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Career development: Building confidence – a Q&A with Cath Ranson

Cath Ranson

In the December 2014 issue of The Planner, we’ve looked at how young planners can develop their confidence as they build a career in the profession. Current RTPI president Cath Ranson (CR) offers her thoughts on starting out, the importance of volunteering and the qualities of a tip-top planner

Can you recall what it was like for you as a young planner entering the profession?

CR: "Trying to enter the planning profession in the second half of the 1970s was tough, particularly as a young geologist without a planning qualification! After rapid expansion of planning in the early 70s, there was a virtual shut-down in public sector recruitment – except for employment schemes, such as 'job creation', private sector recruitment focused on experienced qualified planners. I had an interesting, if specialist, job creation role in registration of common land."

How did you develop confidence in your abilities as a planner? Was it a process of just doing it and learning from mistakes and successes?

CR: "Learning as much as I could about my own role and helping out on other projects helped develop the foundations on which my confidence grew."

How did you begin to feel comfortable in your role within your team? Were there people who helped you?
CR: "Back then you were generally thrown in at the deep end, learning fast to sink or swim. But we also had a supremely competent section head, always ready to encourage those willing to develop their skills."
Do you have to develop particular social skills for the public-facing part of your role as a planner?

CR: "Planning is very much about leadership and the wisdom to know when to lead and when to encourage others to take up the baton. Volunteering has helped me with developing my confidence in my leadership skills, my project management and public speaking abilities, coaching and mentoring – whether as a motorcycle instructor, a Scout leader commissioner, or through RTPI-related activities, such as the Planning Summer School."

How important is confidence in the planning system to your confidence as a planning practitioner?

CR: "Planning is a complex job at the best of times and can be quite stressful. If you don't have confidence in what, why and how you're planning then the job becomes more complex, more disjointed, less deliverable and considerably more stressful. Like plate spinning, the belief that you can make things happen is essential to planning.
"A wider lack of confidence in planning, from politicians and stakeholders, is energy-sapping."
What are the essential confidence-building skills for young planners that you would like to pass on?
CR: "Leadership (and followership!), communication skills and a capacity to see the world from the perspective of others. Equally important is a nurturing environment, with a cultural commitment to teamwork and continuing improvement."
Is there anything else you’d like to say on the topic?
CR: "Strong foundations in the form of an initial planning education together with structured graduate/ licentiate development, are important – as is getting a good cross section of experience. However, equally important is the humility to know that around every corner is something new to learn, whether from other planners, the public or the 'Grotton Three'!
"It's important to spend time at regular intervals reflecting on what you're putting in, what you’re taking out and whether you're enjoying the challenges. If not, you need to work out what to do to change things and position yourself in a better place."