The Lack of Project-related Experience


Amongst Government Ministers



By Martin Hopkinson

United Kingdom

In his recent paper, Alan Stretton (1) draws a useful distinction between project estimating mistakes made as a consequence of cognitive bias and mistakes made deliberately. It is instructive to see how many Australian government projects may have been a victim of the latter.  I could identify several UK government projects that may have been similarly affected including the HS2 High Speed Rail, which is likely to cost in excess of £100b (2).

Although it is tempting to assume that politicians are dishonest, I will make the argument in this commentary that there is a simpler explanation for at least some of their poor decisions. Government projects often involve high levels of risk. Given this, it would help if the key decision makers had acquired a sound project-based experience during their previous careers. In the case of the largest projects these people are government ministers.  If ministers lack the relevant experience, we should consider whether some of their decisions that we, as project management professionals, perceive to be dishonest might, more simply, be the result of incompetence.

Perhaps it would be instructive to conduct a review of the prior project-related experience of senior government ministers around the world. By way of example, the current members of the UK government cabinet and their previous careers (3) can be summarised as:

  1. Boris Johnson (Journalist)
  2. Dominic Raab (Solicitor)
  3. Rishi Sunak (Hedge fund manager)
  4. Priti Patel (PR)
  5. Liz Truss (Management accountant)
  6. Steve Barclay (Law, Financial services)
  7. Ben Wallace (Army)
  8. Michael Gove (Journalist)
  9. Sajid Javid (Banking)
  10. Kwasi Kwarteng (Author, Financial analyst)
  11. Alok Sharma (Corporate finance)
  12. Anne-Marie Trevelyan (Corporate finance)
  13. Therese Coffey (Finance director)
  14. Nadhim Zahawi (Marketing director, founder of YouGov)
  15. George Eustice (Family business – fruit farming)
  16. Grant Shapps (Company director of multiple small companies)
  17. Brandon Lewis (Barrister)
  18. Alister Jack (Businessman)
  19. Simon Hart (Chartered surveyor)
  20. Natalie Evans (Manager employed by various professional bodies)
  21. Nadine Dorries (Nursing, Health service providers)
  22. Oliver Dowden (Political research)
  23. Jacob Rees-Mogg (Investment banking)

Those in the above list who have been company directors all appear to have been responsible for the delivery of “business as usual” or consultancy activities rather than projects. Thus, it would seem that not one of the current members of cabinet has significant prior personal experience of project delivery.  A similar trawl through the biographies of members of the Labour Party Shadow Cabinet identifies a similar dearth of project-related experience, although there is a difference in that, instead of the Conservative Party ministers with financial services or corporate experience, there is an abundance of trade unionists, political organisers and charity leaders. Thus, amongst the Labour Party politicians, there appears to be less evidence of a background that might include mathematical modelling skills…


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How to cite this paper: Hopkinson, M. (2022). The Lack of Project-related Experience Amongst Government Ministers, PM World Journal, Vol. XI, Issue VI, June.  Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/pmwj118-Jun2022-Hopkinson-lack-of-project-related-experience-commentary.pdf

About the Author

Martin Hopkinson

United Kingdom


Martin Hopkinson, Director of Risk Management Capability Limited in the UK, has 30 years’ experience as a project manager, project risk management specialist and consultant. His experience has been gained across a wide variety of industries and engineering disciplines and includes multibillion-pound projects and programmes.

Martin’s first book, The Project Risk Maturity Model, concerns the risk management process. His contributions to Association for Project Management (APM) guides such as Directing Change and Sponsoring Change reflect his belief in the importance of project governance and business case development.

In his most recent book Net Present Value and Risk Modelling for Projects he brings these subjects together by showing how NPV and risk modelling techniques can be used to optimise projects and support project approval decisions. To learn more about the book, click here

To view other works by Martin Hopkinson, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at https://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/martin-hopkinson/