In our AIPM meet the member series, we speak to a range of project professionals about their career and experiences, and their advice for fellow project managers. 

Lesley Bentley’s extensive body of work includes managing projects in the NSW Police Service and NSW Rural Fire Service, establishing her own business, and co-authoring research papers. Aside from this, Lesley has immersed herself in helping other project professionals grow through her work with the AIPM as a member, fellow, councillor, and RegPM assessor. Lesley shares her insights, recounting some key career anecdotes and most impactful projects she has worked on. 

1. Is there a key aspect of project management you have specific interest in?

Yes. My first ever qualification, in the late 1970s, was in Human Resources Management. After having children, this qualification underpinned my re-entry to the workforce in a HR role in the NSW Police Service. I think that the HR background and guidance from my boss who happened to be Christine Nixon (at that time Assistant Commissioner, Human Resources, NSW Police Service) led me to a Master of Management. Christine was the most supportive boss I have ever had. She allowed me to work closely with Dr Lynn Crawford and Dr Kerry Costello and others, to undertake post graduate qualifications in Management. 

I then added a Master of Project Management to this study programme and completed a master’s thesis on the theme of ‘Soft Systems for Soft Projects’, which was the title of the Australian Research Council (ARC) supported research undertaken in partnership between the NSW Police Service and UTS. ‘Soft Systems for soft projects’ applies systems theory and project management practice to complex change projects in the public sector and other similar environments. This contrasts with hard systems theory applied in a construction/engineering environment. The success of the RFS Organisational Change Portfolio of Programs provided opportunities to co-author research papers which were presented in Australia and overseas. This opened many doors. Many projects since then have included establishing Living Planit New Zealand, building a factory in Western Australia (remotely), and building a holiday house. 


The success of the RFS Organisational Change Portfolio of Programs provided opportunities to co-author research papers which were presented in Australia and overseas. 


2. Tell us about one of the most impactful projects you worked on

This is a very difficult question to answer. I was involved in the implementation of the recommendations made by the Wood Royal Commission into Police Corruption in the late 1990s. This incorporated the establishment of a Program/Project Management Office under the direction of Assistant Commissioner Christine Nixon and with guidance from Dr Lynn Crawford – formerly of the University of Technology (UTS) and now Sydney University – and my mentor, Dr Kerry Costello, who was undertaking research at UTS at the time. 

Whilst the work at NSW Police was formative, I believe that the implementation of the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) Organisational Change was the most profound project management experience to have influenced my career. This work involved distinctive and innovative use of project management practise for the NSW RFS Organisational Change, Portfolio of Programs (OCPP). The RFS was tasked with completing the OCPP within a 12-month time frame to enable the transfer of 306 local government employees to state government employment. Project management practise was applied within a ‘Soft Systems Methodology Framework’, which enabled a systemic approach to problem-solving. This approach was founded on the experiences of a UTS research team working in collaboration with several NSW government agencies on applying project management theory and practise to strategic change projects. The work I did with NSWRFS led me to start my own project management training, development, and assessment consultancy named, Living Planit Pty Ltd. I always loved the name due to the play on words; it is essential to plan out the project and ensure plans are kept as living documents.

3. What are some of your favourite tools in project management?

Gantt charts and spreadsheets are helpful, as are quality control tools. I really like the Integrated Performance Baseline and conducting Earned Value (EV) calculations. However, EV is more suited to Defence and construction type projects. In my experience, common-sense approaches prevail.

4. Do you have a specific methodology you use?

No, not really. PMBoK is imprinted on my brain due to training in the Australian Qualifications Framework for 20 years. However, I acknowledge various methodologies as they each have their application and relevance, and sometimes a combination of methodologies works best. It just depends on the situation; hence it is situational. 

5. How has the AIPM helped you in your career over the years?

My success as a project management professional has been underpinned by the Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM). I first joined the AIPM in circa 2001 and applied for project management certification as a Certified Practising Project Director (CPPD). Achieving this certification level provided validation and gave a significant boost to my confidence, especially when running my own business. I have since also undertaken the Certified Practising Portfolio Executive (CPPE) which was equally rewarding. 


Project management certification demonstrates currency and provides a structured career pathway as you grow in your working life and move from one level to the next.


I was a councillor on the AIPM NSW Chapter and had a lot of success running the NSW Project Management Achievement Awards (PMAAs). I was then elected as National Vice President of AIPM (for four years) and was fortunate to represent the AIPM at the Global Alliance for Project Performance Standards (GAPPS) of which I was also a director for four years. I loved going to the conferences and meeting other like-minded professionals, as well as the networking opportunities that the conferences provide. 

6. What motivated you to apply for Certified Practising Project Sponsor (CPPS) certification?

I was asked to review the standard for Certified Practising Project Sponsor (CPPS) and was excited that the AIPM was bringing out a new level of certification. It gave me an opportunity to demonstrate my current experience, and I highly recommend that those who are sponsoring projects take advantage of the certification program. By addressing the performance criteria and underpinning knowledge questions, the work performed by the sponsor becomes clearer and is a valuable learning tool for busy executives.

7. In your experience, how has the AIPM changed over the years?

I believe that the AIPM has matured and become more robust as an organisation over the last 20 years. It is equally very important to acknowledge the enormous contribution made by the volunteers. 

8. Do you have any regrets?

I have no regrets. Through Living Planit, I had a very rich and rewarding career. I was able to select and train some outstanding young people in project management and training and assessment qualifications, and I was able to subsidise their fees. Whilst these people have moved on with their lives and careers, I remain grateful to have been given the opportunity to work with them, knowing that they are continuing to support the project management profession. I have come full circle.