“Accidental” Project Manager has Flourishing Career


When Melanie Zens enrolled in the first Project Management program offered at Mount Royal in 1999, she realized “that’s what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wasn’t quite sure until I went there. I’m kind of like the accidental project manager.”

Melanie was working at a small tech start-up at the time and doing the work of a project manager without the training. She had just landed back in Calgary after travelling to South Korea as an ESL teacher following her time at UofC.

“I wasn’t sure what to to with my humanities degree. I knew I didn’t want to teach ESL for the rest of my life. That’s when I connected with a programmer friend of mine,” she says.

“Because it was a start-up company, I was wearing a lot of different hats. My mentor could see the organizational skills. He did some research and found the Mount Royal Project Management program, developed by the Project Management Institute (PMI). He thought that would be a really good fit for me, to take me to a more official project management level and more of a lead role in the organization.”

Melanie completed the certificate and started a career in project management with increasing levels of responsibility over the years. She occasionally returned to Mount Royal for refresher courses in project management and then courses in business analysis. She earned her Project Management Professional (PMP) designation in 2012.

Melanie is currently working for a large technology business on a company-wide project management framework. “It’s really exciting to be in front of an enterprise-wide initiative where you’re the evangelist for project management for your organization,” she says.

S15_blog_melanie_couch_600x458Most recently, Melanie took the Leaders, Culture and Change course in the Leadership Development program.

“I took the Leadership course because, as I grew my career, I advanced into more senior roles. I was leading a team through a lot of change and I wanted to learn more about organizational change management,” she says. “I was finding it very stressful to lead through change. The course really helped me to take a step back and analyze my leadership style and realize that I was already doing a lot of the right things, I just needed to recognize it.”

“It was good to be in a room and talk to other leaders and find out that they value the same leadership traits that I did, like leading with integrity and leading from the heart. And I learned that people are writing about this and it’s actually a best practice,” she says.

“I think the best leaders in project management are the ones that have the soft skills. You get the hard skills through the Project Management courses at Mount Royal. They teach you all of the knowledge areas, all of the skills that you need. But you also need the communication and leadership skills,” Melanie notes.

“I’m really enjoying project management as a practice and I’m always looking for ways to improve,” Melanie says. “As a principal project manager I’m helping the company roll out a new project management framework. I do a lot of training and setting up a community of practice. It’s a really great fit for me right now, so I’m going to see where that takes me.”

Not bad for someone who started out in project management almost by accident.

Watch more of Melanie’s story here.

— by Karen McCarthy
— photos by Mike Poon

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