February 3, 2022

An Interview with Nicola Coppen

An Interview with Nicola Coppen, Roles4Goals & Diligence (PM) Services Ltd

Nicola Coppen

A little about Nicola's Organisations

Maybe it is because I am a project manager at heart with a background in organisation, I don’t only have one organisation that I work but (excluding volunteer roles) I have three.

  1. Diligence (PM) Services Limited was established in 2014 as a specialist infrastructure project management consultancy.  Gaining successful contracts with Mott MacDonald, Thames Water, Mace, Affinity Water and Ebbsfleet Development Corporation, my roles as Project Manager and Senior Project Manager has led me to many more construction opportunities.

  1. Roles4Goals Limited was formed in 2017 and was borne out of my want to encourage new entrants into the construction industry.  Roles4Goals helps businesses promote opportunities to attract a local workforce by working closer with their community.  This initiative is achieved using sport as the vehicle for career awareness benefitting Young People and Career Changers alike.

  1. Westminster City Council - I am employed by Westminster City Council and was placed as the first Infrastructure Coordinator as part of a new London-wide Infrastructure Coordination Service (ICS), in partnership with the GLA.  The ICS facilitates liaison between developers and infrastructure asset owners to proactively plan, design and construct London’s infrastructure. I play a key role in providing design advice and coordination, informing local policy and plans, and developing and implementing innovative infrastructure that contributes to more liveable, healthy, sustainable, and biodiverse places for developments, infrastructure projects and advising with in the Council

The support I deliver to the Construction Industry

In every role I have, no matter what organisation or in my volunteer roles, I am a true ambassador of the construction industry and have built on my experiences to offer talks on my projects and offer a real-world demonstration of the achievements that a career in construction provides.  

As well as my professional experience enabling me to achieve the ‘it’s never been done before’, personally, I am always seeking ways to improve the reputation of construction, infrastructure, utilities and developments, with my focus being on win-win situations for all parties – and more often than not, it is achievable.

As a STEM Ambassador, winner of Women In Construction Awards and well known advocate of the industry, I often take part in podcasts, webinars, seminars and educational programmes with the aim of connecting people considering the industry for a career with the organisations who can demonstrate the career.  My Roles4Goals careers vehicle is perfect for bridging the gap between people and industry and the by-product is often successful job placements.

How did I start in construction?

The answer to this is I don’t know!  My first full time, employment was for Team Q Maintenance Limited and was meant to be temporary, but I remained there for many years.  I set up their branch systems and remember the computer being delivered and almost crying as I had no idea how to work it (which gives you an indication of my age!).

I managed to understand more and more about systems and successfully worked for WS Atkins (now Atkins) after maternity leave as a Personal Assistant for the Director, who was leading the team at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) Aldermaston.  

Within a few months, the Head of the Engineering Directorate approached my Director and offered to sponsor me in undertaking the PRINCE2 Project Management Methodology, noting that I would be a good project manager.  I achieved this and it was agreed that I could TUPE across to Franklin and Andrews who had the Project Management and Quantity Surveying framework.

It was only in 2017 when I won the ‘Women in Construction Award’ and ‘Women’s Champion Award’ that I finally realised I was in construction and that construction is a big catch all for everything! 

What is a Project Manager?

Contrary to popular belief, a Project Manager is not the lead of the project set by Lord Sugar in ‘The Apprentice’, as proposed since it first aired in 2005!  Whilst the tasks themselves have the characteristics required of a Project, in the true world of project management, I prefer to describe us the captain of a ship (which also links to my Greenwich birthplace!)

A project manager is a translator, a negotiator, a decision maker, an admin manager and of course is ultimately responsible for the results of the challenge at hand.  We listen more than we talk, we consider more than we direct, we collaborate rather than alienate and most importantly, we ensure that all the people involved in the project are focused on the desirable outcome and pulling together to support the project manager in the quest of successful completion. 

I have been a feasibility through to delivery and handover, Project Manager for many of my major projects and am in awe of what each of my projects has taught me and am always grateful to the teams who have enabled us to feel what success feels like!

What was your worst moment in Project Management?

It wasn’t a ‘moment’ it was a culmination of a number of sleepless nights!   I will never forget being the only one who truly understood what a landowner was saying about how they would or wouldn’t give approval for work on their land.  I had to deliver the news to the Contractor and Client that in order to achieve our works, we needed to prove that the perceived most viable route for works was not a solution.  Specifically, we had to expose ductwork installed in the 1960s under a canal to demonstrate whether a new cable could be installed through them.  We had to take over a woodland garden of a Primary School and sure enough, after many months of work, were able to prove to the landlord that their route was not viable.   I can promise you this though, nothing felt better than having a project team who originally had a ‘grin and bear it’ attitude – knowing the ducts would not be suitable but having to undertake extensive work to expose them – then having the Landowner fully on our side because we had done what they had asked of us!  I always turn a negative into a positive – if only to ensure my team is well considered.  We celebrated with bacon butties and doughnuts!

What has been your best achievement in your career?

My greatest achievement in my career really has been through encouraging people to join the industry that has given me so many amazing opportunities.  From connecting young people to placements for research to those who manage to pursue roles on their own, through to the connecting of organisations and individuals through educational institutions (such as the University of Greenwich who I have worked with for 4 years or more), partnering business with a future workforce and helping with career events, I have loved telling people about my real life experiences in the construction industry.

What other opportunities has success in your career led you to?

A very good question and I am only going to pick a few examples from so many.

  1. Through work as the Chair of the Kent and Medway Construction Guild, working with the University of Greenwich to encourage degree students into our industry
  2. Being invited to meet the then Housing Minister, the Rt. Hon. James Brokenshire to discuss my work as Infrastructure and Utilities Project Manager for the Ebbsfleet Development Corporation, in consideration of the Ebbsfleet Garden City. 
  3. Being invited to be a Women in Construction Ambassador for London Build.
  4. Achieving the placement as the first Infrastructure Coordinator for the Greater London Authority within the City of Westminster.  A comprehensive application process and working with and in Westminster is a dream, I thoroughly enjoy being a pioneer!
  5. Receiving a recommendation for undertaking the Policy Fellowship Programme by the Royal Academy of Engineering.

What do you do outside of work?

I dedicate my time to helping others through volunteering in my community or working in my own businesses.  Particularly Roles4Goals as it is a not for profit, people first organisation which allows me to get so close to sport and meet so many different people, including household names!

Nicola Coppen
Infrastructure Coordinator
Westminster City Council
Westminster City Council

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