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Career development: How to be a leader


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 is an associate at Quod and 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.

“Encouraging young people to take up leadership roles is so important because the profession can benefit massively from the fresh perspective that they bring”

“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 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.

“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

Paul Barnard

Paul Barnard is assistant director for strategic planning and infrastructure at Plymouth City Council

“Management and leadership often get confused: where the former is more about managing processes, leadership is about setting a vision, and creating an environment for individuals to flourish.

“Learning from shared good practice is important, and available through the Planning Advisory Service. There’s also support from the RTPI for the development of leadership and managers. But part of being a leader is the crucial issue of managing with political awareness.

“I’ve often found in my career in local government that the creation of places is most successful when political and planning leadership work together and think outside of the box – and that’s what we’ve done here in Plymouth. We’ve built cross-party consensus [for the Plymouth Plan] over a long period of time, we’ve recognised the important role of politicians in this inherently democratic planning process, but we’ve then brought our professional skills as planners to the table.

“Aside from this, local planning authorities need to build a new relationship with the citizen. 

“I’ve often found… that the creation of places is most successful when political and planning leadership work together”

Previous reforms haven’t really gotten to the heart of the fundamental question of ‘Who are we planning for?’. Ultimately we are planning for a place, what that place wants in terms of its vision for the locality, and what the people want. It’s about getting back to that visionary social planning which was very much part of the post-war era.

“Planning is in a kind of existential crisis, partly because it has long been used as a scapegoat for the non-delivery of various government initiatives, and partly because it’s had the biggest reductions in local government of any single government department. Yet planning for the delivery of jobs, homes and good quality places has never been more important. It is an incredibly challenging environment, and it requires leaders across the private and public sector to respond to these challenges.”

Kim Boal

Kim Boal is a planner at Mid & East Antrim Borough Council, and chair of the RTPI Northern Ireland Young Planners' Network

“A leader is able to focus on major goals and deliver a strong vision, but is also needed to bring together multiple levels of governance across society in identifying issues and priorities, and driving forward responsive action. 

“I feel that as chair of the Northern Ireland Young Planners Network I’m setting an example for other young planners, and by achieving this position I’ve shown that an initial interest in the profession as a student member can grow in to a greater role.

“I really encourage all young planners to join their local network”

“I really encourage all young planners to join their local network and take advantage of potential leadership roles where views and opinions can be expressed to wider audiences and the RTPI. The planning profession is continually evolving and responding to socio-economic and environmental trends. So strong leadership is essential to guide and direct the profession through these changes.”

Main photo | Shutterstock



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