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Career development: Becoming the expert


Becoming recognised as an ‘expert’ within your profession can be invaluable to advancing your career, opening up new opportunities and aiding promotion. But in a profession as broad as planning, how do you go about it? Martha Harris collected tips from planners to help you on your way

1. Becoming a chartered town planner

It sounds obvious, but this is a key step in becoming well respected in your field. Becoming a chartered town planner with the RTPI acts as a guarantee of your professional competence with potential clients and employers, enables you to move up the job ladder and can open up myriad new and challenging experiences. For details on how to achieve chartered status, visit the RTPI website

2. Blogging

Maintaining a personal blog, or becoming a contributor to an established built environment blog, is a great way to show that you are engaged in the wider planning landscape, and can lead to your work being republished in professional journals and national press. Zoe Green, manager of urbanisation and development at PwC, says blogging can be a great learning tool. “I began blogging five years ago with a short piece on ‘smart cities’ [for The Global Urbanist], which was well received, so I began contributing regularly. I found that as I started preparing pieces, I began to learn more about a subject and broaden my professional understanding.”

Green offers three tips: “1) There are two sides to every story. It’s important to reflect these and but also form your own view. 2) Keep it current. The most interesting articles reflect the latest news and debate. 3) Make it personal. What makes blogs so readable is that they reflect personal insights and share personal experiences.” 

3. Contributing to publications

Offering to contribute to other built environment publications can also get your name out there, and help you become recognised as the go-to person on a certain topic. Former chief planning inspector Chris Shepley (right) writes a regular column for The Planner, and says writing is as much about maintaining a personal interest in the profession as it is about aiding career progression. “I have contributed comment pieces to many publications not only because I enjoy writing, but because it keeps me interested and involved in the broader issues.”

But, says Shepley, you have to have something to say.“You have to make sure that your writing has substance, and I would recommend being selective about the pieces that you contribute” don’t oversaturate the market.

A degree of dedication is required. “You need to be committed if you want to become recognised. You can’t see planning as a 9-to-5 – it needs to become something of a hobby, as well as a job.”

“You have to make sure that your writing has substance, and I would recommend being selective about the pieces that you contribute”

4. Speaking at events

Speaking at events can serve as a great platform for you to promote topics that interest you and to meet influential people in the profession. It can also be a great opportunity to travel and speak in different parts of the country – or the world. Regardless of the stage you are at in your career, you should not be put off from applying to appear as a panellist or a speaker, says Hannah Budnitz (left), PhD researcher and chair of the RTPI’s Transport Planning Network.

“Many organisations will put out a ‘call for abstracts’ in advance of an event, for which you can submit an abstract to meet a brief. It is your skill in meeting the brief and conveying that you have something interesting to share that will impress organisers.”

Being considered an expert is also not about age, she says: “I’ve seen many excellent presentations from young planners that are based on their dissertation research. It’s about putting your ideas over confidently and convincingly, and showing that you have the knowledge to back it up.”

5. Getting involved in your regional RTPI group

The RTPI has a regional group in each area of the UK that offers networking opportunities, specialist lectures and events. Green, who is the international representative for RTPI London, says volunteering for a regional group can have social and professional benefits. 

“I joined RTPI London as soon as I moved to the city. I’ve curated all sorts of activities, from tours of Surbiton to the Greenwich Peninsula, to debates such as World Town Planning Day – and it’s great fun. In today’s world, there aren’t many people seeking or offering a job for life. You never know when your contact may turn into a potential client, or you may learn things which make you an expert in a particular field of planning. Being prominent in your regional group allows you to explore the opportunities available.”

As well as its regional branches, the RTPI supports several special interest networks that are worth getting involved in. And if you spot a gap in the market – why not set up your own planning network? 

6. Using social media

Finding an audience for your views has never been easier, but organise your approach, says Budnitz. “Social media can be overwhelming, particularly on ‘timeline’ style sites like Twitter. Accept that you will miss things and limit your time and network to get the most benefit. I created a list of those I follow who are most likely to tweet articles, events and comments of professional interest. I scroll through tweets once a day, and try to comment on and retweet links that others with the same interests will appreciate.”

Zoe Green (right) also regards LinkedIn as an “incredibly useful social media tool”. She says: “I got my latest job through being contacted directly on LinkedIn. So it’s important to keep this up to date as a shortened version of your CV.”

You can read more from top planners about the steps they have taken to advance their career at: 


Hannah Budnitz is chair of the RTPI’s Transport Planning Network, and is currently undertaking research into big mobility data as part of her PhD. Hannah tweets at @HBudnitz

Chris Shepley is principal at Chris Shepley Planning, former chief planning inspector and a former RTPI president. See Chris’s column every month in The Planner.

Zoe Green is a former RTPI Young Planner of the Year, and manager, urbanisation and development, at PwC. She is a regular contributor to The Planner. Zoe tweets at @urbanist_zoe

Image | Getty