For adding a new chapter to The Project Economy
Tshegofatso Sehlodimela can distill her job into one line: “I’m given a manuscript in Word and I deliver a published book.” Working at Unisa Press, the publishing arm of the University of South Africa, she’s helped bring a wide range of titles into the world. There’s everything from a marine archaeologist’s account of a 17th-century shipwreck in Cape Town’s harbor to a coffee-table book featuring Jürgen Schadeberg’s unflinching photography documenting apartheid.
Her one-line job description belies the complexity of the role: “It requires constant liaison with stakeholders—a mesh of different people with different needs, and they all come to you for project visioning and direction,” she explains.
That stakeholder prowess has garnered attention for Sehlodimela beyond the world of publishing. For the past few months, she has been using her skills to spearhead a university-wide competency project ensuring the institution is future-fit in terms of skills and technology. “I know publishing very well, so this is a gamble,” she says. “I’m being stretched, every day. But I’m still standing!”
We weren’t quite ready to close the book on this tale. So we asked: What’s on your desk?
“My son’s 9 years old, and his school timetable is slap-bang in the middle of my wall. I’m working from home at the moment, and I need to slot picking him up from school into my work calendar. Work’s so busy and I get lost in it very easily, so this is a reminder.”
“In math class, my son was doing line diagrams, and he decided to draw 3D vectors. I can’t draw to save my life, so these fascinate me.”
“My faith really grounds me, and I put this printout there because life and work can get overwhelming. So even though today might go pear-shaped, don’t get too lost in the moment and lose sight of the bigger picture.”
“Pink’s my favorite color, so I have a lot of pink things on my desk: my mouse, my mousepad. I even repainted my desk pink. Initially, pink connotated strength and power, as opposed to softness. I embody all the social constructs, even while operating in a high-pressure environment. When I’m sitting at my desk, I’m instantly in work mode: It’s like I put on this Wonder Woman suit and I can do Wonder Woman things.”
Q&A: Tshegofatso Sehlodimela on specialized generalists, creativity and Queen Bey
What project most influenced you personally?
It’s the Beyoncé concert film Homecoming that details the planning and preparation for her performance at Coachella. The film ultimately became a cultural movement. I value the work ethic, resilience, dedication and discipline in seeing a creative concept come to fruition. As a project, the level of execution shows a meticulous attention to detail, from communicating a vision to selecting the right team and resources as well as ensuring that every stakeholder is both engaged and enthralled by the prospect of achieving the end result.
The project has had a profound impact in my approach to how I manage my projects. Having started my project career in a creative industry, Homecoming exemplifies how immersing oneself wholeheartedly in a creative process—or any process for that matter—can lead to work that is significant and impactful.
What’s the most influential project you’ve worked on?
My current project: The Competency Project. In terms of scope, it’s the largest project I’ve had the opportunity to work on and the most complex. There are many moving parts that require my utmost attention at all times. The premise is centered on human development—enhancing capabilities and abilities while also creating opportunities for individual development. The results will enhance the staff’s agency as it will enable informed choice and decision-making. There’s no greater sense of autonomy than the ability to make informed decisions.
What’s the one must-have skill to succeed in The Project Economy?
Agility. The word has been overused in the past couple of years, but it encapsulates myriad other skill sets that a project manager needs to navigate a constantly changing landscape. We are increasingly expected to manage cross-functional and diversified teams so it has become a necessity to have fluidity in providing the right measure of technical, leadership, digital and business know-how. In a nutshell, we must embrace being specialized generalists.
How are young people changing the world of projects now?
We’re unafraid of failure and failing forward. The current work environment is volatile, and it almost necessitates that one takes unprecedented challenges and risks in forging a path ahead. Young people bring this can-do, risk-taking attitude to projects to ensure that we improve our workspaces and ultimately the social environment we inhabit.