Interview with Samantha Patterson

Sponsor of Electrification, Western Route at Network Rail

How long have you been in the rail industry? What brought you to the railway industry? (why did you join the rail sector or what inspired you to join the rail sector?

I’ve worked for Network Rail (NR) for 11 years.  I was looking for a new challenge in Swindon after moving in with my partner and Google helpfully advised me that NR was one of the top five companies to work for in Swindon!  That sold it for me.

What does your role consist of? What is a typical day?

As a Sponsor my day is a combination of progress updates with Project Managers; Stakeholder management meetings with the Consents Team, Local Authorities and/or Great Western Railway (GWR).  Resolving issues and overcoming challenges we are facing as a programme and within the Route. These can be anything from third-party funded schemes, late delivery of scope, cost escalation, working with the project team to determine which option is the most efficient way to deliver their project, and cope with any issues arising with the DfT or the ORR. I have quite a varied role and enjoy that element very much.

How do you balance home and work life? What advice would you give to other women?

Firstly, I have a family friendly flexible working arrangement with NR which works extremely well.  I’d say you need to be honest with how much work you do outside of the office and limit it.  My daughters used to tell me off for checking emails on weekends so now we have a rule; no work until they’re in bed, that way they get my attention until they’re asleep.  It means I still have time to catch up if I need to but it doesn’t have an effect on them.

What is it about the industry that you love? (what do you find most rewarding in your career?)

Working in the railway industry gives me the opportunity to do what I do best every day.  We are a strong community of people who all want a better railway. As the various schemes I sponsor get delivered, which not only improves the railway, but brings real benefits to our customers, I get a huge sense of achievement from being a part of it.

What would you say is the achievement you are most proud of?

I’m proud to work in the railway industry as a whole. I am incredibly lucky to work within a programme that is enhancing our railway.  A highlight of my career was working with the High Output Track Renewals team and seeing big yellow machines renew our railway night after night.  It’s difficult to pick out one single project I’m currently involved in, but I am incredibly proud of our Electrification Training Centre in Swindon which shall be one of a kind once completed.

In your career, what is the biggest challenge you had to overcome?

As I predominately sponsor stations, this presents a whole range of challenges that need to be worked through with our operators and our customers, along with the Local Authorities. I believe that all challenges, whatever the size, can be overcome through strong communication, collaboration and determination.

Has anyone inspired you during your career (and, if so who and why?)

I have been very fortunate throughout my career that I have had the opportunity to work for some amazing leaders, both men and women.  It would be a very long list if I had to write them all down!  However, I have to say that Jane Austin, Head of Engineering at NR is very much an inspiration.  Her drive for excellence and the way she encourages young people and specifically young women to get interested in railway engineering is incredibly inspiring.

In your opinion, what is the recipe for success – for a team, career, or otherwise?

Success is out there for everyone, no matter what your job.  I also don’t feel we should see success as completion of large scale projects.  Success comes in all kinds of forms.  It’s important to set yourself achievable goals, and to motivate yourself, and your team, to lead and inspire others.  Working together, building strong relationships with your clients/customers and working in collaboration with stakeholders are all recipes for success.

Do you think women handle leadership roles differently from men?

For me, it isn’t about women handling leadership roles differently from men; it’s about everyone having their own individual style of leadership no matter what your gender is.  I’ve worked for several great leaders and each and every one of them had a different style and handled the role differently.  For me, leadership is about inspiring your team to be the best they can be every day.  It’s supporting them through their career to achieve their personal goals, increase their skill sets and ensure they have a fulfilling career and want to come to work every day.

What do you see as the challenges to attracting more women into rail and what do you think could be done to make a difference?

The challenges for us as an industry is getting the message out to people that working in the railway isn’t just physically working on the track.  I’ve worked in several different and varied roles within Network Rail and we have so many elements to our business.  We need to get the message out that we are a multi-disciplined business with so much to offer, whether that’s engineering, accounting, procurement, management, human resources or operations.  The choices are varied and there is something for everyone.

What advice would you give to young women / other women working in rail?

My advice would be: Don’t be scared to search for a role that you love.  Find your passion, find out what you’re good at and be in a role that suits you and don’t be afraid to learn new things and move around the business to try other roles out.  I have worked in Project Management, Development, Delivery and now Sponsorship and my current role benefits from all the varied experiences I’ve had in the past.  Keep learning and keep growing would be my advice.

 

Interviewed September 2016