Teresa's Story

Teresa works as a Project Director at Transport for NSW. She started her career in the construction industry as an undergraduate engineer. We asked Teresa questions about her pathway into the construction industry and experiences working on site.

Teresa is standing in front of large machinery wearing a pink t-shirt, hi-vis vest and hard hat.

About Teresa

I have a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering and a postgraduate Diploma in Business Administration (I embarked on an MBA in 2005 as a younger engineer and decided halfway to conclude at Diploma level at that time, the experience was invaluable). I do plan to apply for fellowship status with Engineers Australia am also a Recreational and General Aviation Pilot (holding a RPL). 

I have been fortunate to have undertaken various project management courses throughout my early career, as well as leadership coaching and bespoke courses throughout my time in senior roles both at private sector and Transport for NSW (TfNSW).   

I’ll also add that I see a resonating connection between lessons learned in my aviation pastime and in engineering practice. Being in command of a small aircraft and a few eager passengers you are in control of both your own destiny but of the passengers you take to the air with you. There is little room for complacency, zero room for unsafe practices and always understanding that the skies the limit, literally! 

Visual arts and engineering science subjects were really enjoyable.  I went to an all-girls private school in Wollongong where I lived with my dad.  I was there from years 7 to 10 and they had Technical Drawing and exposure to engineering but did not have engineering at HSC level.

I enjoyed engineering exposure so much that I relocated and went to Goulburn High School, about an hour and a half drive away from home to live with my mother, because the public co-ed school offered the subject in the HSC.  I also continued Visual Arts.   

I was a summer session undergraduate engineer at age 19 with an engineering fabrication and maintenance organisation doing a lot of work within local industry in Wollongong, the steel city. Particularly I worked on plant shutdowns with BHP.  It was complex work for a young engineer and long hours. I loved it.  

It was nice to have a very small income over the holidays and to have early hands-on exposure to the degree I was undertaking, but less nice returning to uni with very little.     

I lived away from home from 2nd year uni and covered my own way. 

When we were little kids, my two brothers and sister and I helped my mum and dad build things on our rural property of about 1000 acres up in the bush.  

I remember helping laying bricks and doing all sorts of crazy stuff. We always used to see him welding and working on projects in our garage in Wollongong. There were always lots of activities going on. And I was always interested in being hands-on. I enjoy doing that sort of stuff. He purchased a large earth mover so he could clear a road through the property himself, that was my first exposure to big plant up close at 8 years old! He used to do his own plant maintenance also. 

My father wanted to be an engineer at some point, but he followed a family expectation for a medical career. He’s a retired doctor now living in his hometown in Spain.  

So all of this is most likely how I got my exposure or interest in engineering and construction.  

I'm a recreational pilot, so I'm constantly keeping my competencies up by flying single-prop engine aircraft. I've got my own two-seater Jabiru and sometimes I fly four-seater Piper Archer aircraft. 

My longest trip is a five-hour flight from Sydney to Mildura for a mini break and return flight. Not bad for a tiny aircraft that’s no bigger than a mini. 

I take my five-year-old daughter flying with me. I get to the airport hangar, take out the booster seat from the back of the car, put it in the front of the plane, she helps me with the pre-flight checks and opening the hangar doors, I strap her in, go through the safety brief and then we go for a fly. It’s one of the most enjoyable things I do. She’s been flying with me since age 2. In fact I was flying with her when I was pregnant until the later in the 3rd trimester and it was getting harder to get into the plane with the bump.  We do a safety briefing each time on what to expect, what not to touch. She is very serious and active in listening each time. Any engineer wants to follow safety checklists. She also always wants me to fly up to the clouds!  

Also, she's an aspiring flamenco dancer, starting when she was two and a half. I never thought it would happen, but somehow, I’ve become a bit of a dance mum. I love watching her mini-dance career kick-off. I look at YouTube videos to try and figure out how to do her performance hair. It's a serious business! I'm half Spanish, and Spanish people are earnest about everything and do the serious flamenco face very well. And it’s fun!  I tried it once many years ago, I was not a natural, however my daughter is. 

"Construction must be more of a career destination for everybody who wants to come and join and that's starting to happen more and more through things like flexible and hybrid ways of working, and a greater understanding of the exciting career pathways there are to choose from" - Teresa on the importance of improving diversity in the construction industry

Can you tell me about your current job? 

I am the Transport for NSW (TfNSW) Project Director leading the $3.1B M6 Stage 1 delivery. 

My role is to manage all aspects of the project for TfNSW to ensure safe, on-time, on-budget delivery to the satisfaction of all stakeholders. 

There are nearly 60 staff working in the project implementation team including delivery (construction) and deployed resources from broader TfNSW in safety, environment, communication and engagement, commercial, technical, implementation, quality and property acquisitions.  

The new 4km twin tunnels we are building will connect from Arncliffe (M8) to Kogarah (near Brighton-Le-Sands) joining the Southern areas of Sydney / Illawarra to the Greater Sydney motorway network reducing travel time and congestion. 

Best part of your job? 

