New Project Management head appointed at Sydney

Global experts in project leadership, management and resilience have joined the University of Sydney’s School of Project Management.

The University of Sydney has appointed project leadership expert Professor Jennifer Whyte as the Head of School of Project Management and the Director of the John Grill Institute for Project Leadership.

She is joined by eminent sociologist, management and organization theorist, Professor Stewart Clegg, and risk and resilience expert for communities and infrastructure systems, Dr Nader Naderpajouh.

Relocating from the UK to Sydney, Professor Whyte joins the University from Imperial College London and brings with her an ambitious research and teaching agenda for both the School and Institute.

With over 25 years global experience in the sector, Professor Whyte specializes in developing insight into the challenges leaders face in the set-up and delivery of complex infrastructure projects. This includes interventions into operating systems, modular design, systems integration, handover of projects, and developing capacity across projects.

She has substantial leadership experience collaborating with industry and advising government and policymakers on the delivery of large-scale built works, previously developing innovation networks to transform construction in the UK using advanced digital, manufacturing and sustainable technologies.

Bringing this experience to Australia, she is keen to make new connections within infrastructure mega projects. Professor Whyte also hopes to advise governments and industry on built infrastructure, and to forward a research portfolio geared towards broader collaboration.

“As a global society, we are not always good at choosing and delivering projects, which can come at the expense of our communities and the environment. Project sponsors and project leaders need to be better at engaging diverse stakeholders in the process of future-making,” she said.

“Traditionally lengthy decision-making processes on major projects are not well adapted to our rapidly changing world. Across infrastructure delivery, software and organizational change projects, we need to find new, more adaptive and distributed forms of project organizing to deliver the futures we need as a society.

“My interests are in high-impact research, which means working closely with industry, government and policymakers to progress the understanding of projects and project leadership so we can design and develop projects that create a sustainable, resilient future.

“The John Grill Institute for Project Leadership at the University of Sydney has a global reputation for thought leadership on how to choose and deliver outcome-based projects.

“Australia has the opportunity to be at the forefront of new approaches to project leadership that recognize projects as interventions into operating systems. In areas such as infrastructure, there are opportunities to move beyond the traditional focus on cost and schedule, transforming incentive structures to enable collaborative teams to focus on delivering outcomes.”

Negotiating power and leadership

Professor Stewart Clegg has joined the School as an expert in management and organizational studies, having previously worked in Australia and internationally.

The highly cited and awarded professor has previously held chair positions at the University of Technology Sydney, University of Western Sydney, University of St. Andrews and University of New England. He has been involved in major infrastructure research projects with organizations such as Sydney Water.

Professor Clegg is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Social Sciences, a Distinguished Fellow of the Academy of Management, the Australian and New Zealand Academy of Management and the European Academy of Management. He is also the recipient of numerous honors and awards, most recently receiving the Edith Penrose Award (INSEAD/EURAM) 2020 for Trail Blazing Research.

Professor Clegg’s research is broad-based, focused on paradoxes, power and projects. His book Gehry in Sydney that was co-produced with UTS academic Dr Liisa Naar, dealt with the architect Frank Gehry’s contribution to Sydney’s architecture. His most recent publications include work on resilience, digital transformation in the media and a value creation approach to project management.

“I am delighted to be able to join the School of Project Management at the University of Sydney, where I hope to make a valuable contribution to research and training, as well as broad scholarship and education”, said Professor Clegg.

“Power relations are ubiquitous to all organizations, especially so for project organizations. Projects connect complex networks and services like finance, innovation, regulation and collaboration, and intermingle with other disparate disciplines, interests and practices.

“These processes and relations are often time and contract-bound and are increasingly being digitized. With sense-making ever more reliant on judgement that is fragmentary, fluid and open to different interpretations, these processes often become more political.”

Building resilience in an uncertain world

Building resilience and self-organizing for risks across communities and their infrastructure systems will be key elements of Dr Nader Naderpajouh’s research.

He will lead the Organizing for Resilience in the Built Environment (ORIBE) research group, which aims to study future projects that require agile organization to respond to uncertain and rapidly changing scenarios.

His research portfolio includes $13.5 million in grants, with projects focused on:

  • the resilience of European railway infrastructure;
  • integrating resilience into asset management;
  • supply chain resilience in capital projects;
  • the role of legislation and communities in incentivizing resilience of infrastructure sectors, and
  • participatory planning approaches within resilient communities.

Across these research projects, he has worked with a wide range of national and international stakeholders including government agencies, businesses, consultants and local communities.

In a project management setting, resilience can apply to infrastructure projects, communities, organizations and supply chains, and is the study of how projects intervene in anticipation of potential shocks and stressors and how they are impacted by them. This could include socio-political power dynamics (such as when the public is opposed to new infrastructure), integration of community preferences into infrastructure projects, and organizing for resilience of communities and their infrastructure systems.

“Our world is becoming extremely volatile. Increasingly we are facing shocks such as social and political unrest, natural hazards and even pandemics due to chronic stressors such as climate change, social inequality, viral outbreaks, financial instabilities and housing inequality, Dr Naderpajouh said.

“There is significant opportunity for project managers to prepare our world for high uncertainty and change by investigating how broader stakeholders can play a role in building the future along with organizations and government actors.

“Project managers require additional skills to address the needs of the market and societies with modern project forms, which have higher integration of stakeholders and need to respond to changing needs. Our main focus is to explore how projects impact communities and the built environment for a healthy and just future. The team at the John Grill Institute and the School of Project Management has a pivotal position and interesting synergic capabilities to impact such a future at global scale.”

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