From the Royal Navy to Project Manager


Phillip Murphy served in the Royal Navy Submarine Service between 2003 to 2021, leaving with the rank of Leading Hand. “In my previous role, I held various positions, culminating in key management roles in project, facilities, and catering management.

As a Project and Facilities Manager, I oversaw the maintenance and management of over 70 site facilities at the Commando Training Centre RM, encompassing accommodation, catering, recreation, and educational blocks. My responsibilities included managing large-scale projects and leading a team of more than 1500 to ensure timely and efficient project delivery. This included refurbishing shooting ranges and presentation suites, collaborating with various contractors for construction, fit-outs, and IT implementations, and managing Service Level Agreements to meet all project goals.

In the realm of team and stakeholder management, as well as health & safety, I led a team of six across three sites, focusing on property inspections, health and safety, crisis management, and performance reviews. My role involved negotiating contracts, managing maintenance of equipment, and leading health, safety, and security operations, including the design and implementation of new policies and procedures. I achieved significant cost savings through strategic management, including a reduction in subcontractor and supplier costs, and additional savings through budget control and subcontractor replacements in field catering and training.

As a Catering Project Manager, I managed in-house catering and operational functions for 150 staff, including overseeing refurbishments at HMS Talent Submarine and CTCRM office/accommodation block. This involved a substantial refurbishment project with a budget of £300K over 2 ½ years and management of food and beverage provisions for events.

In the role of Field Catering & Maintenance Manager, I led a team of 35 chefs, catering for up to 1500 troops and providing 4500 hot meals daily. This included negotiating contracts and managing refurbishment projects for equipment and warehouses.

Earlier in my career, I served as a Senior Chef and Chef/Caterer within the Ministry of Defence, Royal Navy, where I developed the foundational skills and experience that led to my subsequent managerial roles. My achievements in these positions were recognized with awards, including two silver medals in a Defence Industry catering event and a Merit of Achievement for a Leadership and Management course.

In my most recent role in the Armed Forces, a typical day was dynamic and multifaceted, primarily focused on project and facilities management at the Commando Training Centre RM.

My day would often start with a review of the ongoing projects and facility operations, including accommodation, catering, recreation, and educational facilities. This involved assessing project progress, budget management, and ensuring that all activities were aligned with our strategic objectives.

A significant portion of the day was dedicated to team and stakeholder management. I would meet with my team of six, spread across three sites, to oversee property inspections, manage health and safety protocols, and handle any crisis situations. Regular performance reviews were also a key part of maintaining team efficiency and morale.

I frequently liaised with senior management and subcontractors to discuss and negotiate contract terms, maintenance schedules, and remedial estimates. Part of my responsibility was to ensure the upkeep and maintenance of hard service equipment, which required close coordination with various departments and contractors.

Health, safety, and security operations were another critical aspect of my role. I would spend time designing, reviewing, and updating policies, as well as implementing new procedures to ensure a safe and secure working environment for everyone on site.

Throughout the day, I also focused on budget management and cost-saving measures. This included reviewing subcontractor and supplier costs, implementing budget controls in different teams, and finding opportunities to reduce expenses without compromising on quality or efficiency.

The day would typically conclude with administrative tasks, such as maintaining records, monitoring project timelines, and preparing reports for higher management, ensuring they were kept informed of our progress and any challenges we faced.

This routine, while structured, also demanded flexibility and adaptability, as urgent issues or unexpected challenges could arise, requiring immediate attention and problem-solving skills.

While serving, I developed a comprehensive set of skills, enhanced by practical experiences in various challenging environments:

  • Project Management: I managed complex, multi-million-pound projects, exemplifying strong leadership and adherence to governance. For example, I successfully led a major refurbishment project at the Commando Training Centre RM, coordinating multiple teams and ensuring project completion within budget and timelines.
  • High-Stake Negotiations: My ability to negotiate effectively was demonstrated in securing contracts with senior officials. This skill was crucial in negotiating terms for various construction and refurbishment projects, bringing valuable business opportunities and cost savings to the organisation.
  • Stakeholder Management: I excelled in managing complex stakeholder relationships, ensuring their commitment throughout project lifecycles. An instance of this was liaising with senior management and contractors during the refurbishment of shooting ranges, where my negotiation and influence ensured project alignment with stakeholder expectations.
  • Health & Safety: With a deep understanding of UK Health and Safety legislation, backed by NEBOSH certifications, I led health, safety, and security operations. This knowledge was applied in designing and updating safety policies and procedures across various sites.
  • Communication Skills: My role demanded excellent communication, both written and oral, engaging effectively with individuals at all organisational levels. This skill was evident in my regular team briefings and performance reviews, as well as in mentoring staff, which drove cultural transformation and enhanced workforce performance.

