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Career development: Moving on up


Everyone wants to progress within their career. But when it comes to being recognised for promotion, what are the most important attributes a planner should demonstrate? Martha Harris asks the experts

Time is of the essence

Dr Wei Yang (left), founder of Wei Yang & Partners, says that time management was essential to building a good reputation when she began her career. 

“I always kept my promises to other team members, project managers, directors and clients. Whenever I had a task, big or small, and I agreed a time scale, I always delivered good-quality work within the time agreed.”

Being a team player also demonstrates commitment to the bigger picture, says Yang. “If I finished my task on time, I would offer to help others so that we had a good overall outcome for a project.”

Be enthusiastic

Andrew Close, the RTPI’s head of careers, education and professional development, says planners should possess skills that include “being proactive, problem solving, seeing the bigger picture and summarising complex issues in an easier-to-understand way”. 

Beyond these, “enthusiasm and interest always shine through”.

Yang agrees that maintaining a personal interest in the profession is key. “It is important to be aware of the bigger picture beyond your day-to-day job – then it is possible to identify the gaps [in your company’s provision] and suggest where you could make an additional contribution.”

Keep on the learning curve

Demonstrating a hunger for learning will show that you are keen to progress, says Close. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions of your employer, as university can’t be expected to teach you everything you’ll need to know about a planning application.”

The RTPI has a number of resources to help boost planners’ knowledge: “Keep up to speed with policy changes by subscribing to RTPI bulletins and networks. Local CPD events are also a great source of information, and an opportunity to network with other planners.” 

Trust your judgement

It can be tempting to be amenable when you are trying to endear yourself to colleagues and clients, but maintaining your professional integrity is more important, according to Yang.

"Having the client’s trust helps a lot – but I make sure to honour my own judgement"

“Having the client’s trust helps a lot – but I make sure to honour my own judgement. If I disagree with a client, I tell them, and justify my reasons why.”

She continues: “Don’t be afraid of your clients; in the end, they will appreciate your honesty.”

Soft skills vs hard skills

How important is workplace etiquette in aiding promotion?

Andrew Close says that for early career planners, good soft skills are essential. “Basic office skills such as getting to work on time and having a good telephone manner should be at the top of a graduate’s list of things to demonstrate on a CV or at interview, alongside knowing the technical detail and being able to produce succinct reports,” he stresses.

“Seeking out work experience as part of a planning course can be a good way to observe and practice these employability skills.”


Q&A: Adele Maher

Adele Maher (right) is strategic planning manager and director of development and renewal at the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

Q: Any tips for novice planners? 

A: Know your value and be bold in your requests. There are many opportunities out there for planners in the early to mid-stages of their career, and having good planners in place is worth its weight in gold to an organisation. If they want to keep you and your knowledge you could use this in negotiations with management, where reasonable, to secure the role in the project you want, to secure training, or to help secure a promotion. 

Q: How did you achieve promotion?

A: It helps to be goal-focused. Identify an important project you want to be involved in, ideally one that can successfully be achieved within a two-year window. Your involvement provides a great example of your commitment and motivation to see a project through from start to finish.

Put yourself forward. Be open and enthusiastic to try new things and get involved. Early in your career there are benefits of taking a ‘why not’ attitude, including putting yourself forward to support colleagues or teams in or outside your service. 

Q: Any advice you’ve been given that helped you?

  • Don’t be afraid to take calculated risks. You have room early in your career to try different things.
  • If you have a specific career path in mind but currently have gaps in your skills and experience, target shorter-term projects that can help you fill these deficits. 
  • Being out of your depth sometimes is the best way to learn; embrace the challenge. Show innovation, show drive, show leadership, but also ask for help and advice from your more experienced colleagues to help guide your way. practical.

Don’t worry about the short term

Yang, who was promoted four times in seven years at a major planning consultancy before starting her own practice, says planners shouldn’t worry about chasing short-term gains.

“When you become an invaluable member of an organisation, promotion will come to you,” she says. “I never worried about short-term promotions – I just did my job properly, to the best quality I could.”But, she says, having a long-term career plan is very important.

"When you become an invaluable member of an organisation, promotion will come to you"

“Don’t be afraid to show your ambition, as it is important for people to be aware of what you are striving for professionally. But be very patient, and do even the simplest jobs properly. People need to see your commitment.”Yang urges planners to make the most of their company’s annual review, which is “a great opportunity to review your professional development plan”.

“Think about the additional training that you want to do or conferences that you want to attend, agree them with your manager, and make sure you have these in writing.”

How early on should you specialise? 

It depends on you, but gaining varied experience at the beginning of your career will “stand you in good stead”, says Close (left).

“It will help you consider what area you may want to specialise in, whether additional training would help, and even open up opportunities to move between private and public sectors.”

Yang says that new planners should also make an effort to learn from other professions. 

“A lot can be learnt from architects, ecologists, landscape architects, archaeologists, transport engineers, and even politicians.

“Planning deals with all these aspects, so it is important to appreciate their point of view so that you can develop good communication, and can reflect everybody’s interests within your own judgement.”


RTPI resources

Advice on CV writing, job hunting and professional development can be found here: www.rtpi.org.uk/careers 

The RTPI’s report on employability can be found here: tinyurl.com/planner1216-RTPIemployability


Andrew Close is head of careers, education and professional development at the RTPI, leading its education, accreditation, careers, lifelong learning and professional ethics functions

Adele Maher is strategic planning manager & director of development & renewal at the London Borough of Tower Hamlets and a freelance urban design consultant

Wei Yang is founder of Wei Yang & Partners, which handles an international portfolio of town and country planning, master planning, urban design and architectural projects