From the magazine

Ten questions with the 2014 Australian Project Manager of the Year

Beating out multi-billion dollar projects, Mr Gibson – a native of Brisbane’s inner north, a keen golfer and keeper of chickens – received the prestigious accolade for his work upgrading the sewerage network at Woolloongabba. The five year $A82 million project is Queensland Urban Utilities’ biggest on record, and was delivered ahead of schedule and $A3.7 million under budget.

The project saw more than 5 km of large trunk sewer mains installed, and will ensure the sewerage network caters for expected population growth.

1. Congratulations on your recent wins! Why do you believe you were the recipient of these awards in project management?

I believe it was because I applied sound project management principles in both the planning and delivery phases of the project. It also came down to my approach in tackling the many challenges faced, especially stakeholder engagement.

2. What kinds of obstacles did you have to overcome during the upgrades to the sewerage network at Woolloongabba?

By far the most challenging part of this project was managing the quantity and nature of community and stakeholder relationships. Over five years more than 5 km of gravity-fed sewer pipes were installed through a densely populated area of inner Brisbane via 35 construction access shafts.

The new sewer pipe ran along three busy major roads leading to the CBD – passing three schools and multiple pubs, clubs and restaurants. It ran under a major busway, motorway, and rail corridor, over the newly completed Clem7 tunnel and outside The Gabba stadium, which is home to international cricket matches and the AFL.

3. How did you come to be involved in the utility industry?

I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Biology (Honours), majoring in Hydrobiology and my first job out of university in the United Kingdom was for ICI Group Environmental Lab in the sewage treatment section. I continued this when I immigrated to Australia in 1992.
4. When did you join Queensland urban utility and why?

I joined Queensland Urban Utilities, which was then Brisbane Water, in 1993 as a laboratory technician at the Scientific Analytical Services (SAS) Laboratory.

I was promoted to supervisor in environmental monitoring before moving into project management in early 2004.

5. What challenges do you think are prominent or unique to the utility industry in Queensland and Australasia? What are your thoughts on how the industry can overcome these challenges?

One major challenge, for both client and contractor, is risk and how the parties deal with it under the contract. I would hope to see a more open risk share model become the norm, rather than the contractor “÷guessing’ at tender stage and the issues this leads to during delivery when things do go wrong.

6. What do you think the future holds for the trenchless industry?

The future is very bright for the trenchless industry, especially in the utility sector. This is because there’s a great need to upgrade our water and sewer systems to cater for a growing population, yet there’s also a need to deliver these works with minimal disruption.

7. What have been the main changes that you have seen occur in the trenchless industry over the last five-to-ten years?

The main changes I’ve seen occur in the trenchless industry over the last five to ten years include bigger, more sophisticated machines, longer drive length capacity, especially in horizontal directional drilling and an improvement in pipe materials.

8. What advice would you give to new entrants to the utility industry?

The main advice I’d give to people starting out in the utility industry is to listen, ask questions and take any opportunity offered to push yourself and increase knowledge. If possible try to experience a wide breadth of disciplines early in your career.

9. Which projects do you see as being particularly exciting in your career? Which projects/products are exciting at the moment?

My first big project as a project manager was the Brisbane Aquifer Project in 2007, which involved investigating ground water supplies. This provided great experience to move onto even bigger projects such as The Gabba. I’ve just started a new role as Program Director Wastewater Network at Queensland Urban Utilities so I’m looking forward to this new challenge.

10. Can you list any mentors or others who have assisted you?

My first boss Bob Gray, from the SAS Laboratory, supported me in my early career. During my time at Brisbane Water, manager Alex Fisher had faith in my abilities and gave me my first big project to manage, while Stuart Low also mentored me in project management. Prakash Shandil at Queensland Urban Utilities mentored me in project management, whilst Ken Muir from JH Tunnelling helped me immensely over the last couple of years on the technical side of microtunnelling.

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