Additionally, my service honed other essential skills:

  • Time Management and Professionalism: Juggling multiple projects and responsibilities, I maintained a high degree of professionalism and efficient time management.
  • Team Management and Leadership: Leading teams across different projects, I fostered a collaborative environment and guided teams towards achieving common goals.
  • Accountability and Perseverance: Taking responsibility for project outcomes, I consistently demonstrated perseverance in overcoming obstacles.
  • Adaptability: In a dynamic and demanding environment, I adapted to changing situations and requirements, ensuring project success.
  • Overcoming Challenges in High-Pressure Environments: Managing projects under tight deadlines and high expectations, I maintained composure and decision-making clarity.
  • Global Exposure: Working in diverse locations, I gained global experience, understanding different cultures and operational practices.
  • Positivity and Mental Resilience: Facing various challenges, I maintained a positive attitude and mental resilience, crucial for enduring demanding situations.

These skills, gained and refined during my service, were instrumental in achieving professional success and personal growth.

I secured my current position with the invaluable assistance of BuildForce. Their support and guidance played a crucial role in this achievement.

During my transition to civilian life, the most helpful strategies were networking and seeking guidance from various sources. Engaging with veterans who had already made the transition provided invaluable insights and advice. Utilising a mentor, especially through organisations like BuildForce, was instrumental in guiding me through this process. LinkedIn also proved to be an extremely useful tool for connecting with professionals and expanding my network. The key was actively building these networks, as I discovered many individuals were eager to offer assistance and direction. This proactive approach in establishing connections and seeking advice greatly facilitated my transition to civilian life.

I faced several challenges. The uncertainty and concerns about job security were significant hurdles. The feeling of being an imposter, doubting my abilities and fit in the civilian workforce, was a common experience. The transition to “Civvy Street” felt overwhelming, especially after years of being in the structured and supportive environment of the Armed Forces. Even after settling into a few roles, I often questioned my choices and the suitability of my career path, feeling the pressure to make the right decisions quickly, particularly with the responsibility of supporting a family.

The most profound challenge, however, has been managing my mental health. Navigating these changes can be mentally taxing, but thankfully, organisations like BuildForce have been a great support. They not only assisted in the transition but also directed me to professional organisations such as Help for Heroes and OP Courage, which have been incredibly beneficial. Their support has been instrumental in dealing with these challenges.

I felt there was a significant need for more comprehensive support right from the moment it was clear my military career was ending. Enhanced career coaching provided by the Ministry of Defence (MOD) would have been incredibly beneficial. This support should focus on helping individuals discover their passions and what truly motivates them each day. It’s crucial to assist in making informed career choices and then guiding towards obtaining the necessary professional accreditations.

My personal experience during this phase was quite lacking. The available guidance was limited to a basic CV writing class, which was far from sufficient. I was then hastily asked to choose a work placement without adequate counsel or understanding of my interests and skills. As someone from the catering branch, I was automatically directed towards Facilities Management, a field I had no interest in. Although the journey has been challenging, the existence of organizations like BuildForce offers a sense of reassurance. Their assistance and the support of other similar organisations are invaluable resources during this ongoing transition.

