Isabel Coman is Project Director for Skanska Costain Strabag joint venture. Isabel is a chartered civil engineer, specialising in railway infrastructure and leading complex major projects. She has 22 years' experience in the industry, is a Fellow of ICE and is a Board Director for High Speed Rail Industry Leaders (HSRIL). Isabel is passionate about improving our industry's diversity and advancing women in transport.
The importance of work-life balance and creating time to think
As Project Director for the HS2 Main Works Construction Contracts S1/S2, for the Skanska Costain Strabag Joint Venture, I am responsible for the team currently developing the design, schedule and estimate, who will go on to deliver the 26km section of highspeed rail infrastructure between Euston and West Ruislip. My role brings with it significant accountability and the pressure associated with ensuring the performance, development and wellbeing of the team I lead.
So it is intellectually and emotionally very demanding. In addition to my work it is important to me to find time to spend with my children. Whilst we have breakfast together and most nights I am home to put them to bed, my day inevitably has to balance a tension between my HS2 responsibilities and my family.
As we have not yet started construction, our current offices are in Holborn and I commute there daily. I make sure I have some thinking time before my meetings start for the day. My reality is I spend most of my time with others, whether formalised larger meetings or more informal one to ones. For anyone examining my diary it is pretty much full. I attempt to maintain a couple of free slots in the week to focus on my most critical challenges, and as often as possible I create a gap for lunch and aim to eat in the canteen.
An integrated leadership team and consensus-based decision making
I work in an Integrated Project Leadership Team (IPLT) which is six strong and has representatives from the three Joint Venture partners, our Design House and High Speed 2. The first 20 months of the project have been enormously high paced, with an extraordinary level of challenge and change. One of the most important elements of my role in the integrated environment is to ensure that organisationally we stay aligned, and the leadership team continue to make consensus-based decisions.
The IPLT share a small meeting room and that is our hub of information and where we gather to discuss and move the project forward. A proportion of every day for me is spent with the IPLT in our room.
My wall to wall meetings are regimented through my diary and I have to be able to move very quickly from subject to subject. These range in topic from highly technical, organisational design, contract, finance through to wellbeing, EDI, and sustainability. As we are still in the development stage of a project, when many of the strategies and plans are being prepared across a multidisciplinary team, it is important from a leadership perspective that those plans are fixed and fully integrated without suppressing the creative and forward-thinking environment we need to be industry leading.
Creating a collaborative culture
We have established a strong, collaborative culture on the project which is underpinned by an internal communications drum beat. That communication is two ways and regularly seeks feedback from the team. I write a piece of our fortnightly magazine, Platform South, and I also present regularly at the two weekly leadership team updates.
I aspire to have a highly visible leadership presence and part of this I like achieve through strong connections throughout the team, which has peaked to date at 400+. This visibility requires me to invest time in talking to a wide range of people within the team to understand the mood and gauge the feeling within it. Similarly the development of individuals to be their best within our industry is fundamental to my values, and I mentor a number of specific individuals within the team and wider industry.
Accountability and pride
The final and vital aspect to my role is, along with my JV colleagues, to provide confidence to our parent companies that the project team is delivering the requirements of the customer and meeting our contractual obligations. I report in to a Joint Venture Board with representatives of each business. Confidence in the project team comes from providing clear and pertinent information to the eight individuals who make up the JV Board, demonstrating the project is being delivered within the governance framework and high-level objectives of the three Joint Venture businesses.
My days, like the project, are enormously varied and extremely challenging. Performing a leadership role in a project that is striving to set new standards in the delivery of major infrastructure and being part of such committed and talented team