How to Go From a Senior Officer to Senior Project Manager

After a successful career with the RAF, Michele Crossman wanted a more flexible approach to work, which she has achieved working for SNC-Lavalin’s Atkins business.

Family comes first
Michele served in the RAF from 1992 to 2016 as a Logistics Officer, leaving as a Group Captain. She was posted across the UK and overseas, with roles at Joint Forces Command and the MOD. However, towards the end of her military career, Michele felt there was more to life and family stability was becoming increasingly important.

Michele said: “My daughter was fast approaching secondary school and reaching a stage that I felt that I really wanted more time to focus on her. But even at that point I didn’t feel brave enough to leave, however, with the help of a coach I made the decision and started actively managing my departure and transition to civilian life.”

Back to school
She wanted her new role to be part-time so it could fit around her family. Michele also felt a calling to work in education, so she could “give something back.” With this in mind, Michele chose a broad range of resettlement courses in charity management, self-employment and an Institute of Directors Certificate in Company Direction. She also attended a career consultation at the Officers’ Association, kept a close eye on the website and jobs board. She reached out to people via the network list and attended an OA networking evening in Bristol. After completing work experience in a primary school, Michele realised that teaching would not be the next career for her.

Fortunately, the resettlement courses Michele had chosen gave her other options. She soon successfully applied to be a Compliance Officer at a school, which gave her the part-time term-only hours she wanted at the time. The role drew on many skills Michele developed in the RAF, including the ability to organise, follow processes, work in a team, motivate people and liaise with senior management to put the school on a more organised footing.

Network for opportunities
Despite enjoying the role, Michele realised she needed something else longer-term. Unsure of what her next step should be, she messaged many of her LinkedIn contacts and broader network. During a conversation with another mum, Michele mentioned how a brigadier had recommended Atkins as a possible good fit. By coincidence her husband was a Director at Atkins and put Michele in contact with him. They spoke and Michele’s CV was shared within the company, before she successfully applied to join them as a Project Manager.

Michele is enjoying her role in the Nuclear and Power division. She is also Atkins’ Armed Forces Champion and Programme Director, as well as squeezing in her commitments as an RAF Reservist.

Michele said: “I’m a year into my time in Atkins, and I’m working on my third client-side project. I think veterans are excellent at working within a client’s organisation, because we’re good at building quick and effective relationships and settling into a team.”

Michele’s top transition tips

  • Plan your time – you get a fantastic package so make the most of it – put you as the top priority
  • Consider getting a coach – especially if you are struggling to narrow down your choices
  • Recognise that it is going to be a varied journey – your first landing is unlikely to be your last
  • It really is all about the network
  • Take some time out – a 12 month ‘sabbatical’ can be a real positive
  • Consider joining the Reserves – before you leave or start your new job

Working for Atkins
SNC-Lavalin’s Atkins business is a leading design, engineering and project management consultancies. Together with SNC-Lavalin, a global fully integrated professional services and project management company, Atkins helps clients plan, design and enable major capital projects, and provides expert consultancy that covers the full project lifecycle. The business works in many different industries, including aerospace, defence, energy, infrastructure, cyber security, transportation and technology. The company is family-friendly, encouraging flexible and remote working, even if you are client focussed.

Atkins is an Armed Forces-friendly employer, with a sizeable veteran and reservist community. The Armed Forces based initiatives are mostly coordinated by Atkins’ Partnering with Armed Forces (PwAF) programme, which started in 2014 and achieved the Defence Employer Recognition Scheme Gold Award in 2015. Reservists receive 10 days of extra paid leave, and there are many roles and opportunities that suit Service leavers.

Military Insight Day
PwAF is running its first military insight day on Friday 5th October, at the Atkins Bristol office. The free event will cover:

  • An introduction to Atkins and its services
  • Case studies by veterans working at Atkins
  • CV workshop and recruitment process session by HR representative
  • Guest speaker from the Bristol Management Centre, to give a different perspective
  • Networking opportunities.

Book your place


You may also be interested in the OA’s Project Management Workshop on 23rd October in Birmingham