UCL Career Frameworks


Head of Centre of Excellence

Sarah-Louise Earl, Head of Centre of Excellence, Project and Programme Management

I have recently joined the Planning Team as the Head of Centre of Excellence for Project and Programme Management. It’s a brand new role, which is a great opportunity - if a little daunting! My main purpose is to establish and drive forward a UCL PPM Centre of Excellence - to define and promote PPM standards (processes, templates and tools), develop appropriate skills and training, manage knowledge, including lessons learned, and provide independent assurance for projects across UCL.

Rather than being carefully planned, my career to date has taken quite a winding path – which I put down to my being interested in many different things and generally curious! I often had the fortuitous sense of being in the right place at the right time to take unusual opportunities that allowed me to make the best of a fairly unique combination of practical and theoretical knowledge and experience – my new role is no exception!

I gained my first experience of projects through short term summer contracts in the public sector while studying as an undergraduate in a completely different field; I then spent 3 years working abroad as a language teacher. However, on my return to the UK, I was able to draw on my previous project-based experience to secure a role with a London local authority, providing strategic management support for a number of construction and refurbishment projects, and a high-profile regeneration scheme. During this time I undertook a part-time MSc in Project and Enterprise Management - and found that I really enjoyed conceptualising project management problems! This led me to join UCL as a Teaching Fellow in the Bartlett School of Construction and Project Management, where I helped design and deliver an award-winning Executive Education programme and ran project management modules at undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

I thoroughly enjoyed my academic role, interacting with students and exploring research. But I greatly missed the challenges of PPM ‘on the ground’. So in 2016 I took a difficult decision to move back to a practitioner role, and joined UCL Estates as PMO Manager for the UCL East development. I was then involved in the establishment of the UCL East Programme Team and the development of the PMO function, including the design and management of planning and reporting tools and processes across a complex set of interdependent projects and workstreams.

I have been a Co-lead of the PPM Community of Practice since its launch in November 2018, and enjoy helping to bring together PPM professionals from across UCL to share knowledge, tools and good practice. I have been a member of APM for several years; I’ve served as Secretary of the Benefits Management Specific Interest Group, and remain an active volunteer with the newly merged Benefits and Value Specific Interest Group. I am also a session leader for UCL’s APM-accredited PMQ course. Both activities are great ways to engage with other practitioners and keep up with developments and trends in PPM practice outside the university sector.

For me, the most important aspects of a role have always been to learn new things, to be useful and to see the positive impact of the things that I do, and to have opportunities to think deeply and creatively! It’s also vital for me to have the flexibility to plan and manage my own workload alongside family commitments.

My advice to others would be threefold: Recognise what you enjoy and what you’re good at – ask other people if you’re not sure, as they will often spot strengths and preferences that you don’t! Look for opportunities to do those things, even if those don’t seem to fall within a ‘typical’ career path for your area (joining the PPM Community of Practice is a good way to hear about things that might be of interest). Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone, and get some teaching, training or facilitation experience if you can – you might be surprised by what you learn!