Thrown to the Wolves

Our young engineer is pushed into a temporary project management role


Another year has come to a close, and the regional office out of which I am based is still standing. There have been ups and downs over the past 12 months, from having to say goodbye to coworkers due to downsizing, and then regaining enough work to bring them aboard once more, to losing bid after bid at one jobsite and now seemingly be in the good graces of the owner again, having been awarded consecutive projects for the first time in over a year.

As a company, we experienced the loss of long-time, valuable clients to the economic downturn, and started new relationships with companies in market segments not affected by the sluggish economy. On the personal side of my life, I also experienced big changes, having purchased my first home and gotten married. I guesss I cleared two of lifes biggest hurdles. To sum it all up, 2002 has been a roller coaster. I count myself fortunate to have survived the ride relatively unscathed and wiser for the journey.

It is only fitting, given the year gone by, that life should toss me another curveball. A project manager in our company recently resigned, leaving a void that must quickly be filled to avoid disruption in the projects currently under way. To bring in someone new, with no knowledge of how we as a company do business or firsthand knowledge of the projects themselves, would be challenging, to say the least. So, to bridge the gap from this point until an experienced candidate can be hired and brought up to speed, I have been chosen to be the interim project manager.

Many people would be thrilled at such an opportunity to learn a new skill set, which is gaining broader application throughout the business world, and add to their resume a truly marketable ability. I find myself torn at the prospect. Control system design is my first professional love, and it will be difficult to leave that behind, even if only for a brief time. Right now, there are several engineering prospects on the horizon that pique my interest. If I were to assume the duties of project manager, it would compromise my chances of working on these, or any, engineering projects for a while.

Also, as with any new role within the company, there is a fear of failure on my part. Due to the relatively abrupt departure of our colleague, there is little or no time for any sort of training. A more traditional candidate for the position would shadow a senior project manager for several weeks, learning the way the company does business and picking up on valuable practices and techniques. In this instance, there is no time for this progression to occur.

I am "thrown to the wolves," and the prospect is not exactly wonderful. There are many tasks and duties that, as an engineer, I had no opportunity or desire for, but now theyre falling in my lap. Duties such as material submittals, order tracking, and receipt verification were tasks I happily left to the project manager. Uh-oh, I am the project manager now.

So far I have only touched upon the perceived downsides of the situation. As with most chances in life, there are upsides as well. First and foremost, becoming a project manager, even only for a brief stint, is great experience to put on ones resume. An engineer with experience in the financial/customer service/project lifecycle aspects of the business is extremely valuable, for they will aid in achieving the overall success of the project. There is also the possibility that I may enjoy the project management field enough to consider pursuing the position on a full-time basis. To be fair, I have made many of my judgments of the profession from the outside looking in, so changing the perspective may change the opinion.

One of the biggest reservations I harbor comes from seeing the project managers frustrated and angry at times, with clients, situations, and often themselves. These moments stick out in my memory, but I dont see the successes and victories as clearly as the failures and defeats. Experiencing both sides of the coin firsthand may change my perspective.

One other opportunity comes from accepting project management responsibilities. It is yet another gauge to help me decide whether or not to start my own business in the future. Ah yes, the American dream! Free market capitalism at its finest! Going into business for oneself is a huge undertaking and a commitment not to be taken lightly. This will be a great chance to see if I enjoy the project management process enough to want to do it for myself someday.

Currently, I am in the beginning phases of reading my personality and tendencies, to truly ascertain if I am cut from the right cloth to become a small business owner. Its definitely not something Im rushing into, but this is a great test of my character, desire, and abilities that could be put into use in the future, when I am in charge of all aspects of a project.

On the whole, the opportunity is a good one, so I will jump into it headfirst and see what happens. There is nothing to lose and a lot to gain from the experience and knowledge for the future. Well, here goes¦Wish me luck!"

We Need a New Columnist

J.G. Holbrook has decided to stop writing this column for CONTROL. If you believe your writing would be suitable for this space, e-mail


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