National Highways Operations Director
Helping Mace to deliver transport projects with real impact, Lizz Robinson’s drive for success is second only to her passion for wellbeing, diversity and inclusion. As a key member of our growing central region team in the UK, Lizz is dedicated to the development of the area - driving industry change whilst creating real opportunities for people to grow and thrive.
- How did you get into what you do?
Having achieved mediocre GSCE's, I used this “failure” as an opportunity to learn from and went on to study business and finance at college, naturally excelling in marketing. I decided to follow this pursuit to university but after studying marketing for two and a half years, I’d very much decided that it wasn’t the career for me. I first took on a temporary opportunity working as a personal assistant, before realising that I had a strong inclination towards project management - it not only felt a natural fit for my personality but played to my strengths too. Eventually, I joined Atkins as a Trainee Signalling Design Engineer, having been told I needed to “learn a trade” and that I couldn’t just be a pure project manager. Whilst this got me into infrastructure, it still wasn’t in a role or discipline that I loved.
However, in 2005, I transferred to the highways sector as an Assistant Project Manager and haven’t looked back since. I’ve done cradle-to-grave project management, from procurement all the way through to project delivery, into handover and ongoing maintenance and I now couldn’t imagine working in a different sector - there’s so much opportunity to do good within the highways industry and much work to be done in making it an attractive career choice for the next generation.
- What do you enjoy most about your current role at Mace?
One of the benefits of being a more senior leader in the team is having the opportunity to put diversity and inclusion at the heart of everything I do and empower and encourage the team I manage.
The concept of psychological safety was introduced to me about five years ago, and since starting at Mace I’ve been able to introduce KPI's that allow us to ensure that people can bring their whole selves to work. I use this to continually look to improve, using feedback from my team to ensure our industry can attract individuals from a whole range of backgrounds, knowing that their diversity will be appreciated and respected. The only way we can improve the industry is to attract great, diverse talent and give them a team and environment where they can drive positive change.
- What do you enjoy about working in Mace’s Birmingham office and what do you think the future looks like for the area?
- Three of Mace’s biggest infrastructure clients are in the central region, and there’s a lot of residential and commercial work going on here too. It’s a great place to build a career and to take advantage of the regional mobility opportunities at Mace. Supporting the levelling up agenda, Mace has invested heavily in the regional hubs, and it’s important that we continue to do so in order to drive forward our growing presence in sectors across property and infrastructure, around the UK. We have a lot of talented individuals in our central region team, and I think we will continue to take advantage of the significant growth opportunities and make a real difference here.
- How do you redefine the boundaries of ambition?
- I recently sat on a panel as part of a Women at Mace employee network event that saw 150 people attend. It was a great opportunity to have a conversation and share our collective experiences around women in construction. While historically infrastructure has been a male-dominated industry, it’s time to challenge the status quo in providing equal opportunities for women and it was a great opportunity for me to give back to the Mace community. I’ve also been lucky enough to present to graduates and apprentices from the central region about my career history. There’s no single route to success, and it’s important that we not only promote different early career opportunities, but also make infrastructure attractive for experienced newcomers who have transferable skills.
- What has been your proudest achievement at Mace so far?
- Speaking on the stage at the Highways UK conference was a huge moment for me. A lot of the other speakers were people that I’d admired throughout my career, so it was a huge ‘pinch me’ moment to be sitting on a stage with them and talking with passion about social value in the industry. We are stronger when we join together to tackle industry issues and getting social value high on the agenda is long overdue.
- Why did you choose to join Mace?
- Creating a diverse business is part of Mace’s DNA, and that really aligns with my own values. So it’s great to be making a living from doing something I’m so passionate about. Mace also empowers me to be the best parent and partner that I can be, by truly embracing a positive work-life balance. That flexibility extends to the great regional mobility opportunities on offer throughout the UK, meaning the potential is there to build a career around where you are based.
- What motivates you everyday?
I’m keen to make the highways industry more accessible to women. We’ve got a real responsibility to be engaging with young people across all ages, to inspire them and help them to understand the range of roles available. I’m also eager to change the narrative and show people that the industry has inspiring opportunities for everyone. There’s a diverse range of paths available – it’s not all hard hats and spending time on construction sites, as popular perception might have you believe. Being at Mace gives me a platform where I can showcase those diverse opportunities and career choices. Whatever job you don’t think is in highways, it probably exists. We just don’t talk about it enough.
- What skills do you need to be good at your job?
- Relationship skills are so important for almost any job, but they’ve served me particularly well on my career journey. At more senior levels, you need not only to be able to navigate relationships, build teams and ensure client expectations are exceeded, you’ve got to do so while aligning this to the Mace priorities and in my case, National Highways’ values too. That’s only achievable through an understanding the bigger picture and a lot of listening. Project management is as much about understanding psychology and human behaviours as it is about time, cost and scope.
- What advice would you give to someone looking to get into what you do?
- My main piece of advice would be that there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach to a career in project management. There’s a big emphasis in the UK around going to university as a basis for a good career, but I’m proud of the significant career I’ve made for myself by pursuing the route that felt right to me. I’ve gained hands-on delivery experience from a wide variety of projects, and that path can look different for everyone. I also think it’s really important to work out what doesn’t work for you as much as what does. Too many people spend their lives in jobs they don’t love because they don’t feel like they can change the path they’re on. I’m here to tell you categorically to grab that opportunity to do something you love.
“Creating a diverse business is part of Mace’s DNA and it really aligns with my own values too. It’s great to be making a living from doing something I’m so passionate about.”