For translating complex project specs into tangible, positive action on public health
Monique Sekhon has project management in her blood. As a child, she watched her mother study for the Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification. And as a teen, she volunteered at events during her mom’s tenure as a PMI Vancouver Island Chapter board member.
“All those learnings were constantly happening in our house, and so I think I absorbed it over the years,” she says.
When Sekhon arrived at university, she initially declared herself pre-med. But once she started taking health sciences classes, she realized she could have a broader impact as a public health professional.
“As a doctor, you can really only work with a set number of patients,” she explains. “I wanted to focus more on the policy side, making changes that would impact hundreds or thousands of people.”
While still in university, she secured a position as a junior business analyst at the British Columbia Ministry of Health, where she still works today. In that initial role, Sekhon received on-the-job education in the project management philosophies and practices she’d heard about while growing up. She also gained valuable experience collaborating with multiple stakeholders across the province as she worked on the large-scale Health Data Platform Project, which aims to increase the efficiency of health data access for researchers and academics.
“Big projects like that get you on the radar because you’re talking to lots of different people and networking regularly,” she says. “And because the project team was very small, it was like working for a startup. I had opportunities to do very different things and take on quite a bit of responsibility.”
She was promoted to senior project management advisor in 2019, a role in which the then-22-year-old oversaw 13 concurrent complex data enhancement projects. As a young project professional, Sekhon admits that she dealt with dismissive people at times, but she credits strong female leaders with helping her gain footing.
“My supervisors were really incredible women who were also fairly young themselves, so they had a lot of trust,” she says. They were also supportive of ongoing education, which helped Sekhon push past any hesitations about pursuing a master’s degree.
These days, Sekhon manages over 45 concurrent complex data projects. And even as her technical expertise has deepened, she says it’s her people skills that power her performance.
“As a project manager, I don’t need to know exactly how some system works on the back end, but I need to be able to take the information that a person on my team is giving me and translate it to the rest of the team, who maybe don’t understand why that would be an issue,” Sekhon explains. “That communication piece was probably my biggest learning—reaching out to my team members and sitting with them one on one and having them walk me through a process. The ability to break things down and put them into accessible terminology has carried throughout my career.”
Sekhon is flexing her leadership muscles in positions outside the ministry, too. After years of volunteering with the PMI Vancouver Island Chapter, as well as running a project management basics course for youth and community members, Sekhon joined the chapter’s leadership team this year. She was initially worried about the timing of the role, as she was finishing a research placement for her master’s degree in Zurich. But a heart-to-heart talk with her mom convinced her to dive in.
“In the project management world, we love to network and collaborate with each other, and we love to give each other opportunities. It really feels like these are my people,” Sekhon says. “I thought, ‘This will be fun. I’ll put my heart and soul into this.’”
Q&A: Monique Sekhon on infinite possibilities and her not-so-secret ambition to take on Coachella
What project has most influenced you personally?
Starting my nonprofit, Care2Share. It was a really big dream, and it has taken me all over the world. I also learned so much about how supportive your friends, family and community can be.
How are young people changing the world of projects now?
The way our generation looks at the world is very different. We see beyond hierarchies, and we aren’t subject to the same pressures of the past. We take our time with things, look at our lives holistically, and in some ways represent infinite possibilities and the beauty of choice.
What’s the biggest challenge facing young project leaders right now?
One of the major challenges we face is being given an opportunity to take the lead. We really rely on older generations to trust us and to understand that the world is changing and we’re ready to get into the driver's seat.
What moonshot project would you like to work on?
I would secretly love to plan and organize huge festivals and events, like Coachella, the Calgary Stampede, the Met Gala. Large-scale events are a paramount example of project management because they are so time-sensitive and it's all riding on those few days. A welcome challenge!
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