Lucy Symington Director Montlaur Project Services  / 
Your opinion is just as good as the next person...

story / Interview / August 14, 2017

I studied property at RMIT intending to go into property development. During my last year I worked with Australia Post, within their property real estate division. Through their graduate program I did a bunch of things including leasing, some development management, managing consultants, and project management. I didn’t love the feeling of a big corporate organisation at the time.

My previous boss at Australia Post actually got me a job with Montlaur. He set up the interview then basically said “Time for you to get out of here and do something else!” I moved over to Montlaur seven years ago. I saw it as an opportunity to understand projects from start to finish, still thinking that I wanted to go into a strict development type role, but I ended up really enjoying project management and staying here.

To be quite honest, ​before starting, I didn’t actually fully understand what it was that a project manager does. It’s a different term in every industry and even within the industry.

I got thrown in the deep end​. I went straight to working for NAB on their new headquarters. The structure of our organisation is very good in that way. If they believe you are capable of delivering a project or understanding the client and project requirements, they will basically give you the responsibility to deliver that and maintain a position in the background as more of a sounding board. I was seconded to NAB for three years.

I’ve always had an interest in how businesses are run and in strategy, rather than just going to work everyday and going through the daily grind. My role now is more about overseeing projects, business development, sourcing new work and getting involved in where the business is going, and where we want to get it. It’s interesting because I love getting involved in the detail and understanding what’s going on…so it’s hard to pull back.

I think networking ​and building working relationships is harder than people credit. Attending industry events, following up leads, speaking and networking with people that you don’t necessarily have a connection with, is difficult. Some people are better at the sales pitch than others. The mental game shift that helped me (hopefully) better myself in this respect, is genuinely believing what you’re ‘selling’.

The thing I love ​most about the industry is seeing the end product – the tangible nature of project delivery and running it from start to finish. I love the design phase and feel that’s one of the more exciting points in a project. Then seeing how people use the space. All those components that you put so much thought into at the front end… seeing them come to life and working in the way intended – is really exciting. Being able to drive past a project and say that you were involved, is really cool.

Coming out of University I don’t think I thought too much about what it would be like on site. I think it’s pretty incredible. Everything is a lot faster than I imagined. There are a lot more processes, a lot more inputs and background data that goes behind any project. Initially I thought someone completes a design, it goes into construction and that is it! I obviously never thought about the intricacies behind it, the huge amount of consulting, the amount of contractors on site, coordination and the number of people that bring it together. It’s fascinating.

My main piece of advice is to always back yourself. I spent a lot of time stressing out when I was younger, about whether I had understood something correctly, whether I should question advice or speak up in meetings. What I’ve found over the years is that you should always back yourself, because a lot of the time, if you don’t know what’s going on, the ten other people around the room probably don’t either. Be confident.

Think about things in a ​practical way. I think that is something I’ve struggled with. In my early days, I was taking a lot of direction and not necessarily understanding what the outcomes needed to be. As soon as my brain switched to asking, “Why are we doing this? What do you need that for? Who needs to look at this and why have they requested it”? How can we improve this solution?” I suddenly had an understanding for how project management worked. I think some people get stuck in the trap of just doing things because you are told to, or there is a process to follow.

I deal with testing moments by ​just being honest. I think as soon as you try to cover up an issue, you expose yourself. My strategy is to figure out what the issue is, resolve it, ideally before going to the client and then be honest about what happened and why it happened. I think that is all you can do.

There are a lot of ​connotations, particularly in project management that, you should boss people around, you should go into a meeting and expect supremacy. I think it’s ridiculous. I don’t think people want to work with you if you’re renowned for being a bully and you’re creating a negative tone with the wider group. I’m big on collaboration.

The advice I would give to young women ​would be to not let people intimidate you. I think it’s easy for it to happen and it does fairly regularly, particularly when they see young women at the table and there is an inherent perception that ​she hasn’t got enough experience to be involved in the discussion. It’s important not to feel intimidated, to value your own input and know you’re there for a purpose. Your opinion is just as good as the next person.

My mum always said ​‘Not to believe everything!’ My mum is often sceptical. I would come home from school and tell an optimistic story about something potentially far fetched and, she’d say ‘Oh that’s ridiculous!’. At times, I used to think ‘Shut up, let me believe it!’ but I think it’s been a good thing for my development – certainly given me a sense of realism! Don’t trust or take everything you’re told as gospel.

Just next door to the City Wine Shop, we met Lucy at the Spring Street Grocer for some house made gelati in February earlier this year. We talked industry shop for a little bit comparing notes on clients and projects. This being inevitable given the three of us have all worked together at some point in time. We have the utter most respect for Lucy. Nothing passes her. She is incredibly down to earth and hard working. She’s an inspiration to many with the confidence to quietly command the attention she deserves.  Lucy is no doubt onto the next big thing! Watch this space people. We wish you all the best Lucy! 


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