Why Lee chose a career in project management
When Lee Leitner was in high school, he was dreaming of a career as a pilot. But rather than being up in the sky, he now finds himself sitting at a waterfront office where on any given day he can see Australian Navy ships coming and going.
23 October 2023
Projects that make a difference
As a project manager (PM) with over a decade’s experience, Lee is currently embedded in a Navy defence project as part of the Navy Capability Infrastructure Sub-Program (NCIS). Based on site with the managing contractor at HMAS Cairns, he’s part of a larger project management team that will oversee the planning and delivery of a new Navy Wharf and associated landside infrastructure to support the Introduction-Into-Service of the new Arafura Class Offshore Patrol Vessels.
While Lee’s role gives him access to uninterrupted sea views, which would make him the envy of most others, it’s also a position that demands a high level of stakeholder engagement, with real time operational risks to the Navy. Lee works closely with the contractor and the base, to ensure that Navy vessels can continue to access critical infrastructure; to support refuelling and resupply, to ensure vessels can remain active and resume patrolling our waters and shipping lanes, to keep our boarders safe.
When it comes to working on projects that make an impact, you’d describe Lee as being clued-up. In the past, he was also part of the team responsible for a Greenfield $2 billion hospital project which delivered 738 tertiary hospital beds, including 50 ICU beds and 20 theatres. On a project of such size and scale, Lee says there are so many moving parts that can present challenges to a project; but with a proactive team that promotes effective and timely communication, you can pull it all together – and deliver on time.
“A real highlight for me was just being a part of the synergy that this project team brought to the table. It’s not possible for any one person to be across all aspects of a project of this size, so you really need to rely on everyone in your team to play their part.”
The pull of problem-solving
Over the past 10 years, Lee’s work as a project manager has not only spanned defence and health, but also large-scale commercial and internal fit out projects, with one common thread being his core driver: problem solving.
According to Lee, it’s the biggest drawcard that saw him embark on a career in project management – and pushes him to drive home results for the project.
“I really enjoy problem-solving. Coming to work each day and not knowing exactly what to expect is what keeps me in this role and what I find most rewarding.”
For Lee, the problem-solving aspect of project management is like cracking the code of a complicated puzzle or riddle – and when you can find a solution and become unstuck, he says it can be really fulfilling.
“Specifically, I enjoy being resourceful and taking on a challenging task, turning it on its head, and providing a positive outcome for the project and for the client”.
Using critical thinking to tackle problems is a trait that harks back to Lee’s childhood. He recalls a time when he created a Rubik’s Cube competition and roped in all his friends to participate.
"I didn't win. But I did solve the Rubik's Cube," he laughs.
Early lessons learned and heeded
When Lee started off as a project manager, he was fortunate to have family members and close friends already working in the industry and helped guide him into the PM space. Lee realised swiftly, that to become a better project manager, communication, and teamwork where key components of the job.
“I think effective communication skills is an absolute must for any project manager regardless of what environment you’re playing in. It’s important to be approachable, to develop trust with your clients and with your project team and to be objective when listening to others. While there are many other facets of project management, I believe this is the key foundation for the success of anyone looking to pursue a career as a PM”.
“No one likes surprises, especially ones that have a detrimental impact to your project. In most instances with a little bit of notice we can find workarounds for obstacles that arise during the delivery of a project, but without effective and prompt communication this can become unachievable,” he elaborates.
So, is there something that keeps Lee awake at night? “All going well I’m able to leave my work at the office and keep a healthy balance spending quality time with the family, although there are certainly times when it becomes difficult to switch off,” he says.
“You find yourself waking up in the middle of the night with a series of ideas on how to overcome a project challenge. I’ve always found the best way to deal with that is to write everything down on your notepad or phone, so you don’t feel that you need to remember it all.”
How Lee became a project manager
Lee’s foray into the world of project management was somewhat unconventional. While his peers may have been emailing potential employees, Lee opted to jump on his motorbike with a bunch of hard copy CVs and go door knocking.
“No-one else was really physically going door-to-door,” he recalls.
This gave Lee his unique personal value proposition. While not every company was receptive to his alternative tactics, Lee says bucking the digital trend certainly got him noticed.
“A few companies were really good, and I got to speak to someone from HR or a project manager. In a lot of cases, it actually meant that my CV just landed on top of someone's desk at the time when they might have been looking for an undergrad.”
His advice for new PM’s entering the field is simple: go door knocking.
“Whether you’re straight out of school or just finished your tertiary studies, you would be pleasantly surprised at the opportunities that will arise from showing the initiative of going door-to-door to hand in your CV and have a face-to-face conversation with someone when you’re asking for an opportunity to work for them. While you might stumble a few times, it really gives you a chance to showcase your dancing skills”.
Lee’s dream project
Being curious and inquisitive has allowed Lee a seat at the table on many impactful and rewarding projects.
But if he could roll the dice, or be granted a wish from inside an ancient genie bottle, what would his ideal project look like?
“Give me a major project on a tropical island with access to a sports fishing boat and I’m all yours. I would just need to convince the family!”