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Fuelling success

What skills make a good civil engineering manager? Antony Oliver speaks to Graeme Stewart, winner of last year's Civil Engineering Manager of the Year Award to find out.

AFTER SPENDING nearly 20 years in the petrochemical industry, BP Amoco project manager Graeme Stewart reckons he has gained project and design experience beyond that specific to the civil engineering industry.

This wide variety of challenges has enabled him to develop his management skills.

But 'I don't think that the skills required to make a good civil engineering manager are any different from those required for any other sort of manager, ' he says. 'Maybe the first skill is having a good understanding of what you don't understand - I guess the advantage of multi-disciplinary projects is that no one is expected to be expert in all areas.'

What is clear, however, is that Stewart has been a successful manager. After winning last year's Civil Engineering Manager of the Year Award for his work on BP Amoco's £60M vapour recovery plant in Scotland, his firm has rewarded him with control of a £130M petrochemical plant being designed in southern France.

Teamwork is the key, he maintains. He had to take the glory from the award, with coverage in newsletters and local newspapers - particularly his donation of the cash prize to a cancer charity which was doubled by BP Amoco. But bringing the Scottish project in early and £5M under budget was, he insists, down to more than just his expertise.

'We all need a considerable amount of support from our clients on what they actually want, from our peers in helping us develop the right strategies for any particular project, and from contractors and suppliers in helping to meet those needs in the most efficient way.'

Stewart points out that within the BP Amoco organisation there are many examples of successful civil engineers acting as managers outside the mainstream civil engineering sector.

Within the petrochemical industry, he says, civil engineering is rarely seen as a critical discipline, so forcing engineers to concentrate on developing other skills.

'Included among these skills has to be an ability to see the larger picture and understand what is important to others, both at a professional and a personal level, ' he explains. 'A non-confrontational approach helps in creating an atmosphere where people can come forward with their ideas and concerns which can benefit the project enormously.'

However, he is clear that this does not translate simply into him encouraging people to be nice to each other.

'We need to guard against regarding a non-confrontational approach as meaning that project disciplines and controls can be ignored and everything will work fine since we're all friends, ' he explains. 'There need to be robust systems and procedures in place to provide a basic project operating framework regardless of contract types.'

Of course, this ability to encourage people to work together, come up with good ideas and sort out problems does not come naturally to all. Spotting this potential should, however, be a priority for firms looking to move their businesses forward.

'I would say an ability to work with a wide variety of different people, with different interests and drivers, allied with performance, is the key, ' says Stewart, explaining what he looks for in managers. 'Measures need to be in place within an organisation to allow people to be assessed against their peers, and for projects to be benchmarked against agreed targets.'

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