With diverse experience working across the construction consultancy mix, Myra Chukwuemeka is passionate about putting risk management at the heart of our work at Keflavik Airport in Iceland - and taking her entire team on the journey with her. Myra’s drive for success and her determination to embed a truly inclusive culture is a foundation on which that journey is built, helping the project to truly flourish.
- How did you get into what you do?
I tripped and fell into risk after doing my master’s degree and basing my thesis around it. But after a year of working on the Thames Tideway Tunnel in London, I realised that I really loved specialising in this field.
My academic background is in mechanical engineering design and engineering project management, but I’ve found that the logical skills that I developed whilst studying has significantly helped me in making strategic decisions throughout my career and day to day role as a risk manager.
Before I joined Mace, I worked on large water, nuclear and aviation sector projects in the UK, refining my skills in the risk management discipline. There were a couple of reasons for joining Mace; their diverse environment, the numerous complex infrastructure projects they were involved with, and I knew a few of my previous colleagues had joined the company and had had a positive experience. My main reason for joining Mace though, was getting the opportunity to work on the €1.5bn Keflavik Airport expansion programme in Iceland – I had a keen interest in working overseas, so it was a no brainer to take the opportunity.
- What do you enjoy most about your current role at Mace?
Firstly, the people. The team on our project is incredibly supportive, and that’s both Mace and client-side as we take an integrated team approach to the Keflavik Airport expansion. Secondly, it’s the autonomy and room to implement successful UK based processes, procedures, and frameworks. There have been so many opportunities to share knowledge and best practice with the client. Leaving your own stamp on things really makes the difference.
I’ve been able to put my own spin on things in terms of risk and implement the best things I’ve learnt from my career so far. That’s been a fantastic opportunity to challenge myself and manage the risk management process from beginning to end.
- How do you redefine the boundaries of ambition?
I’m always being challenged to do better, push for more and continue to develop myself. To me, redefining the boundaries of ambition means not only making sure that what I’m doing is the best approach for the programme, but also looking to better my own efforts. It’s also feeling empowered to challenge my team not to stick to the status quo but to always look for better solutions to any obstacles we come across.
- Why Mace?
I knew a few people in the industry who had moved to Mace and had nothing but good things to say about the organisation. For me, it seemed like a key company for developing my career due to the number of programmes that we are involved in, both in the UK and internationally.
There is still a lot of gender disparity in the industry but Mace also has a reputation for being a progressive leader in this field, and so this was a significant factor in choosing Mace as my next company to work for. I’ve really felt the ethos of growing together and the talk of inclusivity has rung true.
- What motivates you every day?
I’m driven to make changes where I can. I have a comprehensive understanding of what it means to implement risk in project and programmes, but not everyone else knows that. So, it’s a great opportunity for me to share my knowledge with others and bring them along on the journey. Some people may feel like risk is a box-ticking exercise, and I’m keen to challenge that assumption and educate others on the importance of bringing in risk management early in a programme. Risk is just as important as cost management, procurement, scheduling and planning, as well as all the other things that people might more naturally think of first. As the economy changes with increased financial pressures around the world, managing risk effectively will becoming increasingly important for clients, stakeholders and funders alike.
- What skills do you need to be good at your job?
There are two sides to this, the foremost being that you need to be a people person. It’s a people-facing role where you’ll need to upskill individuals on the subject and delivery of risk management. You have to work on building relationships with the project team to ensure risk is at the heart of the agenda. You’ll also need a technical mindset to undertake cost and schedule risk analysis. I’d say a balance of both of these are really helpful in building a successful career in risk.
- What advice would you give to someone looking to get into what you do?
I didn’t pursue a traditional path, as I studied Engineering for my master’s and bachelor’s degrees. If you didn’t study risk management and had no prior knowledge of it, you’d need to start with the Association of Project Management qualifications at levels 1 and 2, and then move into being chartered by the Institution of Risk Management.
At the same time, I’d recommend getting experience in risk management either as a graduate or an assistant risk manager and work your way up through an organisation. Look for people who might be able to teach and mentor you. Getting involved in the practical application of risk management through projects and programmes is a really effective way of ‘learning on the job’ and seeing the principles being applied in practice.
- What are you passionate about outside of work?
I like studying and developing myself. I also really enjoying travelling and broadening my horizons by seeing the world. Adventurous sports like quad biking, jet skiing and snowmobiling are things I really like to spend my time doing too.
- If you hadn’t got into this line of work what do you think you might be doing?
I have a strong interest in property and I’m really interested in pursuing property development. But I think if I hadn’t become a risk manager, I would have pursued a path in the defence /legal field. I think my logical approach would have definitely helped!
“Redefining the boundaries of ambition means not only making sure that what I’m doing is the best approach for the programme, but also looking to better my own efforts. It’s also feeling empowered to challenge my team not to stick to the status quo - but to always look for better solutions to any obstacles we come across.”