My career: Ruth Henderson

28th November 2016

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  • Business & Industry ,
  • Built environment ,
  • Consultancy ,
  • Management


Joanne Holden

Environmental impact assessment co-ordinator, Royal HaskoningDHV

Why did you become an environment/sustainability professional?

I have always been passionate about the environment and the outdoors so there was no doubt I would end up turning it into a career.

What was your first job in the profession?

I volunteered as a research assistant with an NGO, gaining first-hand experience of conservation fieldwork, learning about different cultures, and spending time scuba diving! As an ecological surveyor in Tanzania and Madagascar, I conducted underwater surveys on fish populations and coral reefs.

How did you get your first role?

I studied for a master’s degree because at the time this was something that would help me stand out against my peers. I was able to use my formal qualifications along with the skills learned volunteering to demonstrate I had the right capabilities to join Atkins, one of the world’s leading design, engineering and project management consultancies. I joined its graduate scheme and worked on a range of environmental projects and undertook formal training, attended conferences and built my network.

How have you progressed your career?

By getting as much experience as possible and learning different skills. I tried to keep my options open by working on river restoration, flood defence, onshore wind and port projects, to name a few. A secondment to the Thames Tunnel wastewater project helped me to understand the complexities of major projects and working in a large, multidisciplinary team.

What does your current role involve?

I provide consenting advice for large-scale infrastructure projects, mainly in the energy sector. I liaise with developers, planning authorities, stakeholders and local communities on managing risks to help raise the quality of environmental impact assessments (EIA) and the design process, as well as identify opportunities for environmental enhancement and efficiencies and cost savings.

How has your role changed over the past few years?

Fundamentally I provide consenting advice and that has not changed. However, the advice is changing. Both the consultancy industry and clients’ needs are evolving so it is about being innovative and anticipating future needs.

What’s the best part of your work?

Diversity. Large projects can be incredibly complex, and I have to find the right solutions. This can mean working with different teams, preparing technical information, engaging with local communities or just sharing advice and lessons learned. No two days are the same.

What’s the hardest part of your job?

Accepting that my priorities are not always the same as the priorities of others.

What was the last development/training course or event you attended?

An internal leadership development programme – it was a great opportunity to meet people within our company from around the world.

What did you bring back to your job?

How important it is to understand a situation from someone else’s perspective.

What is/are the most important skill(s) for your role and why?

Communication and negotiation. As an EIA co-ordinator I need to ensure the right information is available for project decisions at the right time and this often involves being in the middle of the debate. I need to help find the balance in project teams on design, cost and programme, risks, opportunities, environmental sensitivities, consultation and consenting processes. Identifying the different communication techniques across these different disciplines is difficult but necessary to get the best results.

Where do you see the environment/sustainability profession going?

The future looks different, particularly in the areas of climate change, resource efficiency, society and technology. We need to adapt now. Sustainability is such a wide-ranging profession that the opportunities are endless.

Where would you like to be in five years’ time?

Driving best practice and setting standards in an impact assessment leadership role. I would also like to spend more time mentoring others.

What advice would you give to someone entering the profession?

Recognise skills that you have and play to your strengths. Do not be scared to challenge ideas and behaviours – this drives change and it will be acknowledged.

How do you use IEMA’s environmental skills map?

I have used it to assess my own skills, especially when applying for Full membership. Colleagues often ask me what the most appropriate IEMA membership level is for their level of experience – I use the skills map to help them identify areas to focus on in order to target their learning.



Career history:

2012 to date senior environmental consultant, Royal HaskoningDHV

2011–12 EIA technical assistant, Thames Tideway

2008–12 environmental scientist, Atkins

2007 volunteer research assistant, Frontier


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