Kate Valenti: Hi Dawn, thank you for sitting down with me today. You’re a Director of Project Management here at Unicon, and have clearly built a successful career in project management, both before Unicon and for more than a decade on our team. From your experience, what traits are critical for strong project managers to have?
Dawn Edmunds: It’s hard to pinpoint one thing that makes a successful project manager. Rather, it’s important to be well-rounded, to have a large and diverse number of skills in your toolkit so that you can apply them as needed to different situations. The skills that have served me well over my career have been leadership, communication, and client relationship building, as they are applicable to projects no matter the size, scope or complexity. For me, it is critical that I see the big picture at all times to truly internalize and embrace why we are doing something, but also have a deep understanding of the details and the work to be done. I also find it essential to have a sense of humor, to bring levity to tense or tough situations, and to remember we’re all human and we’re all there because we are all committed to a successful outcome. Project management isn’t just data and spreadsheets and status reports, but having the tools to be able to think quickly on your feet, to make timely and informed decisions, to garner trust from your team and your clients, and to respond to the oftentimes tricky situations that come up.
Kate: Speaking of traits, when we took the Strengthsfinder assessment I learned your top strengths are "Relator" and "Intellection”. Tell me a bit about those strengths and how they apply to your career.
Dawn: Relators like people. It’s kind of funny because I'm an introvert, so as an introverted Relator it’s about quality over quantity. That’s true in my personal life and my work life, the prioritization of authentic, meaningful relationships. As a project manager, this trait serves me well and helps me thrive as it enables me to develop sincere relationships with colleagues and clients. And trusted relationships become safety nets that enable people to actively listen to one another, to have different opinions and to engage in healthy conflict. We can work together and learn from one another and solve hard problems together because we have built that trust.
Intellection on the other hand is about solving problems and thinking deeply. I tend to be very reflective, processing a lot of information internally before presenting things outwardly. It’s that reflective and analytic nature that drives me to think through my team’s challenges and come up with options for solutions before I contribute to the broader conversation. That serves me well as a leader and a project manager because people know when I give my thoughts and opinions, or ask questions, I’ve been thoughtful and intentional about what I’m going to say. Interestingly, another aspect of Intellection is the ability to be a calming influence on others, and this is something people have pointed out having observed in me, the innate tendency to bring a collected, rational presence to certain interactions, particularly ones where there is tension or some kind of conflict that is escalating.
Kate: I’ve definitely seen you bring calm to a situation! Switching gears from project management to the industry we work in - EdTech. What aspects of working in EdTech interest you and keep you motivated along this career path?
Dawn: I am motivated by the projects I get to work, my team members, and the clients I get to work with. I have a daughter in middle school, and it’s very interesting seeing first hand how technologies impact her educational journey. Edtech presents lots of opportunities to learn because the technology changes so quickly, and I appreciate that this field requires us to grow and to continue to take on new and different challenges.
The thing that inspires me most about our work is how digital technology has the ability to address educational inequities, and how it brings people together. EdTech connects people from all over the globe, making the world a bit cozier and making us realize how connected we really are, or can be.
Kate: Final question, and of course it’s about AI. If you could use AI to improve some function of project management, where would you innovate?
DE: First, I’d tackle the low hanging fruit. What would I like to offload to make better use of my time? Automated documentation, automated resource allocation and management, dynamic project planning and task management. I’d let AI handle these so I could focus my time on more strategic and creative activities.
Then the more important work. How could AI make me a better team leader? Could AI surface things that I don’t always notice? Maybe a tool that could assess team members’ job satisfaction or morale. What if AI could give me some insights related to motivation or satisfaction that would help me get ahead of issues? I see a ton of value in a tool that could enhance teamwork, to spot potential conflicts, or suggest innovative ways for people to work together to capitalize on their different strengths, for improved collaboration, communication and outcomes.
Kate: Thank you so much for taking time with me today to talk about project management, EdTech, and AI. I appreciate your insights!