The pathway to project management, taking the road less travelled

“In the project world where progress doesn’t always follow a straight path, taking the road less travelled to be successful can be a perfect foundation for problem solving,”
Jennifer Kerr, Project Performance and Business Improvement Manager at Subsea7.

Jennifer began her career as a Management Accountant in finance before making the leap into project management.  She is now a Chartered Project Professional (ChPP) and Chair of the Recruitment and Attraction Working Group within the Project Management Steering Group (PMSG)*.

We caught up with her to find out more about her career journey, how she balances her work with having a young family and how she finds being a woman in the Engineering Construction Industry (ECI).

Making the move from finance to project management

Jennifer joined Subsea7 in 2012 as part of the Financial Planning & Analysis team and after a few years moved to Projects as a Finance Supervisor. In 2017, she took part in the ECITB Active Cup and it was this experience which put her onto the pathway to a career in project management.

Jennifer Kerr, Project Performance and Business Improvement Manager at Subsea7.

Jennifer Kerr


Subsea7 vessels in Aberdeen. Image courtesy of Subsea7.

Subsea7 vessels in Aberdeen

The Active Cup – it’s intense!

“My manager asked if I would like to take part in the ECITB Active Cup and I jumped at the opportunity.

“Set in an immersive role-playing scenario, you experience various aspects of project management. It’s intense; the time pressures put you on the spot and take you out of your comfort zone. That is when the learning happens. Not just about what you know, but about who you are.

“Whilst every team starts out from the same place, it is clear from the off that there is no single solution, and each team takes a different path to deliver the scope of work. What I learned (perhaps the hard way) was the importance of listening and exploring the suggestions from within the team in order to make the best decisions.

“Every year we receive overwhelmingly positive feedback from those who participate. They always return to work with a new appreciation for project management.”

Learning from the experience of others

The competition sparked Jennifer’s interest in project management and her drive for continued learning led to her involvement in the ECITB Project Management Mentoring Programme.

“It allowed me to connect with and learn from an accomplished project manager from another company within the industry. The programme was insightful, and it offered time and space to ask questions and acquire a fresh perspective.”

Project management progression

In 2018, Jennifer became an Assistant Project Manager, then Project Manager, working on projects in the North Sea and Caspian regions.

Not one to sit on her laurels, she achieved the Chartered Project Professional standard through the ECITB supported programme whilst on maternity leave.

She returned to work in 2022 as Subsea7’s Project Performance and Business Improvement Manager and remains part of the project management community. This role draws upon Jennifer’s commercial and operational experience, exploring opportunities to develop people, processes and tools.

POps-IOG Seven Navica Pipe Reel. Image courtesy of Subsea7.

Pipe lay work in the North Sea.

Eng Bundle Shore Inwards. Image courtesy of Subsea7.

Subsea7’s pipeline bundle being launched from their Wester site in Caithness.

Balancing work and family

With this role being a step away from operations, Jennifer has been able to effectively balance her work and home life with a young family. She aspires to return to projects in the future and acknowledges that this move may require an element of compromise:

“There will be times when the needle shifts, but recognising this and taking proactive measures to safeguard the time with my husband and children will be a priority. I know that with the support of Subsea7 we can make this work.”

Are we creating space for women in engineering and construction?

“I have been in the industry for 15+ years and whilst it is encouraging that more women are forging careers in the ECI, there remains barriers to entry and promotion. Honest and open conversations are essential to ensure that workplaces are truly inclusive and that the full potential of our workforces are being realised.

Last year, I attended the PM Conference in Aberdeen and what stood out to me was that more women attended than ever before. A small indicator that progress is being made.”

Taking a lead within the PMSG

The theme for the last ECITB Project Management Conference was ‘Shaping our Energy Future’. At the event, the general consensus amongst the speakers was that there are not enough skilled workers across our industry to meet the scale of projects coming up in the next ten years. This provided a springboard for action for the PMSG and the Recruitment and Attraction Working Group was formed. Jennifer chairs the group and explains the work they have ahead of them:

“Often project management is not perceived as a profession in its own right. Yet it takes a certain skillset to plan projects and make them successful. It requires effective risk management, stakeholder engagement and a whole host of other skills.

“The Working Group is focussed on supporting initiatives to provide awareness to students about the prospects of a career in Project Management as well as establishing a framework to bring apprentices into the project community. We need to nurture a new pipeline of talent and establish support networks. It is encouraging to think we can help to construct new pathways and improve diversity within our project teams.”

Any advice for those considering a career in Project Management?

“Two things that I find helpful:

1. Regularly remind yourself of the end goal.
I don’t know how many times I have found myself caught up in activities that were not value-adding and ultimately were not helping to achieve the objective. Stand back and filter out the noise.

2. Be curious!
Ask questions and really listen to the responses. Make it a habit. Read articles, attend events and connect with people. There is just so much to learn and so many exciting and ground-breaking projects to be a part of.”

Read more about ECITB Project Management programmes

* The ECITB Project Management Steering Group (PMSG) is made up of representatives from leading oil and gas, renewables and energy transition companies and related stakeholders located in the North East of Scotland.

It aims to drive and positively influence the skills and competency development for project management and project leadership and has spearheaded leadership training, the mentoring programme and published the Project Collaboration Toolkit.

Copyright: Images courtesy of Subsea7