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Career development: Building confidence

Nikola Miller RTPI

We asked young planners what career development advice would be helpful and they were pretty clear: how do you build confidence? Past Young Planner of the Year Nikola Miller offers her thoughts - and you can also read our confidence Q&A with RTPI President Cath Ranson

When we talk about ‘young planners’, we’re talking about experience, not age – people within the first 10 years or so of their planning career, writes Nikola. This encompasses varying degrees of confidence, experience and ability.
But what do we mean by ‘confidence’ in this context? For me there are two aspects to this:
1. Confidence in yourself, which is required by young planners in terms of confidence in their ability and expertise as professionals. This may encompass the confidence to speak at conferences, to ask questions, to speak up in the workplace or to suggest ideas in meetings.
2. Confidence in the profession. I think these are different, but both are vital.

Confidence in planning

vs self-esteem
‘Confidence’ and ‘self-esteem’ are not the same, says personal skills training website Skills You Need.
“Confidence is the term we use to describe how we feel about our ability to perform roles, functions and tasks. Self-esteem is how we feel about ourselves, the way we look, the way we think – whether or not we feel worthy or valued.”
It’s perfectly possible for people with high self-esteem to have low confidence – and even vice-versa.

To me, confidence in ourselves as planners begins with confidence in planning as a profession, and in the planning system as a process.

People become planners for different reasons. Some are looking for a stable job within an established profession; some are interested in the regulatory function of planning. For me, and I suspect for a number of young planners, becoming a planner was about creating great places for people. 
No matter what your reason for joining the profession, I believe you must have confidence in planning itself. Unfortunately, the political environment (in England in particular) has recently been scathing of planning, with the prime minister himself describing planners as “enemies of enterprise”.
In Scotland there is a more supportive political situation where planning is seen as a more positive process and delivery mechanism. However, planning, planners and the planning system are still often criticised for being part of the ‘problem’ – whether that’s delivery of housing or recovery from economic austerity.
We can help build greater confidence in planning itself by positioning it as part of the solution – a driver of economic growth and delivery of development. That doesn’t mean development at any cost, but the right development in the right place.
Personally, I have the utmost confidence in the power of planning to act as a positive force for change – to drive economic growth; to deliver places that are healthy, safe and sustainable; and most of all places that are well designed and of a high quality, in which people actually want to live, work and play.
Good planners are confident in their role as planners because of their confidence in planning and the planning system. It’s something that should be there from the start.

Confidence in yourself

Personal confidence is something that a lot of planners (definitely not only young planners) struggle with. How can you build yours?
- Join your local RTPI young planners’ network and take up the networking and CPD opportunities they provide. They are an excellent way of meeting other young planners, and will help you position yourself as one of them. Don’t worry that you don’t know as much as your line manager at work – that will come.
- Join an RTPI professional network, group or forums that relates to your area of planning practice. This will help you make useful connections, keep up with trends and news, and expand your knowledge.
- Volunteer for Planning Aid (or PAS in Scotland), the RTPI-supported planning support service for individuals and communities. I’ve found this a great way to develop my confidence through presenting to communities and young people about planning, and meeting other planners and people involved in the profession.
- Find a mentor. You may have an APC (Assessment of Professional Competence) mentor. Choose that person carefully. My APC mentor also became a mentor in a wider sense. Through the Scottish Young Planners’ Network and PAS, I also met a number of other people who have acted as career mentors and role models.
- Keep up with your CPD (Continuing Professional Development) – and take it seriously. This is a good way of planning your career development and measuring the growth in your professional knowledge.
- Don’t be afraid to move around. You don’t have to work in the same organisation for your whole career. I found that the biggest boosts to my confidence professionally have come from my varying experiences in the private and voluntary sectors.
Stay informed. Young planners groups organise lots of events exploring planning, from study tours to talks and debates. Plenty of other built environment organisations are doing the same. Keep up to date with the latest thinking and developments by getting out and about, and by reading widely. 
Challenge yourself. Put yourself forward to speak at that seminar, volunteer to update your team on that new bit of legislation, join a new group or organisation. It might be daunting at first but I guarantee you’ll come out the other end with more confidence in your ability.
Nikola Miller is the RTPI Scotland’s planning policy and practice officer
Read more
 Read the Q&A with RTPI President Cath Ranson on how planners can develop confidence as they build their careers
- Workplace skills organisation Mind Tools has a brief guide to building self-confidence, along with a range of more in-depth resources