Not many people can say they’re the best in the world at anything, but Queensland Urban Utilities’ Steve Gibson has joined that exclusive club. He’s the first Australian in history to be crowned the best project manager in the world.

The prestigious accolade from the International Project Management Association (IPMA) was for Steve’s work upgrading the sewerage network in the inner Brisbane suburb of Woolloongabba. The five-year, $82million project is Queensland Urban Utilities’ biggest on record, and was delivered ahead of schedule and $3.2million under budget.

The project saw the installation of more than 6km of trunk sewer mains and will ensure the network caters for expected population growth.

We caught up with Steve to find out what it took to claim the world title.

In your opinion, what were the unique elements of this project – and your management of it – that caught the attention of the IPMA judges?

The most unique element of this project was the quantity and complex nature of community and stakeholder relationships. Over five years more than 6km of gravity-fed sewer pipes were installed through a densely populated area of inner Brisbane via 35 construction access shafts.

The new sewer pipe ran along three busy roads leading to the CBD – passing three schools and multiple pubs, clubs and restaurants. It ran under a major busway and rail corridor, over the newly completed Clem7 tunnel and outside The Gabba stadium, which is home to international cricket matches and the AFL.

This was the first major capital works project for the newly formed Queensland Urban Utilities and had massive construction impacts to high profile stakeholders.

This is why I launched a proactive, highly-targeted stakeholder engagement program two years ahead of construction. We garnered feedback from all identified stakeholders on the potential impact of the project on their operations. I also conducted individual face-to-face engagement, which included meeting stakeholders at their premises and bringing them to the construction site to explain the project.

57Can you tell us about some of the projects that you’ve managed over the years, that got you to this point?

The Brisbane Aquifer Project investigated groundwater sources across the city for substitution of 20 million litres of potable water per day. This was the first big project I worked on, which was in response to South East Queensland’s worst drought in more than 100 years. I held numerous roles within this $65m project from inception in 2006 to completion in 2009, including a client representative role. This involved co-ordinating all parties to deliver the project within the extremely tight schedule imposed by the Queensland Government.

In 2008, I took over the management of the $82million Lake Manchester Dam Upgrade project and saw it through to successful completion. The upgrade ensured the dam, which was constructed in 1916 west of Brisbane, met the ANCOLD Guidelines and complied with the dam safety requirements of the Queensland Water Act 2000.

The $12million upgrade to the Enoggera Water Treatment Plant in Brisbane involved the rehabilitation of the existing plant as well as the construction of new process technology.

In addition, I’ve also managed a team of project managers delivering a number of water portfolio programs, including:

Pressure and Leakage Management Program

The current scope of this program is to form 91 District Metered Areas (DMAs) across the city of Brisbane. This $64m program controls the potable water pressure by installing pressure reducing valves and telemetry to be able to remotely monitor and operate these DMAs.

Water Supply System Service Capacity Improvements

This $7million annual rolling program undertakes 80 projects per year to maintain and improve the water supply across Brisbane.

Burst Water Main Replacement Program

This $15million annual rolling program undertakes up to 90 projects per year to replace failing water reticulation mains across Brisbane.

Trunk Water Main Replacement Program

This $4million annual rolling program undertakes up to five projects per year to replace failing trunk water mains and associated fittings across Brisbane.

What are some of the key lessons you’ve learned through managing the Woolloongabba sewer upgrade project?

I took away four key lessons from managing this project:

  1. No matter how well you think you’ve planned there’s always something that will challenge you. That’s why it’s important to never lose sight of the project objective and remain flexible when considering ideas to tackle a problem.
  2. Due to the nature of sewerage projects like this one it’s impossible to please everyone, but it’s important to communicate effectively to everyone. When people are armed with information provided in a friendly, caring way people are more likely to accept the outcome of a decision, even if it isn’t exactly what they wanted.
  3. If you make a commitment, follow through and deliver on it.
  4. In an increasingly digital age, it’s important to consider online platforms (including social media) when it comes to both proactive community engagement and risk assessments.
This shot shows the size of the new pipe compared to the old pipe.

This shot shows the size of the new pipe compared to the old pipe.

What are the key factors utilities need to take into consideration when planning and managing major wastewater upgrade projects?

Traditionally, the financial and technical requirements for projects are considered first and foremost. I believe community impacts and in turn stakeholder engagement needs to be the number one factor to consider. This project has proven that the time spent planning, investigating and informing all key stakeholders really pays off, significantly improving the delivery of a project. Getting key stakeholders involved early and gaining their trust and confidence will allow you to collaboratively overcome any issues that arise.

What’s next for you at QUU?

I’m ten months into my new role at Queensland Urban Utilities as Program Director Wastewater Network. I lead a team of 14 project, design and contract managers delivering a $65million annual renewal and enhancement capital program for the sewer network. I’ll also be keeping my project management skills honed with a new sewer upgrade under a heavily urbanised area of inner Brisbane – Fortitude Valley. Construction on that project is due to start mid-2016.

Jessica Dickers is an experienced journalist, editor and content creator who is currently the Editor of Utility’s sister publication, Infrastructure. With a strong writing background, Jessica has experience in journalism, editing, print production, content marketing, event program creation, PR and editorial management. Her favourite part of her role as editor is collaborating with the sector to put together the best industry-leading content for the audience.

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