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Working lives

Allan Ockenden, 51, is an associate with Mott MacDonald and project manager on the Maitreya Buddha, a 150m statue soon to be built in north east India.

Three times the height of the Statue of Liberty, the Maitreya Buddha will be the largest in the world. Mott MacDonald is project manager and structural engineer for the entire £100M development for client Maitreya Project International, and is working as part of a 50-strong Anglo-Indian team. The iconic landmark is intended to bring spiritual inspiration to a wide audience and direct benefits to India's poorest state through tourism and employment.

Route to job I took the conventional route into civil engineering through a BSc at City University. In my early career I worked in the highways sector in design and on site, and gained invaluable experience abroad in Africa and south east Asia.

I joined Mott MacDonald in 1979 and was able to work in areas like buildings and commercial developments, as well as extending my experience in highways managing projects such as the Dartford Crossing, on behalf of the Department of Transport. When the opportunity arose to transfer out of highways into management services - specialising in programme, project and construction management - I jumped at it. I saw this as a way of using my broad based skills in coordinating large, multi-disciplinary projects worldwide. The Maitreya project is just the sort of thing I hoped would come my way. To win the contract, we first had to demonstrate that Mott MacDonald's strong multidisciplinary capability could provide all the project management support the client required.

Expectations Once I had experienced working on different aspects of project development I wanted more responsibility, I wanted to be involved in the total development and be at the front end of the decision making process.

The Maitreya project is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Not only is it a huge technical and management challenge, it also provides the chance to create a structure for posterity - something that I could look back on with pride and satisfaction.

The reality So far it has not been a disappointment and I am enjoying the challenges that come up every day working on such a fascinating scheme. My role is key in deciding the procurement strategy, and in co-ordinating technical input from other parties. Beyond this I lead a team with day to day responsibility for monitoring cost, programme and quality, on behalf of the client. I am the focal point for all the teams working on the project, including structural engineering, architecture, bronze development and environmental engineering. I also have to ensure we are all pulling harmoniously in the same direction towards a common goal. I am there to advise on technical decisions and ensure that the client's aspirations are translated into reality. On Maitreya we are using skills outside the normal remit of civil engineering including the development of novel technologies in bronze casting and reverse engineering, a process more familiar in the automotive industry.

Advice To be a good project manager you must first gain a broad experience in different sectors of the engineering industry thereby, understanding how it functions.

While there are tools and techniques that help, there is nothing like practical experience to teach how things happen in real life, how people react and how you deal with it. It is all about having a broad technical base, a clear understanding of how people relate to each other, understanding the client's requirements, planning ahead and most importantly, communicating with everyone involved to make sure that you are all going in the same direction.

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