In our ongoing pursuit of excellence, Gresham Smith has rolled out a transformative addition to its professional development playbook: Essential Skills for Project Professionals. Conducted three times a year, this in-house training workshop seeks to equip individuals with the tools and information necessary to lead their technical discipline successfully. We recently had the chance to sit down with John Wharton, Gresham Smith’s director of Project Delivery Excellence and a facilitator for the program, to discuss the dynamics of this unique training opportunity.
What role does a project professional play?
John Wharton: Within Gresham Smith, a project professional essentially functions as the project manager for their technical discipline, such as architecture or civil engineering. Depending on the project’s scale, they can lead any number of people working within their discipline. Their role is critical in establishing labor budgets for all activities associated with a project, meeting schedule requirements, and leading their team to deliver the project documents that will be used by our clients.
Additionally, project professionals are responsible for making sure a project meets our quality standards. Because it’s multifaceted in nature, the role demands a nuanced balance between technical expertise and leadership dexterity.
“Because it’s multifaceted in nature, the role demands a nuanced balance between technical expertise and leadership dexterity.”
What prompted the development of the Essential Skills for Project Professionals training?
John: The inception of the training stems from a recognition of a historical training gap that’s prevalent across the industry. Traditionally, graduates in fields like architecture, engineering and other technical disciplines enter the workforce with little training on how to contribute to projects, and typically no training on project leadership. In other words, they are not equipped to be effective project professionals.
Our training initiative acts as a remedy to that, with the goal of providing a holistic understanding of a project professional’s role and responsibilities. I like to think of it as a road map that guides individuals to become well-versed in every facet of their role so they possess the knowledge and the skills expected for their tasks.
“Traditionally, graduates in fields like architecture, engineering and other technical disciplines enter the workforce with little training on how to contribute to projects, and typically no training on project leadership… Our training initiative acts as a remedy to that…”
Tell us about the structure and nature of the training.
John: Our most recent training course was virtual and encompassed 24 project professionals who represented seven of our markets and 12 Gresham Smith office locations. They have all since graduated with flying colors! The training spans five half-days, mirroring the structure of our project manager workshop, and covers a wide range of topics. On day one, we delve into subjects such as leadership, roles and responsibilities, and tools. As the workshop progresses, we cover topics like proposals, specifications, our quality control process, and the dynamics of cross-functional teams, leading up to project closeout.
Central to the training is the Project Professional Playbook, which is a consolidated document that outlines all expectations and responsibilities of a project professional. More than just a reference point, the playbook acts as a comprehensive guide linking to the firm’s Quality Management System [QMS]. The QMS provides detailed information on specific tasks, making sure that every project professional follows the Gresham Smith way of executing projects to maintain both quality and consistency.
“Many tools and procedures have been created within Gresham Smith to help our teams deliver the highest quality service to our clients. As a project professional, I want my projects to run efficiently while maintaining high standards through every phase of project delivery.
The Essential Skills for Project Professionals course taught me how to effectively utilize these resources, tools, policies and procedures to achieve the best outcomes for each project. I look forward to sharing the knowledge I’ve gained with all my friends and teammates throughout Gresham Smith.”
Tom Christian, Architect
Healthcare | Nashville
Apart from yourself, who else at the firm contributes to the training?
John: We bring in as many people as possible to be facilitators/instructors, including EVPs, MVPs, Corporate Services directors, technical practice leaders, our Learning & Development group instructors, and project managers, who all play a vital role in guiding participants. Behind the scenes, our Learning & Development group also handles logistics, which contributes significantly to the overall success of the training. It’s a true collaborative effort that helps us to deliver an impactful learning experience.
“When you truly understand what’s expected of you, it’s almost like having a secret sauce that boosts your confidence and makes you more comfortable in your role.”
What distinguishes our training approach, and what benefits does it offer?
John: Unlike traditional education, which often prioritizes the technical aspects of an A/E job, our training distinguishes itself by placing equal importance on fostering leadership and project management skills alongside technical expertise. It’s not only a win-win for the participants; it benefits the entire firm. When you truly understand what’s expected of you, it’s almost like having a secret sauce that boosts your confidence and makes you more comfortable in your role. And that leads to a team of higher-performing, more efficient project professionals.
Another unique aspect of our training approach is the inclusion of a sample project. In the most recent Essential Skills for Project Professionals workshop, we incorporated a diverse business park featuring a short highway, site preparation, a water system, a medical center, a visitor center and an industrial facility, which set the stage for some great collaboration among the markets.
The class was challenged with real-world project scenarios tailored to their respective markets, and they then had to determine the tools necessary for successful project execution. This practice exercise was particularly valuable as it prepared them for the twists and turns that come with these types of diverse projects.
Do you offer any post-training resources?
John: Absolutely. The learning process doesn’t end just because the workshop does. Post-training, members of the class receive follow-up emails, providing an opportunity to ask questions or seek additional assistance. Our facilitators and instructors, whom they’ve built connections with during the workshop, are also available for further guidance.
Additionally, we encourage participants to engage in knowledge-sharing with their peers, as they may have had the chance to apply their newfound skills in real-world scenarios. I think it’s important to note that the iterative nature of our training ensures that any lessons learned are incorporated into future sessions, which underscores the firm’s commitment to continuous improvement.
“The Essential Skills for Project Professionals course not only reinforced my existing knowledge but crucially brought project professionals from diverse markets onto the same standardized track. This training ensures that everyone follows the Gresham Smith way, which not only promotes a spirit of collaboration but also enables seamless support across disciplines.
The class provides a valuable foundation, especially for newer team members, aligning us all with a common set of skills and standards. Now, we can more confidently contribute to projects, knowing that we share this unified approach.”
Poppy Hill, Senior Architect
Industrial | Home Office
What are the long-term benefits of the training?
John: The training’s enduring benefits go well beyond improving current roles. It acts as a foundation for those aspiring to venture into project management and other leadership roles, creating a community of individuals with a common knowledge base, and promoting a uniform approach to projects throughout their professional journeys. So, our focus is on the long game! It’s not solely about the present—it’s about shaping the future leaders of Gresham Smith.