Successful team management in EIA

12th February 2014

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  • Skills ,
  • CPD ,
  • Management


Matthew Goldberg

Arup's Steven Harding argues that while there's no I in team, there is one in EIA, if you look hard enough

I once asked an environmental graduate what the most important aspect of an environmental impact assessment (EIA) was. “A frozen scheme design well in advance of the planning submission date?” They quickly responded.

While encouraged by this recognition, I explained to the graduate that their expectation was pretty much in the same bracket as wishing to ride a unicorn or see the England football team win another world cup. I enlightened the graduate that, in fact, effective team management was the key to undertaking a robust impact assessment.

Team management is not about asking someone to do something and then waiting for it to appear in your inbox. Effectively managing a team is a dynamic process of all the good things (skills, knowledge, experience) and all of the bad things (risks, issues, problems) that can affect a project. The real challenge is in bringing out the best in your team and stopping issues developing into problems.

Let’s take a look at some of the key issues.

First, you need to have a clear understanding of what you are producing, when you are supposed to be producing it and who you are producing it for. This sounds obvious, but these are the things that are all too easily forgotten as people rush to start various aspects of the EIA process, without fully understanding what is expected of them. Put simply, if you know the answer to these questions, you can categorically tell your assessment team what they should be working towards, which is not a bad place to start.

The next step is to let your team know who is in charge, but not in a “do as I say” manner, more of a “give me a call if you have any problems” way. People skills are of great importance. You need to know your team and this can often include third parties (such as subconsultants), or colleagues you have not worked with before.

Everybody is different and while you need to treat people universally with professionalism and respect, you need to understand how and when to motivate and encourage your team both as a whole and as individuals. People are different in this respect, so be adaptable in your approach and try to identify what makes each team member tick.

This brings us on to the mantra of many an athlete: “Fail to prepare and you prepare to fail.” When it comes to EIA project management, you can’t just wing it; your team will have many expectations of you, such as the all-important scheme design information, a suitable report template (with guidance notes), delivery programmes and fee allowances for example. Your job is to provide your team with all this information, in a timely manner, so that you can meet target deadlines for deliverables and address client queries quickly and in full.

Mark Twain once said: “The most interesting information comes from children, for they tell all they know and then stop.” I am not suggesting that we should employ child labour to write our environmental statement chapters, but there is value in telling your technical specialists to keep it brief. The environmental statement will be read in very different ways by consultees and members of the public, but the principle remains the same – they will want to understand the important information with ease and on the first reading of the document.

This is where your report template and guidance notes will assist you and your technical specialists understand what level of detail is required in the environmental statement. Stay clear of emotive text (check your project descriptions for this) and give your team lots of positive feedback on the type of text that is adding value and that which is redundant.

The points above have barely scratched the surface of effective team management, but it is clear that there are some common denominators. Communication is key when it comes to producing a robust environmental statement, so don’t be afraid to pick up the phone or to go and speak to a colleague. You will often be surprised at what you can achieve just by talking.

This article was written as a contribution to the EIA Quality Mark’s commitment to improving EIA practice.

Steven Harding is a senior environmental planner at Arup


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