue, it makes them feel better about the situation. I think we should consider how we’re impacting their lives.

You only get one chance to make a first impression and we want that to be a good one. Word of mouth is powerful, so we want our neighbours to have good things to say about us.

We’re always doing little things to be a good neighbour where we can. Recently we had a lady who was having some work done on the trees in her garden and we helped to remove the cut branches via our site so she wouldn’t have to carry them through her house. Little things like that go a long way.

We’ve had some fantastic success stories, including one where a neighbour who had objected to the development at the planning stage, later became one of our biggest advocates. He wrote a beautiful letter to say what a difference it made to the local community.

What gives you the most satisfaction?

I love hearing feedback from our homeowners and reading their testimonials on our website. I believe companionship is so important and a lot of people who live on their own can feel isolated. Our homeowners don’t have to be. They can have their peace and quiet when they want to and if they don’t, they can make new friendships in our Homeowners’ lounge, enjoy a coffee and chat, or share a meal in the restaurant. It’s so lovely to be able to know that you make a difference to people’s lives.

There’s also nothing more satisfying than seeing the site of a derelict old petrol station become beautiful homes and a hub for our retirement communities.

Many of our developments were brownfield sites. Two sites were previously old schools, one was a nursing home, and another an old pub. Our site at Macclesfield was a mechanics garage that had closed and was somewhat derelict along the banks of the Macclesfield Canal. Now when you stroll along the towpath you see The Bridges, a beautiful building that brought new life back to the area. 

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in your career, and how have you made use of it?

I enjoy putting my experience to good use. Our architects and designers sometimes ask for my input on plans and I really enjoy that side of things. I’ll evaluate something and recall when we might have had issues in the past so I can see that it’s a great idea on paper but perhaps it’s not worked for us. It’s important that we work collaboratively because we all see things from different perspectives and that helps us to create the best possible solutions.

The most important thing I’ve learned is to listen. Every day is a school day and you’ve got to always learn and listen to what other individuals say, whether that’s a planning officer asking you to do something or a customer or a neighbour telling you something. I think listening’s really important.