Confidence is knowing what to do and how to act in particular circumstances.
know their own strengths and weaknesses
invest in their own development.
Hear or read these stories and the advice from senior and experienced practising planners about the experience that helped them gain confidence:
from a graduate planner in private consultancy
I was tasked with writing a Statement of Environmental Effects to support a development application for a 30-storey building in the middle of a golf course, miles from any other development. While I didn’t think the development was appropriate, I didn’t realise I could question it, as my employer had accepted the job.
It was only on a subsequent project I realised I had the right to say, ‘I can’t support that development’, and it would simply be handed on to someone who could. Thirty years later, I still cringe when I go past that development that I had felt uneasy about from the start.
My advice from this experience is not to be afraid to have an opinion and to stand up for what you believe.
Be the planner and work out the issues and possible solutions before seeking help.
Write carefully, review your work and submit any draft report as if it were the final.
Whilst being held accountable to these standards was sometimes difficult and frustrating, it reinforced to me from an early stage the importance of independent thought, problem solving and attention to detail. The skills I learned at this time were formative in making me a better, more accountable planner. I still remember the sea of red pen that appeared on my early reports and the countless times I was sent away to rethink an issue. I couldn’t see the point of being challenged constantly and I resented it at times. Now I realise it was the making of my career. That manager has been my most influential mentor, although I didn’t always appreciate the lessons I was learning at the time.
My advice from this experience is to expect to be challenged. Learn as much as you can from experienced planners but don’t rely on them to solve your problems. Being able to write well is a critical prerequisite for being a good planner. Develop this skill as much as you can.
I worked in a small local government that was predominantly rural with a coastline adjoining a World Heritage listed area. I was the only planner. Anything that had the word plan, planner or planning on it was forwarded my way for action. As a result, I gained a vast amount of experience in everything from development assessment to statutory drafting, environmental issues, consultation, and state and federal government legislative requirements.
My advice from this experience is that working rural and regional areas offers a greater breadth of experience than working in metropolitan areas.
My first boss was exceptional at developing staff, as he encouraged us to think through the options rather than giving us the answers to technical questions, or telling us what to write in a report. This taught me to think things through before going to him and to develop options that he would then work through with me. He also instituted a policy that the planner who wrote a report was responsible for following it through, including giving evidence in court. This led to a strong focus on care and getting it right!
My advice from this experience is to think before you ask for help and don’t write anything you don’t believe personally and professionally.
In the mid 1970s I wrote a report about eight pages long on a proposed shopping centre, outlining rezonings and approvals needed and other site issues. One issue was that two landowners along a road that cut into the shopping centre were refusing to sell their homes. My report flagged that if those two properties were purchased, the road would need to be closed, rezoned and approvals obtained.
Eighteen months later I was called into the boardroom in a tone that intimated trouble. A director and two lawyers were present. I was asked if I remembered the report on the site and if I remembered the road with the houses. I said, ‘Yes’, and opened the report and showed them where I had clearly addressed the aspects of road closure, rezoning and approvals. The atmosphere in the room immediately eased. Later the director told me that having those details in my report saved my job and saved the company at least $2 million, but that they should have been in the conclusion of my report.
The lesson for me was that a planning report needs to address all relevant details and its conclusion needs to include all the issues. This incident also showed me that neither my director nor any of the lawyers on either side had bothered to read the whole report—of only eight pages! I found this worrying when there was such an amount at stake.
My advice from this experience is to make sure your reports are complete and that all relevant issues are restated in the conclusion. Never let anyone tell you not to address issues that you believe are relevant. It is your job at stake, which is more important than what someone else may think the client might want to hear.
Winner of the 2017 PIA National Award for Planning Excellence in Cutting Edge Research and Teaching category, the book contains advice and reflections of many of Australia’s most experienced planners on the joys and perils of being a planner.
“Mastering the Art of Planning – 100 Stories from Urban Planning Practice” is a terrific collection of reflections from planners across the country and from all walks, ages and disciplines within planning. I hope many students and individuals who may be seeking a career in planning access these reflections.
Leo Jensen FPIA CPP, Principal – Leo Jensen Consulting, Vice-President, PIA (Qld) Committee 2016.
‘Mastering the Art of Planning – 100 Stories from Urban Planning Practice’ provides valuable insights on planning practice in Australia and is an essential reading for students embarking on the planning profession.’
Bhishna Bajracharya Associate Professor of Urban Planning Bond University
In presenting the Cutting Edge Research and Teaching Award to “Mastering the Art of Planning – 100 Stories from Urban Planning Practice” the Judges said:
“…an invaluable resource which will help to give new planners perspective and reassurance in confronting challenges…”
“…content and approach highly original and innovative..”
“…addresses early career anxieties and challenges in a very accessible, thoughtful and constructive way…”
Judging Panel 2016 PIA (Qld) Awards for Planning Excellence
Category - Cutting Edge Research and Teaching
The judges were unanimous in their decision to present the Award for Excellence in the Promotion of Planning category to “Town Planning for Everyone.” Available online, this initiative provides a continuous link to both the planning community and the general public. The judges felt this web based service facilitates public interaction which is a priority for planning particularly during a time of significant growth.
Judging Panel, Queensland Division 2011 Awards for Excellence in Planning
“Town Planning for Everyone” went on to win the PIA National 2012 Award for Excellence in Planning (Promotion of Planning)
I recommend Robin King Cullen’s latest book “Mastering the Art of Planning. This book is a must read for planning students and graduates who are just embarking on their planning career.
Robin uses 100 stories recounted by a number of planning practitioners who talked about the highs and lows throughout their careers. Everything is covered from developing confidence in your own ability to give advice, to dealing with ethical issues.
Program Leader Regional and Urban Planning University of the Sunshine Coast
“Mastering the Art of Planning – 100 Stories from Urban Planning Practice”:
“This assemblage of on-the-job learning experiences from many practising planners offers an invaluable resource of grounded, thoughtful and ultimately empowering insights for all young – and even not-so-young – planners”
Rob Freestone Professor of Planning UNSW Australia
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