In my current role at Costain, which I have held since September 2023, I work as a Project Manager based in Plymouth. My job involves a variety of responsibilities within the realms of project management, NEC contracts, and stakeholder management. Key aspects of my role include:

  • Managing a Multi-Billion pound major infrastructure project: I am part of a joint venture named COSMOTT, in partnership with Mott MacDonald, focusing on the implementation of the Royal Naval Dockyard facilities regeneration under the NEC4 contract structure.
  • Cost Control and Reporting: I am responsible for proactive cost control, preparing detailed weekly forecast variance reports, and managing Applications for Payments (AFPs), particularly in collaboration with Babcock and the MOD.
  • Work Planning and Compliance: In conjunction with the Senior Project Manager, I oversee work planning in alignment with the Project Safety, Health, and Environmental Plan.
  • Quality and Environmental Management: I supervise the implementation of quality processes as per the Project Quality Plan, emphasizing defect prevention, especially in Nuclear Safety. Additionally, I manage environmental impact procedures in accordance with the Project Environmental Plan.
  • Risk Analysis and Program Monitoring: My responsibilities also include identifying technical and commercial risks and opportunities, monitoring work progress against program milestones, and suggesting delay mitigation strategies.
  • Contractual and Subcontractor Management: I handle contractual matters, change processes, and maintain records for Contracts and Subcontracts, ensuring that subcontractor and supplier contractual programs are implemented within the required timelines.

Previously, from January 2023 to September 2023, I worked with Mace Group in Exeter as a Project Manager/Assistant Project Manager. There, I managed various projects under the Cornwall Council’s Schools Basic Needs Programme & Housing Revenue Account (HRA), including construction and housing projects in St. Agnes, Callington, Bude, Launceston, and Perranporth, and conducted a feasibility study for The Bourne Academy in Bournemouth. Additionally, I served as a Well-being Ambassador alongside my project responsibilities.

Before joining Mace, from November 2021 to January 2023, I was an Assistant Project Manager/Project Engineer in Plymouth, focusing on project management and compliance with NEC4 contract packages, cost control and reporting, and alignment of subcontractor and supplier plans with client and Costain’s obligations at HMNB Devonport, 5 Basin. My role involved ensuring compliance with safety, health, and environmental regulations and managing contractual matters related to major infrastructure projects.

My current role can be summed up in one word: Hectic. Each day, from the beginning to the end of the week, is packed with meetings, many of which I either chair or participate in. The work environment is high-pressure, with strict deadlines that must be met. My responsibilities include extensive team and stakeholder management, addressing various financial aspects, and dealing with unexpected issues that arise and require prompt resolution.

The project’s location adds an extra layer of complexity and scrutiny due to its nuclear implications. This means that every aspect of the project is closely monitored and managed with utmost precision and care. Amidst this bustling work schedule, I also balance family responsibilities and am currently pursuing a Master of Science in Project Management in Construction, making my daily routine a whirlwind of activities and commitments.

In my day-to-day job, several critical skills come into play. Effective communication stands at the forefront, ensuring clear and consistent dialogue with team members and stakeholders. Leadership and people management are essential for guiding the team towards our objectives. Stakeholder engagement is another vital skill, requiring the ability to connect and collaborate with various parties involved in the project. Organisational skills help in efficiently managing tasks and resources, while maintaining mental well-being is crucial for handling the demands of the job.

Regarding the transferability of these skills from my military career, I believe all of them have been significantly influenced by my time in the military. The armed forces not only honed these abilities but also taught me to adapt and overcome challenges, and to remain calm and composed under pressure. These military-acquired skills seamlessly integrate into my current role, contributing to my effectiveness and success in the civilian work environment.

If you’re transitioning from the Armed Forces to a career in construction, my key advice would be to thoroughly research and explore your options. Start by reaching out to organisations like BuildForce for guidance. Consider undertaking work placements in well-known companies to get a first-hand experience of the different roles available in the construction industry. Networking is crucial – talk to people in the field, understand what each role entails, and make an informed decision. It’s important not to rush into a career choice based on others’ recommendations. Instead, take the time to discover what truly interests and excites you.

Once you have a clearer idea of your preferred area in construction, investigate the professional certifications required for that path. Consider furthering your education with a degree or a master’s in the relevant field. Rushing into a role without exploring the various aspects and opportunities within the construction industry can lead to regrets later.

Also, when choosing an organisation to join, make sure they offer a mentorship program and adequate support to help you transfer your military skills to a civilian role. This support should include an understanding of the key requirements and adjustments needed to make a successful transition.”