I'm passionate about ensuring I lead a project (or business area) that delivers on budget, safely, and time and meets our internal and external stakeholder expectations always. Engineers Australia used the “engineers make it happen” mantra for many years after I graduated in their collateral. We are passionate about building legacies, building public infrastructure and long-lasting material benefit.   

Further you can't build a project without great people. So, I’m passionate about always enabling a diverse and inclusive team and ensuring the team each have an enviable career pathway. I want the teams to be able to look back and think they were part of a project or a role that made a significant mark on their career pathway.  

So, I'd say the best part of my job is managing teams, collaborating with our contractors and stakeholders, breaking down complexity and seeing the end outcome come to fruition.   

I saw a meme the other day that rings true about the work we do. It said, “This is what engineers look like” and had the same grimacing emojis at different project stages. The last emoji was a massive smiley face signifying the end of the project. 

Most challenging part of your job? 

I’m leading a mega project of over $3 billion of taxpayer funds.   

It’s complex, stakeholder and community expectations are high, and there are many complex and integrated project stages to manage. We need to ensure we have the subject matter expertise on all sides of the project, working together to achieve the outcomes – and there are many layers of process, procedure, and approval lines that we follow to ensure accountability in the execution of these funds.  

I like to get stuff done well and quickly and in my current role I’ve learned to be patient and pragmatic which is not easy for an Aries. 

What does a typical day in your job look like?

Anyone in a senior role on a project like this is on 24/7. That doesn’t mean we are at our desks or on site 24/7, just that we are on alert and ready. TfNSW is big on flexible working and hybrid ways of working which ensures burn out is mitigated and I can work in a way that suits the project, my role and my personal routine with school drops off and extra-curricular activities day to day. I could be looking at a key email / issue at 6am and be in the office by the 8:30 mark, then I might leave earlier and can be back on the emails or in a meeting after that if required.  

As a solo parent for the past 6 years flexible working is key for me as is the lived experience reiterating that we won’t attract and retain diverse talent in our industry if we do not embrace it head on and maintain changes to the ways of working and remove the old school mentality.    

It’s a balance being at the project office, on-site, working from other sites and locations. I’m wherever I need to be, to get the work done.  

Recently, I’ve been advocating for the contractors to ensure they mirror what we've learned and managed to achieve through the COVID-inspired ways of working.  

How did you get to where you are now? 

At uni, I did a lot of summer session jobs in my second to fourth years to get workplace exposure upfront before popping out of the education system – everything from mining, steel fabrication to manufacturing, which is where I did my fourth-year thesis. I worked in private sector the majority of my career.

I took up an engineering graduate program role and from there, I’ve kept moving into different projects and moved up to senior leadership roles in the private sector in my 30s.  I worked as General Manager heading up a first-tier industrial resources business before moving into Government. 

When you start out as a graduate in a project environment, you get given a small one to look after, and as you work your way through your career, they get bigger and bigger. I remember someone saying to me at that time, here you go, here's a project to work on, it was probably only worth $50000, steel fabrication for a shutdown coming up over Christmas, but it felt epic to me at the time. And as you keep going, they give you more and more and more and more until you end up looking after P&L for a business area or with a $3.1 billion project! 

I've worked in various large corporate construction organisations on multi-discipline projects.    

I worked in operational facing roles for a lion share of my career on multidisciplinary projects both green field and brownfield, from energy projects to remediation to dams, rail and tunnelling.   

Over the last five years, I have been with TfNSW (including Sydney Metro), which has been an interesting experience to go over and work on the client side and understand how infrastructure projects are funded, awarded and delivered. 

When and how did you decide to become an engineer? 

I was doing technical drawing class from year 7 at school, which I found very cool and exciting. By the time I got to year 10, I’d decided I wanted to be an engineer or architect and landed on engineering.  

From there, I looked through career handbooks to help pick my HSC subjects. I remember going through all the different engineering disciplines and deciding on mechanical engineering. Since then, I haven't looked back. Maybe I got lucky. Following an engineering career pathway worked out to be the right thing for me and I chose it at age 15. 

What personal skills and attributes do you need for a job like yours? 

I think being a decisive leader is very important. I remember, long ago in my career, one of my managers said the best thing any leader can do is to make a decision. And then deal with it if in the rare case it is the wrong one. Make another one. 

Be very flexible, open-minded, and able to bring the team along with you. You are not taking the credit for things but putting that success back to the individuals involved.  

We do highly complex work in the construction industry. So, being able to understand any technical and other issues quickly and not being slow to call on subject matter expertise when it’s needed is an important attribute. 

What tools do you find useful in a job like yours?

Working flexibly, like many people, I have a phone, iPad, and laptop. So, if I'm away from my laptop or iPad, I'll pick up my phone – it has everything I need to communicate, meet, take notes, key TfNSW related Aps and more. Virtual meetings are now embedded in everyday construction culture and that includes hybrid ways of working. It also creates a more inclusive work environment and arguably more effective ways of working.

"I’m putting a lot of focus on the women and all minorities people we have in engineering and helping to get pathways for more to enter the industry. Having mentors is super-important. They aren’t always going to come and find you, so you must reach out and get all the help you need" - Teresa on the importance of having a work mentor

What’s changed, changing or coming soon to make construction an industry-of-choice?  

