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Chris Pope of Air New Zealand: Church organiser to ICT leader

Divina Paredes | Dec. 20, 2013
"You need to know how to lead people and communicate effectively…technical skills will only get you so far," says Chris Pope, PMO manager at Air New Zealand.

"His philosophy was that you can teach people technical (IT) skills, but you cannot teach them personality," says Pope. "I was hired not for my technical skills, but for my professionalism and people skills to help him turn around the environment."

Pope says he will always be grateful to that director who saw the value of what is now referred in executive management discourse as 'soft skills'.

Those were the heady days of the internet, with dotcoms going public. The ISP he was working for was growing, and Pope was soon asked to create a programme to provide 'white label' support to branded resellers.

During this time he attended a project management course, and realised it was what he has been doing all along. But back then, project management was not recognised as a profession, and seen as "just being good at organising stuff", says Pope.

The dotcom bubble burst before the company went public, so Pope looked for a new job. He was hired as junior project manager by a healthcare company in their technology planning and deployment team.

"My boss was an excellent leader and she paired me with a very good mentor who helped me learn the very complex industry, and the finer skills of project management," recalls Pope. He also took advantage of the company's training budget to go on project management courses and get his Project Management Professional certification.

"The company grew through acquisition and several of my projects were migrating core systems from acquired systems to the single platform."

When these projects were completed, Pope moved to New Zealand. Because of his large project experience he was hired as service delivery director with a boutique project management consultancy. This stint introduced him to the local market and he set up his own consulting company, the Valde Group. In 2008, the opportunity came to re-establish the IT PMO at Air New Zealand. "As a lifelong aviation geek I jumped at the chance."

'Has anyone seen my Palm Pilot?'
But for all his IT leadership roles, Pope does not describe himself as a technical person but one "who is able to grasp technical concepts, lead technical people and keep a focus on business outcomes".

So what pointers can he give to ICT professionals?

"Evolve or die" was the motto of the ISP he worked for in the 1990s. It still rings true today as technology, business trends and customer preferences are ever changing, says Pope. "If you are slow to adapt, you will be left behind and eventually slide into irrelevance... Has anyone seen my Palm Pilot?"

He recommends developing leadership and communication skills. "Theory may be taught in classes and books, but if you want to progress your career you need to know how to lead people and communicate effectively... technical skills will only get you so far."

And lastly, share your knowledge and experience. "Research shows that successful leaders help others be successful," says Pope. "You reap what you sow."

 

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