“Why I enjoy my job” - meet Kathryn Gardner


08 Mar 2021

International Women’s Day 2021

International Women's Day - meet Kathryn Gardner

To celebrate International Women’s Day 2021, Kathryn Gardner tells us about her career and why she enjoys working at Highways England.

Can you describe your current job?

I’m a programme leader in the Yorkshire and North East. I joined Highways England in 2018 and I’m part of the Regional Investment Programme Team. We deliver all the major road projects in the region and I’m responsible for the four road schemes on the A19 in the North East.

I lead a team of project managers who manage the schemes day-to-day. I make sure that the schemes are on-track and help the team with any issues they might be experiencing that might affect the regional programme. I also make sure that they’re getting the right support, training and development.

Kathryn Gardner
Kathryn Gardner

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The best thing about working from Highways England is the flexibility and the work-life balance. There are some great, strong and compassionate female leaders who have been a big support to me. I also really enjoy working with my team, they’re a great support to me too and they keep me motivated.  

Is there anything particularly different about your current role?

I’m one of the behavioural coaches for Highways England. That means I’m responsible for helping our teams to work better together, by developing the very best behaviours. We’re thinking about our behavioural training differently now across our teams in the North East. We’re bringing together teams from within Highways England, but also the companies that do our construction work. We’re providing training to everyone together which is great as it’s much more efficient and worthwhile.

Do you think there’s anything particularly interesting or unusual about your career?

My career has been very varied which has been great. I started off as a quantity surveyor working for a contractor based out on site. I’ve worked on the construction of airports, railways and now roads – so right across the transport sector. I’ve also worked on construction of traditional buildings such as schools, police stations and a petrochemical plant. I’ve been lucky to work across many different sectors and I think that the skills I’ve got are transferrable to them all.  

What’s it like working on projects in the North East?

I live in the North East and I’m passionate about the investment that we’re making in the region. Its great to be a part of this. I’ve spent the last 15-16 years working on regional projects from police stations to schools to supermarkets. I’ve seen a big change in the North East – you can feel that we’ve got more big names coming to the region and there’s an increase in public sector investment. Our road projects are an important part of this – connecting people and places and helping the region to grow.

Do you do anything else outside of your normal day job?

I mentor within Highways England and I’ve started mentoring with the Social Mobility Foundation. I’d really recommend mentoring as it’s helped me to learn a lot and to keep in touch with what’s important to people. It’s made me realise that wellbeing is so important to people now more than ever. It’s really important to have a good balance of work and home life.

I’ve found as well that mentoring has made me realise that you learn from difficult challenges at work. And that what you learn could really help someone else if you just share it with them.

How have you found working during Covid?

It was really tough especially with the home schooling at the start as I’ve got a young son. I expected myself to work as hard and as long as I had before, but I was also putting pressure on myself to be 100% amazing at home schooling too.

But I soon learnt that it was okay to show that I was struggling, to be a bit vulnerable. It really helped me to be open and tell my own team that I needed to take some time out for home schooling. I think this helped them too, as it showed that they could take that time out as well.

What keeps you going?

Knowing that there are good days even when I’m having a difficult day. Usually when there’s been a problem it’s not long before its solved and I get a call from someone in the team to say we’ve solved it.

It’s great that the weather is getting better now too and I’m looking forward to seeing family again.

What one piece of advice would you give to women thinking about a career in project or programme management?

Do it! I’ve had so much fun. I can genuinely say that I always love my job because it’s so varied and interesting. The industry has changed massively in the 30 years - it’s much more family friendly and flexible than it was before.

The theme for international women’s day this year is #choosetochallenge - what does it mean to you?

Challenge yourself! Don’t be afraid to change sectors or take on a different role. Be bold but keep a healthy balance.