It’s already an industry of choice! 

What’s important, and I hope it’s coming quickly, is getting the diversity and inclusion workforce balance right.  

We want a more gender-diverse, and a wider range of people – from more nationalities, backgrounds, abilities, sexual preference, gender diverse, belief systems and age groups – joining the construction industry.  

Construction must be more of a career destination for everybody who wants to come and join. And that's starting to happen more and more through things like flexible and hybrid ways of working, and a greater understanding of the exciting career pathways there are to choose from.  

Why is the construction industry the one to be in? 

We are delivering mega infrastructure projects and so much more, and there are so many job opportunities and career options in the construction industry.  

Of course, there are many pathways for construction workers, designers, and engineers, but all kinds of jobs from all sorts of areas to choose from – in legal, environmental, trades, engagement and safety, to name only a few. 

It’s a hot job market right now and the industry is resource poor and you can get paid well if you work hard and keep pushing yourself. 

Work hard, do the right thing, be the change and you'll progress in your career.  

Do you have a workplace mentor or champion? 

I have had a few key mentors in my career, and I still do.  

I remember, probably about 10 to 15 years ago, I had a female executive approach me, and she said, “I've heard good things about you, and I want to be your mentor”. I thought there's nothing better than having a strong female lead approach you, wanting to support your career when you are a woman in engineering.  

Subsequently, I've always been passionate about being, hopefully, that type of mentor for other people I work with male and female, making sure that we bring the team with us as they go ahead.  

I think my legacy will be watching these people grow in their careers and do bigger and better things than I've done.  

I’m putting a lot of focus on diversity and inclusion in engineering and helping to get pathways for more diversity to be able to enter the industry.  

Having mentors is super-important. They aren’t always going to come and find you, so you must reach out and get all the help you need.  

My advice is to find a strong mentor that inspires you and reach out. 

What's your advice on finding out about the construction industry?

The next time you’re driving down the road, keep an eye out for epic construction projects. They are everywhere in Australia, Sydney and across NSW. Check out the names and logos on the perimeter fences or hanging off the crane, and when you get home, find out all you can about them. 

For inspiration about engineering careers, check out Engineers Australia. It's an institution that's been around for a long time and has a lot to offer and while you’re online, explore the women in engineering networks.  

Speak with your career advisers or look up people like myself and other leaders up on LinkedIn and come and find us. I'm keen to get more aspiring, interested talent working in our industry – we need fresh energy and a fresh outlook.  

There's nothing better than getting an email from a school student or an undergraduate who wants to work on your projects. And, if they’ve gone to that effort, you know they are keen.  

Otherwise, look at the Transport for NSW Linked page and other organisations to approach – there are plenty of amazing contractors and suppliers looking for emerging engineering talent. 

How do you make a positive impression on people in the construction industry?

Be enthusiastic, ready to learn, and get involved in all the different activities your manager or team asks you to. Be the change you want to see. Try to get a hands-on role that allows you to get out on site because that’s the best way to learn.  

Do you have any tips when pulling together a job application?

Make sure your application stands out. You could put your authentic story in there, and show your enthusiasm. Please make sure you answer any questions asked. 

Also, when it comes to the interview, prepare ahead of time. Be yourself, confident and think up possible anecdotes or experiences you can draw on.

Teresa is standing in front of large machinery wearing a pink t-shirt, hi-vis vest and hard hat.

What are 4 things good construction employers do? 

  1. They offer iconic projects. There are many amazing projects in Australia! 
  2. They remunerate well. It's an attractive industry in that respect. We work hard and can get paid well.  
  3. They offer flexibility in the way our people work. There's been a big push for hybrid and more flexible approaches to working, which shows in the projects' successes. 
  4. They celebrate authentic diversity and inclusion. 

What’s next careerwise?  

The M6 Stage 1 project will be completed in 2025. Time will tell what’s next for me but I know it will be challenging and interesting. 

What is your career defining project?

I call every project I go to the best project ever. It’s a good strategy, if I’m on it I endeavour to always lead with it being “the best”.  

My previous mega-project was the $1.3 billion Sydney Metro Central Station Project upgrade before coming to the M6 Stage 1.  

We referred to it within TfNSW as the “jewel in the crown” of Sydney’s iconic infrastructure projects” because of its heritage, history, and size – the biggest train station in Australia and most populated in the southern hemisphere. We did a lot of work with public art and heritage aspects – both Aboriginal and the environment.  

It’s a project with so many elements, all bundled into one. 

Now I am on the M6 Stage 1, naturally it is the best now. For me the best project or organisation is one where the team are credited for its success, brought together and remember it as a crucial step forward in their career where people were key. 

Do you have a motto or inspiring quote? 

A person who has worked with me for five years recently told me that I often say, “Just do the thing”. Simple, no task is too complex that you can’t break it down into the smaller “things”. 

Work can be complex but most challenges are reasonably simple when you break them down into small pieces. It’s what good engineers do best.  

It’s all about not overcomplicating things or having something take any longer than it must.  

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