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Ciara Doherty

Ciara Doherty

Senior operations manager, Cunningham Contracts Group


Construction, Project Management


Northern Ireland
My highlights

Helping build a bridge over the Giwsi River in Rwanda

Making the 2023 Top 100 Most Influential Women in Construction list

Making the WES Top 50 Women in Engineering 2024 list

A day in my life

My role within engineering over two decades has changed quite a bit since my early days as a graduate engineer.

As a graduate my day was typically spent onsite, overseeing and managing live operations.

Tasks included:

  • setting out (outlining where construction will take place onsite based off the design)
  • material procurement
  • quality checking
  • record keeping
  • health and safety checks
  • reporting
  • site measures to aid payment applications

Nowadays, my role is mostly office based and centres around leading teams, implementing lean business strategies, winning work, engaging with clients and the supply chain, and delivering excellence for our clients.

This might look like:

  • email and telephone correspondence
  • internal and external meetings
  • project reviews
  • bid writing and reviews
  • resource and team planning
  • team communications
  • mentorship
  • the odd site visit to ensure excellence on our sites

Nothing is out of bounds, everything is achievable, you just have to make a plan and take action.

Which individual project or person inspired you to become a civil engineer?

My dad. He was a tradesman and a master joiner.

I really looked up to him as a young girl because in my mind he could fix anything and build anything!

I used to keep him company at weekends around his sites to do security checks and order up materials.

I asked a lot of questions, but he was always very patient with me and never hesitated to explain the workings of house building, drainage, fit out etc.

At age 13, I wanted to be brick layer.

My dad ushered me down a different route, as trades were uncommon for girls in the late 90s. Hence why I pursued civil engineering.

However, it’s very refreshing to see more women in trades these days, and I’m excited that we have lots of wonderful tradeswomen who are opening these avenues for others by being role models.

These days its role reversal with my dad, he now asks me: “What projects are you working on? How did you install this and how did you plan that?”.

I’m very thankful for his wisdom, guidance, and belief in me.

We asked Ciara…

I would recommend a career in civil engineering because…

…it unlocks many positive aspects, namely:

  • working in a team
  • enhancing the world around us for the benefit of future generations
  • making a positive contribution to communities
  • having the opportunity to travel
  • having a solid educational pathway
  • obtaining transferrable skills for a varied career
  • getting keen reimbursement
  • building friendships
  • providing job satisfaction upon successful project delivery

Complete this phrase: I’m a civil engineer, but I’m also…

  • a temporary works coordinator
  • a crane supervisor
  • a banks person
  • a qualified project manager
  • a property developer
  • a STEM ambassador
  • a business owner
  • a mother to three daughters
  • a Gaelic footballer
  • a mentor
  • a coach
  • a cyclist

What’s the biggest/most complex thing you’ve made out of Lego? How long did it take you?

I once made a wind turbine from Lego for school visit, and it took me about 90mins to build.

Recently I built a train and track from Lego, and this took around three hours to complete.

Lego provides a good visual representation for what it takes to think out problems, plan and be patient.

It often requires the help of others which are all key attributes in civil engineering projects.

What about being a civil engineer gets you out of bed each morning?

The ability to provide for my three daughters, inspire them towards following their passions and demonstrate to them that hard work and discipline across any aspect of life can unlock rewards.

Nothing is out of bounds, everything is achievable, you just have to make a plan and take action.

What’s one great thing that you love about civil engineering that you didn’t know until you started working in the industry?

How we make an impact on others.

I used to believe engineering was about hard work round the clock and practical delivery (which at times it is), but more importantly, construction centres around people.

How we treat people is most important.

When we treat people with kindness and respect, it’s often reciprocated through dedication and higher performance.

Respect and clear communication, along with enabling people in a positive way, are key to high performing teams with positive project outcomes.

Therefore, trusted leadership is non-negotiable.

Which civil engineering project (past or present) do you wish you’d worked on?

Casement Park, West Belfast. With planning approvals in place, the new Casement Park Stadium will be a landmark project for Northern Ireland and one I would relish the opportunity to contribute.

Name one civil engineering myth you’d like to bust.

That you must look and present yourself in a certain way. False!

Any person from any walk of life can be a civil engineer. The diverse nature our projects is central to the diverse nature of our people!

So don’t doubt, get inspired and get involved, we need you!

What are you doing to help address climate change?

I’m getting personally involved in ESG (environment, strategy and governance) and social value initiatives.

There’s a lot of overlap, which enhances awareness of what we need to do to address climate change. 

For example:

  • using sustainable work wear
  • creating Plastic-free sites
  • using sustainable suppliers
  • investigating in new innovations to reduce carbon outputs
  • implementing green solutions across sites

How has your work as an engineer enhanced the lives of people?

I’m honoured to have been named in the 2023 Top 100 Most Influential Women in Construction, and more recently named in the 2024 list of WES Top 50 Women in Engineering.

These accolades are reflective of my commitment to be a role model in construction and not just for women.

My purpose is to highlight the construction industry as a positive and rewarding industry for all, attract diverse talent, and importantly, retrain the talent we see come through.

More specifically, I’ve experienced a lack of bespoke female-fitting PPE in the marketplace, so in 2023 I launched a new business startup with my partner, Sinead Molloy, called Shevron Work Wear Ltd.

We aim to bring to the market a range of female work wear, designed by women for women using sustainable manufacturing practices and material.

We hope to launch a trouser range later in 2024!

Has civil engineering helped you overcome any personal hurdles/difficulties?

Yes, I openly speak about being a single young mum in university while studying civil engineering.

My daughter was four weeks old when I started my final year.

While she was very much my motivation not to fail, my career in civil engineering has allowed me to provide for her and has enriched my life and hers through opportunity, accomplishment, and learning how to be resilient.

I share little more on resilience in Enda McNulty’s bestselling book Commit 2 Lead.

Ciara's career path

My route was:

  • GCSEs
  • A-levels (maths, biology and Irish)
  • University degree 4 (BEng Hons Civil Engineering with Diploma in Industrial Studies)
  • Employment

Nowadays, apprenticeships are an excellent entry route into civil engineering.

The beauty of apprenticeships is the fact you can learn (one day per week) and earn (four days per week), while getting hands-on experience with an employer!

A highly recommended route.

Major projects