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Alison Littlewood, Programme Manager
Ever wondered what it’s like to be a Programme Manager (PM)?
Well don’t fear if you have – this is the blog post for you! I joined the NIHR CLAHRC GM team in September 2018 as PM for the Stroke and Wound Care programmes – which are both new areas of research for me.
“I’m really enjoying being part of the CLAHRC family; it’s been a pleasure to be welcomed into each of the different project teams”.
I’ve been involved in research management since 2005 and my portfolio of health care research areas keeps on growing! This is what is unique about being a PM, skills are very transferable so although areas of research may be new, you can use your experience and expertise from previous projects in new ventures – I always feel like I am learning.
As well as the aforementioned Programme Management, I’m a big fan of top 5’s (High Fidelity geek right here), so without further ado here is my top 5 rundown of what I love about ‘PM-ing’.
5. (T)his Girl Friday
In my experience, the role of PM means getting involved in a variety of different aspects of the programmes, which is one of the reasons I’m so excited about my job!
There’s rarely a dull moment, and you get to use a range of different skills every working day – negotiating, problem-solving, mentoring, managing, planning and leadership… the list goes on. Sometimes I can feel like a ‘Jill’ of all trades (not as easy as it sounds!) … or the wearer of many hats… it’s certainly always interesting.
Since managing a research programme is definitely a marathon and not a sprint, I’d recommend eating your porridge each morning for that slow release energy!
4. Ain’t no stopping us now
OK so I’m kind of cheating here, as this is two ‘loves’ in one at number four – the opportunity to help make a difference to patient outcomes and do that through collaboration.
It’s very self-motivating and satisfying to see how the research I’m contributing to can benefit patients and clinicians and help to bring about improvements in our health care services.
Hand in hand with this is my passion for collaborative working which is so important when you are trying to implement something new – whether that’s in healthcare, or another arena. PMs work with academic and clinical staff, patient groups, charities and industry to ensure projects actually work at the coal face which is exciting, challenging and rewarding.
3. The A-Team
The people are what sets CLAHRC apart.
This is the largest programme of work I’ve been involved with and to have other Programme Managers and team members to bounce ideas off and offer their guidance and expertise in my first couple of months has been amazing.
I’m really enjoying being part of the CLAHRC family; it’s been a pleasure to be welcomed into each of the different project teams – and if there is one thing I have always felt very privileged about in my career, it is the interesting and incredibly knowledgeable people I get to work with on a daily basis – it’s very inspirational (may sound cheesy but it’s true).
2. Variety is the spice of life
In the years I’ve worked in research management, (and in particular since being a CLAHRC PM), I have learnt that no two days are the same.
Every day brings with it new challenges and opportunities and that’s what I think makes this sort of role so exciting. One day you can be meeting with community nurses, helping them implement evidence-based research to improve care for their patients and the next, you can be working with a comms team to plan media campaigns and decide on the best ways to disseminate project outputs to the widest audience.
I also relish the diversity of projects I’m involved in – randomised controlled trials, quality improvement, app development and more, and changing my working practice to fit with what’s required to make things happen.
1. I don’t like peer support – I love it!
In 2013 I co-founded the Research Programme Managers’ Network (RPMN). This now 200-strong network was dreamed up over a brew with my friend and colleague Cara Afzal. We were both managing NIHR Programme Grants at the time, and we’d regularly meet up to exchange PM ideas and troubleshoot (that’s troubleshoot – not carp on, honest!). So, instead of working in silos, we thought that there must be other PMs out there who would want to meet up and create a community of research managers offering each other peer support.
The rest, as they say, is history! The RPMN, now chaired by Charlie Stockton-Powdrell, has gone from strength to strength. And as well as holding bi-annual meetings, (with a range of interesting speakers and discussion topics), the network runs regular training workshops and signposts members to local job opportunities, which is super helpful for the majority of us working on fixed-term contracts – it also helps keep the expertise in GM!
So, there you have it, my top 5 reasons for loving my job! This was seemingly less difficult than trying to nail down my top 5 albums of all time… still working on that one.
Get yourself connected!
If you’re a GM-based Programme or Project Manager and aren’t currently linked in to the RPMN, but feel you’d benefit from peer support, regular (and tailored) training opportunities, and being part of a group who happily share their wealth of experience (and who wouldn’t want that!), then please get in touch to find out more.
Bunk the Cockapoo on hand to lend a paw with blog writing support!