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How to be a leader in planning, Part 1

Published on: 30 May 2017

What does it take to be a leader in planning? Martha Harris talks to some prominent planning professionals about the qualities of good leaders and why planning needs good leadership more than ever

Emma Lancaster

Emma Lancaster [square]Emma Lancaster is an associate at Quod and RTPI Young Planner of the Year 2016

“Charisma is a key quality for a leader – it’s about creating something new, but also being able to map out a journey explaining how we get to the end result as a team.

“I am a great believer in leading by example, and I think enthusiasm is really contagious. I’m in a really fortunate position at Quod in that I’m getting the opportunity to mentor others and share in my experiences, providing tips and tricks. That coaching style is my approach to leadership, but ultimately you need to find what works best for you.

“Leaders are the voice of their profession, so you need someone that can articulate a shared vision clearly. Often planners can’t seem to do right for doing wrong [in the public’s eyes], so its important to have people to shout about our successes. This is also needed internally in terms of keeping morale up – planners sometimes need people to remind them what it is that we stand for.

“Encouraging young people to take up leadership roles is so important because the profession can benefit massively from the fresh perspective that they bring. They have new ideas about how to tackle key problems, and how to engage with other built environment professions.

Stephen Tucker

Stephen Tucker [square]Stephen Tucker is a partner with Barton Willmore in Edinburgh

“As a leader, the ability to see things in the round is key because it helps you not to get too obsessive about the day to day. It’s important for planners to realise that what they do has a genuine impact on people lives, and sometimes the sacrifices we make are worthwhile for more than just monetary and commercial reasons.

“It is my job to clear the way for the highly skilled people I work with to do what they love doing – and to know when to rely on better people in my team to deliver on my behalf. A leader also has to shield their people from some of the pressures that land on them, either from clients or politics, and let them do what they do best – let them plan.

“We need to keep our gaze focused on the big things that will make a difference to a large number of people’s lives. The more we work on visionary, large-scale, long-term projects, the more exciting planning will become, and interested people will become in what we do, and therefore the more influence planners will have. If you keep focusing on the small things, the profession is only going to go one way.

“We also need to be conscious of where our talent is going. It is an issue for local authorities that some of our brightest talent is being attracted to where they think the rewards might be greatest – i.e. in the private sector – and we see this most keenly at the top level. Planning is fundamental to the operation of good local government, so we need to reward and protect the people that are in positions of leadership in local authorities.”


Leadership qualities

We asked our interviewees what qualities were needed to be a leader in the planning profession.

Vision: Forward-looking, keeping your eyes on the wider goal

Communication: Able to share your vision effectively and communicate the worth of planning to those outside the profession

Inspiration: Providing a positive working environment and motivating colleagues to think innovatively

Confidence: Confidence in the validity of your decisions, and inspiring confidence in others

Patience: Recognising that strong stakeholder relationships take time to build

Image at top | Shutterstock