Amanda Clack, the youngest-ever fellow of the RICS, is leading a shake-up of her profession. Here she tells Victoria Madine why project managers do not deserve the bad press they sometimes get from the rest of the project team.
"Project managers are an unloved breed. They are routinely lambasted as 'jacks of all trades', 'post boxes' and 'paper-shuffling parasites …" The voice here belongs Ann Minogue, Building's rebarbative legal writer, and the point she is making (in a column from last year) is that project managers "manage and co-ordinate" work, rather than executing it themselves. As a result, other professions tend to regard them as only a few rungs up from planning supervisors on the project team pecking order.

Amanda Clack has given herself the job of changing that perception. The 33-year-old partner in project management consultant Hornagold and Hills became the youngest-ever fellow of the RICS four years ago, and now she's putting that energy and ambition into the service of her profession.

This is not something you can do with a few quick calls before breakfast, as Clack readily admits. For one thing, there is the anonymity of the profession. "Stan [Hornagold] asked me what I was going to say if I was asked who had a high profile in the profession. Neither of us could think of anyone." Then there is the nebulousness of what a project manager actually does, which was Minogue's point – although she goes on to point out that the courts are helping to overcome this: more and more managers are getting sued, and so their responsibilities are being gradually pinned down.

Put the two together, and you get a profession that needs a few drinks to come out of its shell. Clack says: "A while ago I went on a boat trip down the Thames with other consultants, and the egos did come out. It was great to hear people saying, 'look, that's my building'."

This directness is, perhaps, an indication of how project managers can help themselves. Clack's CV describes her as having strengths in "strategy development", "facilitation" and "process refinement", and she uses management clichés by the dozen. She says at one point: "The five essential things are: process, system, people, communications and strategy. If there is a problem with a company, it will be with one of these."

What makes this kind of fluent inarticulacy strange is that project managers have a lot to shout about. She herself has worked for tough clients, such as BAA, London Underground and Railtrack. In the case of LU, the relationship goes back to the formation of Hornagold in 1987. Now, the practice is tracking LU's IT, legal and other consultants' progress on the long road to public–private partnership. At one point she headed a team of about 275 on a project to correlate data about LU's assets.

On a smaller scale, Hornagold has worked for British Airways on improving its baggage-handling system and has given countless other clients lessons in how to hold effective meetings.

I’d like to take Will Alsop to a group of our clients and leave them to explain how we add value

"I've loved my job from day one, and feel lucky that I found my career aged 18," says Clack. In fact, she had in inkling that it was her kind of thing when she watched the M25 take shape from the bedroom window of her parents' house in Navestock, near Brentwood, in Essex. She was captivated by the scale, speed and bustle of the construction.

She took a degree in quantity surveying at Anglia Polytechnic, after which she decided that she wanted to be more than a cost consultant. A position with Hornagold and an MSc in project management followed. She says that being a woman in a male-dominated industry has never bothered her: "The only time I was treated differently was as a student when I made visits to a project in Peterborough; the guys used to warm up my wellies for me – it was winter. I just thought, great!"

Clack became an active member of the RICS early in her career and was a moving force behind the institution's shake-up last year. As she says: "You can influence an institution or be influenced by it." She helped set up, and now chairs, the RICS' eastern region board and is keen to see the organisation continue to encourage diversification in the surveying profession. "The RICS' widening of the range of professional competencies you can become chartered in was important," she says.

Clack is annoyed by the criticism that her profession gets, such that from architect Will Alsop, who said project managers became a barrier between the client and design team. "I'd like to take Will Alsop to a group of our clients and leave them to explain how what we do adds value," she says with some heat.

Over the next few years, Clack wants to continue running a successful business and ultimately find herself "thumbing my way through my book about how small is beautiful" – she passionately believes that large corporations do not necessarily deliver better services to clients.

And she wants to continue raising the profile of project managers. The conversation turns back to the lack of a high-profile champion for her profession. So how does she feel about taking on that mantle? "Oh goodness me! I don't know – it's a long way to fall isn't it?"

Personal effects

What are your hobbies?
I love sailing and own a 34 ft Jeanneau boat. I’m a member of the Royal Burnham Yacht Club at Burnham-on-Crouch, Essex, where I live. I also like skiing, travelling, and photography.
What’s the most beautiful building you’ve photographed?
Without a doubt the Alhambra Palace in Granada.
How do you relax?
I play piano – Grieg, Mozart and Beethoven are my favourites.