I became a member with PMI when in 2013, I decided to pursue the PMP certification after eight years in the profession. I attended my first chapter event in January 2016, when my manager invited me to join the General Assembly of the Chapter’s new Board of Directors. Rather shy and uncomfortable among strangers, I discovered a group of like-minded people who shared the same challenges and passion.
In April of that same year, I was asked to join a panel discussion on the topic of PMO. As I work in a large multinational company’s regional PMO, I was proud to discover that I had the significant professional experience to share. Having spent many years in the same large company, this exchange with peers outside my own company was surprisingly enriching, and I wanted more of it. I started attending more of these chapter events, where I gradually started building a vast network with fellow members. Keen on actively participating in the Chapter’s work, I started volunteering by taking care of registrations at events. Before I knew it, I organised a sold-out event at our own company. I was buzzing with enthusiasm, and most people in the Chapter knew me by my first name by now.
After this engagement, it was only a small step further to apply to serve as an Officer for the Chapter. In January 2017, I started my journey on the Board as Director of Membership and Volunteers. Our Chapter was small, so we had great growth potential. I harvested great satisfaction from the work we did with this small team of people who put their time into the service of a community. Doing this next to a full-time job, I found that although it consumed time, the work with the Chapter gave me new energy rather than taking it away.
In this role, I discovered the great support that PMI provides to its chapters’ leaders. You need to understand that all PMI chapters are run entirely by volunteers. To warrant strategic alignment and quality of leadership, PMI Leadership Institute equips us with supporting material, tools, and opportunities for education in many ways. I have had the privilege to attend several conferences where PMI gathers all chapter leaders and creates a platform for alignment, exchange, and networking across Europe. I have learned an incredible amount at these conferences on subjects ranging from technical to people leadership. We have developed common strategies and built plans for joint cross-chapter initiatives. Several days in a row, we would have lectures, workshops, and networking events. I learned about servant leadership, succession planning and how to plan successful transition plans between leaving and incoming board members.
From 2019 until 2022, I served as President of the Chapter. In this role, I learned and practised leadership and communication skills which serve me every day in my professional and personal life. By then, working with fellow Officers with who I had become friends, we had fun and took the Chapter to the next level. We built an operational structure to support the chapter activities sustainably. We created volunteering roles for activities where we needed help, but also others for entirely new ideas, such as creating a new mentoring program that is anchored in our value proposition today.
As for everyone, the start of 2020 changed everything: our Chapter was heavily challenged with the arrival of the pandemic. How do you motivate scared people who are home-schooling their kids, who face job insecurity etc., to do unpaid work without having the satisfaction and buzz we all got from our in-person events? We practised kindness and empathy with ourselves and each other. We looked after each other first and then after the Chapter. We exchanged with other chapters how they found solutions to similar challenges. We learned new skills and tools to transform our events into virtual ones. And we congratulated ourselves for every success on the way. We re-invented the year-end drink and sent the fizzy wine to our members when they could not come to us, and held online networking events.
I recently ended my presidency with the Chapter with a feeling of gratitude for the experience. It has been an incredibly rich experience on so many levels, and it has shaped me into the person and the leader I am today. Albeit with fewer obligations, I am looking forward to continuing volunteering with this Chapter and keep nurturing the relationships with fellow volunteers and other members of the local PM community.
Saskia Van DYCK